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How to write a scientific review research paper.

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How do I write a scientific review research paper? originally appeared on Quora : the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world .

Answer by Barbara Robson , Research Scientist, on Quora :

How do I write a scientific review research paper?

I have written a few review papers, and this is my approach. There are doubtless others that are equally effective, and some of these will be faster, but the approach that I will suggest is one that is thorough and defensible.

First, make sure that you are an expert in the subject and aware of the recent literature on the topic you have in mind. Consider working with co-authors so that together your expertise in the area is broad and deep.

Next, read all the other review papers that have been published on related topics, or similar topics in related fields, over the previous two to three decades, to make sure that you understand what has been already done and to make sure that there is a gap in the existing reviews.

Then it is time to work out what question you will be trying to answer with your review. Some examples of questions that can be answered by review papers include:

  • What has changed in our understanding of this topic since the last review? What are the biggest challenges facing researchers in this field today? And, what are the most promising approaches to solving these challenges?
  • Is there enough evidence in the existing literature to decide which of two competing conceptual models or theories is most likely to be correct?
  • Is there enough evidence in the literature to justify a commonly held belief or assumption in this field?
  • How well have active researchers in this field adopted what are now considered best practices, and is this improving our scientific results?
  • Of a few methodologies used in this field, which has proven most successful or useful over time?
  • How applicable are ideas developed in one area (for instance, “in temperate rivers”) to another area (e.g. “tropical rivers”)?

You get the idea — you don’t have to pick one of these, but it is a good idea to frame your review around some question of which the answer is not obvious even to expert researchers in the field.

Once you have your question, start reading the literature to gather evidence. It is a good idea to do this in a systematic way to make sure that you are not cherry-picking the literature to support a pre-concieved idea or to favor the research of one particular group. Choose keywords carefully, choose a good database such as Web of Science, choose the time-frame that your review will cover, and read everything that is a match. Take notes and, if appropriate to your research question, keep track of your findings in a spreadsheet or database. You will not be citing everything that you read for your review, but it is a good idea to keep track of everything that you have read that matched your search criteria, and what you learned from it.

At some point during this reading, you will start preparing the outline for your review paper. Work out how you will structure the paper, what key points you want to highlight, and what the story is that you will be telling through your review. Often, good review papers will include figures that combine results from the literature that you have searched through to tell readers something new, either through new, collated representations of data that show new, emergent relationships, or through new conceptual models that will help others to think about the topic in a new way and structure future research. Plan what these figures will be in your paper.

Also think carefully about who your intended audience will be. Is it aimed at new (post)graduate students who are just getting into the field and need somewhere to start? Is it aimed at your fellow expert researchers in the field, whose thinking you would like to influence? Is it aimed at industry practitioners, who may not be able to read all the literature themselves, but need a good summary of the evidence and how it should influence their practice? Is it aimed at people in related fields who may be venturing into a new cross-disciplinary area? Know your goal and your audience and it should then be clear what to include in your review and what to leave out.

Finally, it is time to start writing. Like any other paper, this will need to have an Introduction, which explains what has been done before (for example, in previous reviews) and what has motivated your review paper (i.e. what question are you trying to answer, and for whom). It may have Methods and Results sections, particularly if you have taken a systemmatic and quantitative approach to your review, or it may be a more narrative review, divided into sections that help you tell the story and elucidate the topic. It should certainly have a Conclusions section: what should change as a result of what you have found and discussed in your review?

As with any paper, aim to write clearly and in a way that will be interesting for your intended audience. Aim to write in a way that makes it easy to find and understand your key messages, even for skim-readers. Aim to be concise but to back up everything you say with evidence.

Once you have this done and have asked a friendly colleague to look over it and give you feedback, you will be ready to submit the review to a good journal in your field. Make sure that it is a journal that does publish reviews, and consider sending the editor a query first if you are not sure whether they publish reviews that have not been solicited.

This question originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter , Facebook , and Google+ . More questions:

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Grad Coach

Writing A Literature Review  

7 common (and costly) mistakes to avoid ☠️.

By: David Phair (PhD) | Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2021

Crafting a high-quality literature review is critical to earning marks and developing a strong dissertation, thesis or research project. But, it’s no simple task. Here at Grad Coach, we’ve reviewed thousands of literature reviews and seen a recurring set of mistakes and issues that drag students down.

In this post, we’ll unpack 7 common literature review mistakes , so that you can avoid these pitfalls and submit a literature review that impresses.

Overview: 7 Literature Review Killers

Mistake #1: Over-reliance on low-quality sources

One of the most common issues we see in literature reviews is an over-reliance on low-quality sources . This includes a broad collection of non-academic sources like blog posts, opinion pieces, publications by advocacy groups and daily news articles.

Of course, just because a piece of content takes the form of a blog post doesn’t automatically mean it is low-quality . However, it’s (generally) unlikely to be as academically sound (i.e., well-researched, objective and scientific) as a journal article, so you need to be a lot more sceptical when considering this content and make sure that it has a strong, well-reasoned foundation. As a rule of thumb, your literature review shouldn’t rely heavily on these types of content – they should be used sparingly.

Ideally, your literature review should be built on a strong base of journal articles , ideally from well-recognised, peer-reviewed journals with a high H index . You can also draw on books written by well-established subject matter experts. When considering books, try to focus on those that are published by academic publishers , for example, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Routledge. You can also draw on government websites, provided they have a strong reputation for objectivity and data quality. As with any other source, be wary of any government website that seems to be pushing an agenda.

the literature review credibility continuum

Source: UCCS

As I mentioned, this doesn’t mean that your literature review can’t include the occasional blog post or news article. These types of content have their place , especially when setting the context for your study. For example, you may want to cite a collection of newspaper articles to demonstrate the emergence of a recent trend. However, your core arguments and theoretical foundations shouldn’t rely on these. Build your foundation on credible academic literature to ensure that your study stands on the proverbial shoulders of giants.

Webinar - how to write a literature review

Mistake #2: A lack of landmark/seminal literature

Another issue we see in weaker literature reviews is an absence of landmark literature for the research topic . Landmark literature (sometimes also referred to as seminal or pivotal work) refers to the articles that initially presented an idea of great importance or influence within a particular discipline. In other words, the articles that put the specific area of research “on the map”, so to speak.

The reason for the absence of landmark literature in poor literature reviews is most commonly that either the student isn’t aware of the literature (because they haven’t sufficiently immersed themselves in the existing research), or that they feel that they should only present the most up to date studies. Whatever the cause, it’s a problem, as a good literature review should always acknowledge the seminal writing in the field.

But, how do you find landmark literature?

Well, you can usually spot these by searching for the topic in Google Scholar and identifying the handful of articles with high citation counts. They’ll also be the studies most commonly cited in textbooks and, of course, Wikipedia (but please don’t use Wikipedia as a source!).

Google scholar for landmark studies

So, when you’re piecing your literature review together, remember to pay homage to the classics , even if only briefly. Seminal works are the theoretical foundation of a strong literature review.

Mistake #3: A lack of current literature

As I mentioned, it’s incredibly important to acknowledge the landmark studies and research in your literature review. However, a strong literature review should also incorporate the current literature . It should, ideally, compare and contrast the “classics” with the more up to date research, and briefly comment on the evolution.

Of course, you don’t want to burn precious word count providing an in-depth history lesson regarding the evolution of the topic (unless that’s one of your research aims, of course), but you should at least acknowledge any key differences between the old and the new.

But, how do you find current literature?

To find current literature in your research area, you can once again use Google Scholar by simply selecting the “Since…” link on the left-hand side. Depending on your area of study, recent may mean the last year or two, or a fair deal longer.

You have to justify every choice in your dissertation defence

So, as you develop your catalogue of literature, remember to incorporate both the classics and the more up to date research. By doing this, you’ll achieve a comprehensive literature base that is both well-rooted in tried and tested theory and current.

Mistake #4: Description instead of integration and synthesis

This one is a big one. And, unfortunately, it’s a very common one. In fact, it’s probably the most common issue we encounter in literature reviews.

All too often, students think that a literature review is simply a summary of what each researcher has said. A lengthy, detailed “he said, she said”. This is incorrect . A good literature review needs to go beyond just describing all the relevant literature. It needs to integrate the existing research to show how it all fits together.

A good literature review should also highlight what areas don’t fit together , and which pieces are missing . In other words, what do researchers disagree on and why might that be. It’s seldom the case that everyone agrees on everything because the “truth” is typically very nuanced and intricate in reality. A strong literature review is a balanced one , with a mix of different perspectives and findings that give the reader a clear view of the current state of knowledge.

A good analogy is that of a jigsaw puzzle. The various findings and arguments from each piece of literature form the individual puzzle pieces, and you then put these together to develop a picture of the current state of knowledge . Importantly, that puzzle will in all likelihood have pieces that don’t fit well together, and pieces that are missing. It’s seldom a pretty puzzle!

By the end of this process of critical review and synthesis of the existing literature, it should be clear what’s missing – in other words, the gaps that exist in the current research . These gaps then form the foundation for your proposed study. In other words, your study will attempt to contribute a missing puzzle piece (or get two pieces to fit together).

So, when you’re crafting your literature review chapter, remember that this chapter needs to go well beyond a basic description of the existing research – it needs to synthesise it (bring it all together) and form the foundation for your study.

