The Science Literature Review
The “literature review” is a genre found in almost every discipline. Sometimes they are stand-alone pieces (as it will be here), but in other instances, it may be a component of a larger project (like a grant proposal, which you experienced in Unit 1), or it may be just the first step in the process of doing scientific research. Creating a literature review is an important task that all scientists face at various points in their career. It requires the culmination of many skills: navigating library resources (research), arrangement of information, and scientific writing.
It is important to remember that a literature review does not simply review information on a given topic, it reviews the literature that contains information on a given topic. Do you see the distinction? Thus, the role of a good literature review is to find and present the most pertinent work from the primary literature in a logical, organized manner and to bring the reader as up-to-date as possible. You may wish to consult some review literature in forming your own introduction to the material, but remember that your primary goal here is to present and evaluate the current state of research on your chosen topic.
Some possible topics include:
- An infectious disease (AIDs, malaria, cholera, etc.)
- A technology (nanotechnology, biotechnology, computer science, etc.);
- A new or controversial drug (such as hormone replacements, anti-depressants and suicide risk in young adults, etc.)
- An environmental issue – nuclear waste, climate change, loss of biodiversity, oil drilling, water issues, etc.
- A national security risk – anthrax, biological weapons, etc.
- A chemical – phthalates, bisphenol-A, etc.
- A food-related issue– i.e. exposure to mercury in fish; exposure to e.coli, obesity, anorexia, organic vs. industrial farming, etc.
Try to find a topic in which you have a personal interest. The best writing comes from your own personal investment in the task.
Feeder: Annotated Bibliography (due October 23)
Length: 5-6 sources with annotations
Manuscript preparation: CSE or appropriate citation format for your discipline
Submission Format: sakai dropbox
Prepare a list of 5-6 sources that you will use for your Unit Project, the literature review. Your sources should mainly come from scientific journals, although you may include an article or chapter from 1-2 books. Do not use Internet websites unless they are particularly credible, official, or important sources of information on your topic (i.e., official government websites, or vetted non-profit organizations). For each source, write a brief summary and evaluation. Consider these questions: What is the main claim or finding of the article? Why will this source be useful for your literature review? How helpful is the article to your research? How effective is it as a source?
For additional help, see the Writing Center’s handout on Annotated Bibliographies.
Unit Project: Literature Review (Nov. 1)
Length: TB negotiated
Manuscript preparation: CSE or appropriate citation format for your discipline, include 5+ articles
Submission Format: sakai dropbox
Using the research you have collected, write a review of the literature on the topic.
Audience: Literature reviews are written for a range of audiences. They may be useful for scientists who specialize in your area, but also for scientists who need to know about the state of research on a given issue. These audiences have a scientific background, but they are not necessarily experts on the issue or topic at hand, or they are not familiar with the most current research.
Objectives: The purpose of this assignment is to familiarize you with conventions of scientific discourse, including the genre of the review article, citation styles, and synthesizing and summarizing research.
Contents: Unlike scientific reports, which follow a fairly standard format in most journals, literature reviews can have different organization schemes, depending on the subject, your objectives, and the editorial guidelines of the journal. Most have an introduction, body (including headings and sub-headings), a conclusion or summary, and a list of works cited. Some may include an abstract and/or table of contents at the beginning. Your review should include the following:
- Introduction: In this section, you should orient the readers so that they know what topic will be addressed and why it is important for them to know about it. You should define the topic and inform the reader about the approach you are taking and give them a sense of what aspects of the topic will be covered and what aspects will not be covered.
- Body: Include at least three sections here describing different trends, themes, or approaches relevant to your topic. In each section, do not simply summarize research—build a focused discussion of that topic. Rather than moving through each source one at a time, develop comparisons, contrasts, or similarities between articles or studies.
- Conclusion: Summarize the major points of the literature review, and add a final perspective or conclusion. Here, you should refer back to the question or objective set out in the introduction and to the relationships or patterns you developed in the body section. What is the significance of the research you have reviewed? What problems still need to be solved? What research is still needed?
- References: Prepare a list of the sources you have cited in your article (you must have at least 6). Use the citation format used within the discourse community you have chosen, or, if there is no single accepted format, follow the format from a peer-reviewed journal within that discourse community.
For additional help, see the Writing Center’s handout on Writing Literature Reviews:
Review Article Examples: