- Search Menu
- Advance Articles
- Editor's Choice
- CME Reviews
- Best of 2021 collection
- Abbreviated Breast MRI Virtual Collection
- Contrast-enhanced Mammography Collection
- Author Guidelines
- Submission Site
- Open Access
- Self-Archiving Policy
- Accepted Papers Resource Guide
- About Journal of Breast Imaging
- About the Society of Breast Imaging
- Guidelines for Reviewers
- Resources for Reviewers and Authors
- Editorial Board
- Advertising Disclaimer
- Advertising and Corporate Services
- Journals on Oxford Academic
- Books on Oxford Academic
Introduction, selection of a topic, scientific literature search and analysis, structure of a scientific review article, tips for success, acknowledgments, conflict of interest statement.
- < Previous
A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Scientific Review Article
- Article contents
- Figures & tables
- Supplementary Data
Manisha Bahl, A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Scientific Review Article, Journal of Breast Imaging , Volume 5, Issue 4, July/August 2023, Pages 480–485, https://doi.org/10.1093/jbi/wbad028
- Permissions Icon Permissions
Scientific review articles are comprehensive, focused reviews of the scientific literature written by subject matter experts. The task of writing a scientific review article can seem overwhelming; however, it can be managed by using an organized approach and devoting sufficient time to the process. The process involves selecting a topic about which the authors are knowledgeable and enthusiastic, conducting a literature search and critical analysis of the literature, and writing the article, which is composed of an abstract, introduction, body, and conclusion, with accompanying tables and figures. This article, which focuses on the narrative or traditional literature review, is intended to serve as a guide with practical steps for new writers. Tips for success are also discussed, including selecting a focused topic, maintaining objectivity and balance while writing, avoiding tedious data presentation in a laundry list format, moving from descriptions of the literature to critical analysis, avoiding simplistic conclusions, and budgeting time for the overall process.
Scientific review articles provide a focused and comprehensive review of the available evidence about a subject, explain the current state of knowledge, and identify gaps that could be topics for potential future research.
Detailed tables reviewing the relevant scientific literature are important components of high-quality scientific review articles.
Tips for success include selecting a focused topic, maintaining objectivity and balance, avoiding tedious data presentation, providing a critical analysis rather than only a description of the literature, avoiding simplistic conclusions, and budgeting time for the overall process.
The process of researching and writing a scientific review article can be a seemingly daunting task but can be made manageable, and even enjoyable, if an organized approach is used and a reasonable timeline is given. Scientific review articles provide authors with an opportunity to synthesize the available evidence about a specific subject, contribute their insights to the field, and identify opportunities for future research. The authors, in turn, gain recognition as subject matter experts and thought leaders in the field. An additional benefit to the authors is that high-quality review articles can often be cited many years after publication ( 1 , 2 ). The reader of a scientific review article should gain an understanding of the current state of knowledge on the subject, points of controversy, and research questions that have yet to be answered ( 3 ).
There are two types of review articles, narrative or traditional literature reviews and systematic reviews, which may or may not be accompanied by a meta-analysis ( 4 ). This article, which focuses on the narrative or traditional literature review, is intended to serve as a guide with practical steps for new writers. It is geared toward breast imaging radiologists who are preparing to write a scientific review article for the Journal of Breast Imaging but can also be used by any writer, reviewer, or reader. In the narrative or traditional literature review, the available scientific literature is synthesized and no new data are presented. This article first discusses the process of selecting an appropriate topic. Then, practical tips for conducting a literature search and analyzing the literature are provided. The structure of a scientific review article is outlined and tips for success are described.
Scientific review articles are often solicited by journal editors and written by experts in the field. For solicited or invited articles, a senior expert in the field may be contacted and, in turn, may ask junior faculty or trainees to help with the literature search and writing process. Most journals also consider proposals for review article topics. The journal’s editorial office can be contacted via e-mail with a topic proposal, ideally with an accompanying outline or an extended abstract to help explain the proposal.