The literature review knowledge gap

Mistake #5: Irrelevant or unfocused content

Another common mistake we see in literature review chapters is quite simply the inclusion of irrelevant content . Some chapters can waffle on for pages and pages and leave the reader thinking, “so what?”

So, how do you decide what’s relevant?

Well, to ensure you stay on-topic and focus, you need to revisit your research aims, objectives and research questions . Remember, the purpose of the literature review is to build the theoretical foundation that will help you achieve your research aims and objectives, and answer your research questions. Therefore, relevant content is the relatively narrow body of content that relates directly to those three components .

Let’s look at an example.

If your research aims to identify factors that cultivate employee loyalty and commitment, your literature review needs to focus on existing research that identifies such factors. Simple enough, right? Well, during your review process, you will invariably come across plenty of research relating to employee loyalty and commitment, including things like:

While all of these relate to employee commitment, they’re not focused on the research aims , objectives and questions, as they’re not identifying factors that foster employee commitment. Of course, they may still be useful in helping you justify your topic, so they’ll likely have a place somewhere in your dissertation or thesis. However, for your literature review, you need to keep things focused.

So, as you work through your literature review, always circle back to your research aims, objective and research questions and use them as a litmus test for article relevance.

Need a helping hand?

how to write literature review quora

Mistake #6: Poor chapter structure and layout

Even the best content can fail to earn marks when the literature review chapter is poorly structured . Unfortunately, this is a fairly common issue, resulting in disjointed, poorly-flowing arguments that are difficult for the reader (the marker…) to follow.

The most common reason that students land up with a poor structure is that they start writing their literature review chapter without a plan or structure . Of course, as we’ve discussed before, writing is a form of thinking , so you don’t need to plan out every detail before you start writing. However, you should at least have an outline structure penned down before you hit the keyboard.

So, how should you structure your literature review?

We’ve covered literature review structure in detail previously , so I won’t go into it here. However, as a quick overview, your literature review should consist of three core sections :

Another reason that students land up with a poor structure is that they start writing their literature chapter prematurely . In other words, they start writing before they’ve finished digesting the literature. This is a costly mistake, as it always results in extensive rewriting , which takes a lot longer than just doing it one step at a time. Again, it’s completely natural to do a little extra reading as thoughts crop up during the writing process, but you should complete your core reading before you start writing.

Long story short – don’t start writing your literature review without some sort of structural plan. This structure can (and likely will) evolve as you write, but you need some sort of outline as a starting point. Pro tip – check out our free literature review template to fast-track your structural outline.

Digest the literature before trying to write your lit review

Mistake #7: Plagiarism and poor referencing

This one is by far the most unforgivable literature review mistake, as it carries one of the heaviest penalties , while it is so easily avoidable .

All too often, we encounter literature reviews that, at first glance, look pretty good. However, a quick run through a plagiarism checker and it quickly becomes apparent that the student has failed to fully digest the literature they’ve reviewed and put it into their own words.

“But, the original author said it perfectly…”

I get it – sometimes the way an author phrased something is “just perfect” and you can’t find a better way to say it. In those (pretty rare) cases, you can use direct quotes (and a citation, of course). However, for the vast majority of your literature review, you need to put things into your own words .

The good news is that if you focus on integrating and synthesising the literature (as I mentioned in point 3), you shouldn’t run into this issue too often, as you’ll naturally be writing about the relationships between studies , not just about the studies themselves. Remember, if you can’t explain something simply (in your own words), you don’t really understand it.

A related issue that we see quite often is plain old-fashioned poor referencing . This can include citation and reference formatting issues (for example, Harvard or APA style errors), or just a straight out lack of references . In academic writing, if you fail to reference a source, you are effectively claiming the work as your own, which equates to plagiarism. This might seem harmless, but plagiarism is a serious form of academic misconduct and could cost you a lot more than just a few marks.

So, when you’re writing up your literature review, remember that you need to digest the content and put everything into your own words. You also need to reference the sources of any and all ideas, theories, frameworks and models you draw on.

Recap: 7 Literature Review Mistakes

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post. Let’s quickly recap on the 7 most common literature review mistakes.

If you have any questions about these literature review mistakes, leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to answer. If you’d like to get 1-on-1 help with your literature review, book a free initial consultation with a friendly coach to discuss how we can move you forward.

how to write literature review quora

Psst… there’s more (for free)

This post is part of our research writing mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.

You Might Also Like:

Writing A Research Proposal:  8 Common Mistakes To Avoid

Dear GradCoach,

Thank you for making our uni student lives better. Could you kindly do a video on how to use your literature review excel template? I am sure a lot of students would appreciate that.

