Toward the end of my graduate school training I had an opportunity to write a scientific review article. It was quite a learning experience and one that was well timed. I was close to completing my PhD, and the chance to assimilate all the literature in the field and interpret findings of recent scientific articles in an informative scientific review was exciting. I had six months to complete this arduous task, and here are some things I learned along the way:
- Give yourself plenty of time to write a scientific review. Compiling years of scientific progress into a short review article is not easy and it requires good understanding of the literature and implications of the discoveries made thus far. Most importantly, stay on time and submit your review article by the deadline. Start early, spend time reading literature extensively, and pen your thoughts as you go along.
- Make an outline and decide on the main topic for the review. It is easy to digress and include all the information in the field; however, this would not be useful to readers.
- Be aware of journal requirements. Decide where you are going to publish your review and be sure to read journal requirements for submission of the review. It is good to strictly adhere to journal requirements such as number of papers cited or word/page limits.
- Be well versed with the literature. It is important to know about the initial studies and also know of the latest discoveries (i.e., be scholarly). A good review summarizes relevant discoveries, discusses implications, and speculates on the future of the field.
- Make notes while reading the literature. It is impossible to remember every article that you read along with your thoughts or interpretations. Try making notes while reading. It will help give a structure to your review article.
- Analyze published scientific literature. As a scientist it is imperative to assimilate data and understand its implications or caveats. A scientific review article is a good place to discuss these issues and point out how caveats can be addressed in the future.
- Discuss significant findings. This allows the author(s) to elaborate on whether certain pathways/observations are conserved across species. Also discuss differences and speculate on how the different regulation in other species may be advantageous. Such evolutionary conservation is not only biologically significant but can also help readers understand how a process is regulated.
- Utilize graphics. Include charts or figures to depict key points of the review. A useful tool employed in many reviews is a timeline that details significant discoveries that have contributed to better understanding of the field.
- Request Feedback. Your lab mates, mentor, or colleagues in your university will be happy to read drafts and provide feedback. They may help with different perspectives or can also help you interpret certain studies in new ways you hadn’t thought of. Discussing your review with peers will definitely improve it and help prevent inaccuracies.
- Discuss the future of the field. Get your lab mate’s and mentor’s views on the future to determine if there is a consensus on where they think the field is headed. Speculate on how the future will improve our understanding of the field.
Most importantly take the time to write a scientific review! It helped me develop as a scientist. I understood the process of writing a scientific review, learned to be accurate yet consistent with scientific facts/discoveries, and got more experience critiquing scientific literature. I encourage everyone to take a short break from experiments to speculate on all the science and write a scientific review. This exercise can help your project too! Good luck writing!
About the Author:
Sushama is doing her postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Dr. Hongtao Yu at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas TX. She obtained her PhD from the laboratory of Dr. Gary J Gorbsky at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), Oklahoma city, OK. She is interested in understanding the mechanisms that regulate mitotic progression in mammalian cell lines. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.