When selecting a topic for a scientific review article, the following considerations should be taken into account: The authors should be knowledgeable about and interested in the topic; the journal’s audience should be interested in the topic; and the topic should be focused, with a sufficient number of current research studies ( Figure 1 ). For the Journal of Breast Imaging , a scientific review article on breast MRI would be too broad in scope. Examples of more focused topics include abbreviated breast MRI ( 5 ), concerns about gadolinium deposition in the setting of screening MRI ( 6 ), Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System (BI-RADS) 3 assessments on MRI ( 7 , 8 ), the science of background parenchymal enhancement ( 9 ), and screening MRI in women at intermediate risk ( 10 ).
Summary of the factors to consider when selecting a topic for a scientific review article. Adapted with permission from Dhillon et al ( 2 ).
Once a well-defined topic is selected, the next step is to conduct a literature search. There are multiple indexing databases that can be used for a literature search, including PubMed, SCOPUS, and Web of Science ( 11–13 ). A list of databases with links can be found on the National Institutes of Health website ( 14 ). It is advised to keep track of the search terms that are used so that the search could be replicated if needed.
While reading articles, taking notes and keeping track of findings in a spreadsheet or database can be helpful. The following points should be considered for each article: What is the purpose of the article, and is it relevant to the review article topic? What was the study design (eg, retrospective analysis, randomized controlled trial)? Are the conclusions that are drawn based on the presented data valid and reasonable? What are the strengths and limitations of the study? In the discussion section, do the authors discuss other literature that both supports and contradicts their findings? It can also be helpful to read accompanying editorials, if available, that are written by experts to explain the importance of the original scientific article in the context of other work in the field.
If previous review articles on the same topic are discovered during the literature search, then the following strategies could be considered: discussing approaches used and limitations of past reviews, identifying a new angle that has not been previously covered, and/or focusing on new research that has been published since the most recent reviews on the topic ( 3 ). It is highly encouraged to create an outline and solicit feedback from co-authors before writing begins.
Writing a high-quality scientific review article is “a balancing act between the scientific rigor needed to select and critically appraise original studies, and the art of telling a story by providing context, exploring the known and the unknown, and pointing the way forward” ( 15 ). The ideal scientific review article is balanced and authoritative and serves as a definitive reference on the topic. Review articles tend to be 4000 to 5000 words in length, with 80% to 90% devoted to the body.
When preparing a scientific review article, writers can consider using the Scale for the Assessment of Narrative Review Articles, which has been proposed as a critical appraisal tool to help editors, reviewers, and readers assess non–systematic review articles ( 16 ). It is composed of the following six items, which are rated from 0 to 2 (with 0 being low quality and 2 being high quality): explanation of why the article is important, statement of aims or questions to be addressed, description of the literature search strategy, inclusion of appropriate references, scientific reasoning, and appropriate data presentation. In a study with three raters each reviewing 30 articles, the scale was felt to be feasible in daily editorial work and had high inter-rater reliability.
The components of a scientific review article include the abstract, introduction, body, conclusion, references, tables, and figures, which are described below.
Abstracts are typically structured as a single paragraph, ranging from 200 to 250 words in length. The abstract briefly explains why the topic is important, provides a summary of the main conclusions that are being drawn based on the research studies that were included and analyzed in the review article, and describes how the article is organized ( 17 ). Because the abstract should provide a summary of the main conclusions being drawn, it is often written last, after the other sections of the article have been completed. It does not include references.
The introduction provides detailed background about the topic and outlines the objectives of the review article. It is important to explain why the literature on that topic should be reviewed (eg, no prior reviews, different angle from prior reviews, new published research). The problem-gap-hook approach can be used, in which the topic is introduced, the gap is explained (eg, lack of published synthesis), and the hook (or why it matters) is provided ( 18 ). If there are prior review articles on the topic, particularly recent ones, then the authors are encouraged to justify how their review contributes to the existing literature. The content in the introduction section should be supported with references, but specific findings from recent research studies are typically not described, instead being discussed in depth in the body.