Ed Wilkinson

Hi I would enjoy the video on lit review. You mentioned cataloging references, I would like the template for excel. Would you please sent me this template.


on the plagiarism and referencing what is the correct way to cite the words said by the author . What are the different methods you can use

Godfrey Mpyangu

its clear, precise and understandable many thanks affectionately yours’ Godfrey

Wafiu Seidu

Thanks for this wonderful resource! I am final year student and will be commencing my dissertation work soon. This course has significantly improved my understanding of dissertation and has greater value in terms of its practical applicability compared to other literature works and articles out there on the internet. I will advice my colleague students more especially first time thesis writers to make good use of this course. It’s explained in simple, plain grammar and you will greatly appreciate it.


Thanks. A lot. This was excellent. I really enjoyed it. Again thank you.

Robert Le

The information in this article is very useful for students and very interesting I really like your article thanks for sharing this post!


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Write a Literature Review

What is a literature review, what is the purpose of a literature review, what are the parts of a literature review, what if i have to write a systematic review.

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​A literature review is both a summary and explanation of the complete and current state of knowledge on a narrowed topic as found in academic books and journal articles.

You might be asked to write one of two broad kinds of literature reviews: a stand-alone assignment for a course, often as part of your training in the research of your field, or as a part of an introduction to or preparation for a longer work, usually a thesis or research report. The specific purpose and length of the literature review will vary. One way to understand the differences between these two types is to read published literature reviews or the literature review chapter of theses and dissertations in your own subject area. Analyze the structure of their arguments and note the way they address the issues.


You might be asked to write another type of literature review called a systematic review. Writers of systematic reviews use clearly defined search parameters to gather literature that will help them answer a focused research question.

If you plan to write a systematic review, you can book an appointment with a librarian to develop a search strategy.

Suggest an edit to this guide

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Honest Nit Trichy review (quora)

how to write literature review quora

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Ty for your review brother, I almost took NIT Trichy core cse instead of sharda. If it weren't for you I would be in a NIT, God bless u benchod.

Career saving decision 🙏

I went to LPU

Is ur comment sarcasm?

Almost all government colleges are like that (in terms of academics and exams)

I don't get it, why are people "afraid" to see a gay person?

Language bhi dekho iski "a gay" ye wahi log hain jo gay ke naam pe aise bhagte hai jaise ki sahi me gay banda ghaas bhi daalega isse.

these people need to stfu💀💀💀 no one wants their ugly ass

Don't blindly trust quora. Even if you were to see the review of top most college in India you'll always find people complaining one or the other thing. If possible try to reach out to the students and ask them your queries. U'll most of the time end up confusing yourself if you are looking for answer there. Maine tho quora he delete kar dhiya!

Katai chutiya site ban chuka h , quora .

That endless feed of terrible facebook memes still haunts me even though i deleted quora more than a year ago .

Yup I read a lot of reviews from quora when deciding colleges and after coming here and looking back a lot of them were almost entirely bs (non anonymous nonetheless), though i found one (anonymous) which was absolutely spot on except a few small points.

For those who don't know this quora has a monetization program which encourages you (by giving you money) for asking and answering questions and generating discussions, which could and is very often exploited

Nit Warangal aur Surathkal mein baccho ko bulane ki ninja technique

Idk man I really wouldn't trust someone who thinks that being gay = being a fucking sexual offender

Exactly I completely trust myself that even gays won't approach me

Thik hai bhai mat jaa waha, teri seat mujhe dede

Bhai simple baat batau ek This could literally be someone who didn't get a good seat in any government college simply trying to cope. Iss country ke 4 lakh serious jee aspirants chutiya nahi hain ki wo apni zindagi ke 2 4 saal saare laga ke nit and iit jaayein. Aur nahi wo companies chutiya hain jo government colleges ko itne high pay ke saath leti hain. You'll find a lot of people shitting on our colleges but they forget the best of the best bhi inhi colleges se nikalte hai. I agree ki not everyone who is an nit'ian or an iitian is like good or awesome and not every private college student is like bad but the percentage of good vs bad in public colleges vs private colleges differs by a very large amount. Ab agar source chahiye to employable engineers ki statistics dekhlo, company recruitment reports dekhlo, alumnus dekhlo, top post btech exam marks dekhlo, aur meri sunlo kyoki mere family me kaafi logo ne bohot varied jagaho se btech ki hai.

toh ye sachai hai ya fake??

Ek number bat boli vrooo ❤️❤️😂

I don't think its 100 percent true. Quora has ton of fake answers

It's exaggerating but true till some extent.

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  10. Honest Nit Trichy review (quora) : r/JEENEETards

    Bhai by that logic no female student would do project under a male ... Yup I read a lot of reviews from quora when deciding colleges and