A literature review in a scholarly book or doctoral thesis may be long and leisurely, but in a short research paper or journal article it is often quite brief, so a clear focus on setting a perfect stage for presenting the original research is vital to write an appropriate and effective literature review. In fact, such reviews are often solicited by journal editors from prestigious experts who have spent a lifetime researching a particular topic or problem.
This does not mean that early-career scholars cannot write and publish literature review articles in their areas of expertise: indeed, students are often asked to write review papers to demonstrate an understanding of the scholarship related to the topic or focus of a university course. However, the breadth and depth of knowledge required to write a publishable review article tend to be significant, although review articles do vary considerably in scope, length and purpose. One literature review might offer an extended narrative description of the entire history of scholarship on a subject, whereas another will discuss only those studies published over a few years or even during a single year.
The publications reviewed are sometimes discussed in chronological order, but the reviewer might instead arrange the material according to the methodologies used in the publications reviewed, the nature of the results obtained by different investigators or the themes and patterns that emerge as the scholarship is read and critically assessed.
How do you find new papers you ought to read, and the time to read them?
Journal instructions for the authors of review articles should always be consulted for structural requirements and other guidance, but in most cases a clearly defined topic, a specific research question or some other guiding principle to achieve a narrow focus is necessary to write a successful review article. But keeping up with the literature is potentially an overwhelmingly large task, and there are no deadlines attached to it. And so, among all the other things that I have responsibilities for, it often feels hard to prioritize.
Austin , associate professor of psychiatry and medical genetics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. But I find that keeping up with the literature always comes with a trade-off: Do I spend more time on my research projects, or do I read the latest papers? To keep on top of my specialty area, I carry out regular, systematic literature searches using a tool called PubCrawler.
PubCrawler automatically searches online publication databases using key search terms that I set up, and it sends me a weekly email highlighting all the new and potentially relevant papers, with a link to the abstract or full text.
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- How do you find new papers you ought to read, and the time to read them?;
I find out about other recently published papers I ought to read from email alerts I get from the key journals in my area. I also become aware of new publications through colleagues who email me, and from social media. So I have a set time once a week, on Mondays, to look at the output of my literature searching tools. I sift through it all and then at least skim the papers that I find most relevant. Thorough reading of the full papers may be more sporadic.
The tools I use to keep track of new literature are Feedly , which allows me to subscribe to the RSS feeds of relevant journals; a string of PubMed updates , which capture any relevant literature published outside those journals; and Twitter, which helps me identify what literature the broader scientific community is talking about. I like spending a few minutes every morning skimming recent publications for articles that are especially interesting or relevant to my work.
Coupled with a regular block every Friday devoted to more critical reading and lots of note taking, this generally allows me to stay up to date. Whatever routine you decide to set for yourself, I think the key is to find a way to interact with the literature regularly.
Writing a scientific literature review - Author Services
I continuously monitor the growing literature using the updates feature in Google Scholar , which recommends a selection of new papers to read based on your own publications. Monitoring the handful of main conferences in my field throughout the year, plus a couple of other relevant venues, also does a good job.
Many conferences eventually publish their proceedings, and so whenever the lists of accepted papers get published, I also go through them as soon as I can and look at the papers that seem the most relevant to me. Sometimes, reading the abstract suffices. Other times, if it is closely related to my research, I print it for when I find time to go over it in more detail.
Also, I make a point to regularly look at what leading researchers in my field publish and to talk to my peers.
To know when relevant papers are published, I rely on alerts that the journals automatically send to highlight new publications that cite papers I found of interest previously. There is also substantial activity on social media, with journals promoting and researchers discussing new articles.
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Reddit Science's Ask Me Anything, or AMA, forum discussions are a great way to hear about innovative research and talk to the authors directly. Recommender systems such as PubChase can also be great tools to hear about new papers early. However, most recommender systems find papers based on how similar they are to papers you previously read, which inevitably limits your exposure to tangential ideas that may be important to your research.
I therefore like going through the tables of contents of my favorite journals. In terms of how I find time for dealing with the literature, I usually go through email alerts as I get them to quickly become aware of the most important new publications. I also find that tweeting or blogging about one paper a week, or a day, is a good incentive for reading in depth. Other advantages of Twitter are that it helps me find researchers with similar interests and helps me build a brand.
In economics there is usually a long publication lag, so I also have to be aware of working papers getting published and new publications being presented at conferences and in seminars. Attending events and talking to others are very important ways to find out about the latest papers.
I also follow some blogs written by economists and several economists on Twitter who tend to write about new papers. To deal with the time pressure, I try to be efficient in how I scan the literature. I find it very useful to at least read through the titles and abstracts of the latest papers published in the journals, and then I decide carefully which papers I should read extensively.
To keep up with new papers being published, I use a combination of RSS feeds from journals in my field, Google Scholar Updates, the reference manager Papers , and recommendations from senior scientists on Faculty of or directly from colleagues. Twitter is also becoming increasingly valuable as a tool for spreading exciting research, and I strongly recommend getting networked through social media.
The volume of literature out there makes keeping track a collective effort, and it's also good to have a venue for promoting your own work amid the sea of information. And so, every few weeks, I try to download as many papers as I can—both newly published papers that are relevant to my work and older papers that I recently became aware of—and read them in chunks as the week progresses.
Still, summer is best for reading—I have fewer teaching and administration obligations, so this is when I can really catch up with the literature. For general background reading in my field, I usually start by looking at new articles that have cited my work, as the likelihood that I am interested in what they have to write about is much higher.
I then think of myself as the reader and write in a way that meets the curiosity I had. Writing a literature review, you become an ambassador for the subject, an author owning the story.
You no longer summarize the literature, but instead provide reasoning like an expert in the subject, and this is crucial. I take interest in connecting with the authors of the papers I find interesting. I begin to follow their research and scrutinize their choice of projects. This makes learning and writing more interesting, but also helps me think about new ideas and scientific explanations. He is developing frameworks for novel electronics and opto-electronics devices, particularly focused towards brain inspired computing and artificial retinas.
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