In a traditional or narrative review article, a methods section is optional. The methods section should include a list of the databases and years that were searched, search terms that were used, and a summary of the inclusion and exclusion criteria for articles ( 17 , 19 ).
The body can take different forms depending on the topic but should be organized into sections with subheadings, with each subsection having an independent introduction and conclusion. In the body, published studies should be reviewed in detail and in an organized fashion. In general, each paragraph should begin with a thesis statement or main point, and the sentences that follow it should consist of supporting evidence drawn from the literature. Research studies need not be discussed in chronological order, and the results from one research study may be discussed in different sections of the body. For example, if writing a scientific review article on screening digital breast tomosynthesis, cancer detection rates reported in one study may be discussed in a separate paragraph from the false-positive rates that were reported in the same study.
Emphasis should be placed on the significance of the study results in the broader context of the subject. The strengths and weaknesses of individual studies should be discussed. An example of this type of discussion is as follows: “Smith et al found no differences in re-excision rates among breast cancer patients who did and did not undergo preoperative MRI. However, there were several important limitations of this study. The radiologists were not required to have breast MRI interpretation experience, nor was it required that MRI-detected findings undergo biopsy prior to surgery.” Other examples of phrases that can be used for constructive criticism are available online ( 20 ).
The conclusion section ties everything together and clearly states the conclusions that are being drawn based on the research studies included and analyzed in the article. The authors are also encouraged to provide their views on future research, important challenges, and unanswered questions.
Scientific review articles tend to have a large number of supporting references (up to 100). When possible, referencing the original article (rather than a review article referring to the original article) is preferred. The use of a reference manager, such as EndNote (Clarivate, London, UK) ( 21 ), Mendeley Desktop (Elsevier, Amsterdam, the Netherlands) ( 22 ), Paperpile (Paperpile LLC, Cambridge, MA) ( 23 ), RefWorks (ProQuest, Ann Arbor, MI) ( 24 ), or Zotero (Corporation for Digital Scholarship, Fairfax, VA) ( 25 ), is highly encouraged, as it ensures appropriate reference ordering even when text is moved or added and can facilitate the switching of formats based on journal requirements ( 26 ).
Tables and Figures
The inclusion of tables and figures can improve the readability of the review. Detailed tables that review the scientific literature are expected ( Table 1 ). A table listing gaps in knowledge as potential areas for future research may also be included ( 17 ). Although scientific review articles are not expected to be as figure-rich as educational review articles, figures can be beneficial to illustrate complex concepts and summarize or synthesize relevant data ( Figure 2 ). Of note, if nonoriginal figures are used, permission from the copyright owner must be obtained.
Example of an Effective Table From a Scientific Review Article About Screening MRI in Women at Intermediate Risk of Breast Cancer.
Abbreviations: ADH, atypical ductal hyperplasia; ALH, atypical lobular hyperplasia; CDR, cancer detection rate; LCIS, lobular carcinoma in situ; NR, not reported; PPV, positive predictive value. NOTE: The Detailed Table Provides a Summary of the Relevant Scientific Literature on Screening MRI in women with lobular neoplasia or ADH. Adapted with permission from Bahl ( 10 ).
a The reported CDR is an incremental CDR in the studies by Friedlander et al and Chikarmane et al. In all studies, some, but not all, included patients had a prior MRI examination, so the reported CDR represents a combination of both the prevalent and incident CDRs.
b This study included 455 patients with LCIS (some of whom had concurrent ALH or ADH). Twenty-nine cancers were MRI-detected, and 115 benign biopsies were prompted by MRI findings.
Example of an effective figure from a scientific review article about breast cancer risk assessment. The figure provides a risk assessment algorithm for breast cancer. Reprinted with permission from Kim et al ( 28 ).
Select a Focused but Broad Enough Topic
A common pitfall is to be too ambitious in scope, resulting in a very time-consuming literature search and superficial coverage of some aspects of the topic. The ideal topic should be focused enough to be manageable but with a large enough body of available research to justify the need for a review article. One article on the topic of scientific reviews suggests that at least 15 to 20 relevant research papers published within the previous five years should be easily identifiable to warrant writing a review article ( 2 ).
Provide a Summary of Main Conclusions in the Abstract
Another common pitfall is to only introduce the topic and provide a roadmap for the article in the abstract. The abstract should also provide a summary of the main conclusions that are being drawn based on the research studies that were included and analyzed in the review article.
The content and key points of the article should be based on the published scientific literature and not biased toward one’s personal opinion.
Avoid Tedious Data Presentation
Extensive lists of statements about the findings of other authors (eg, author A found Z, author B found Y, while author C found X, etc) make it difficult for the reader to understand and follow the article. It is best for the writing to be thematic based on research findings rather than author-centered ( 27 ). Each paragraph in the body should begin with a thesis statement or main point, and the sentences that follow should consist of supporting evidence drawn from the literature. For example, in a scientific review article about artificial intelligence (AI) for screening mammography, one approach would be to write that article A found a higher cancer detection rate, higher efficiency, and a lower false-positive rate with use of the AI algorithm and article B found a similar cancer detection rate and higher efficiency, while article C found a higher cancer detection rate and higher false-positive rate. Rather, a better approach would be to write one or more paragraphs summarizing the literature on cancer detection rates, one or more paragraphs on false-positive rates, and one or more paragraphs on efficiency. The results from one study (eg, article A) need not all be discussed in the same paragraph.
Move from Description (Summary) to Analysis
A common pitfall is to describe and summarize the published literature without providing a critical analysis. The purpose of the narrative or traditional review article is not only to summarize relevant discoveries but also to synthesize the literature, discuss its limitations and implications, and speculate on the future.
Avoid Simplistic Conclusions
The scientific review article’s conclusions should consider the complexity of the topic and the quality of the evidence. When describing a study’s findings, it is best to use language that reflects the quality of the evidence rather than making definitive statements. For example, rather than stating that “The use of preoperative breast MRI leads to a reduction in re-excision rates,” the following comments could be made: “Two single-institution retrospective studies found that preoperative MRI was associated with lower rates of positive surgical margins, which suggests that preoperative MRI may lead to reduced re-excision rates. Larger studies with randomization of patients are needed to validate these findings.”
Budget Time for Researching, Synthesizing, and Writing
The amount of time necessary to write a high-quality scientific review article can easily be underestimated. The process of searching for and synthesizing the scientific literature on a topic can take weeks to months to complete depending on the number of authors involved in this process.
Scientific review articles are common in the medical literature and can serve as definitive references on the topic for other scientists, clinicians, and trainees. The first step in the process of preparing a scientific review article is to select a focused topic. This step is followed by a literature search and critical analysis of the published data. The components of the article include an abstract, introduction, body, and conclusion, with the majority devoted to the body, in which the relevant literature is reviewed in detail. The article should be objective and balanced, with summaries and critical analysis of the available evidence. Budgeting time for researching, synthesizing, and writing; taking advantage of the resources listed in this article and available online; and soliciting feedback from co-authors at various stages of the process (eg, after an outline is created) can help new writers produce high-quality scientific review articles.
The author thanks Susanne L. Loomis (Medical and Scientific Communications, Strategic Communications, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA) for creating Figure 1 in this article.
M.B. is a consultant for Lunit (medical AI software company) and an expert panelist for 2nd.MD (a digital health company). She also receives funding from the National Institutes of Health (K08CA241365). M.B. is an associate editor of the Journal of Breast Imaging . As such, she was excluded from the editorial process.
Ketcham CM , Crawford JM. The impact of review articles . Lab Invest 2007 ; 87 ( 12 ): 1174 – 1185 .
Dhillon P. How to write a good scientific review article . FEBS J 2022 ; 289 ( 13 ): 3592 – 3602 .
Pautasso M. Ten simple rules for writing a literature review . PLoS Comput Biol 2013 ; 9 ( 7 ): e1003149 . doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149 .
Gregory AT , Denniss AR. An introduction to writing narrative and systematic reviews—tasks, tips and traps for aspiring authors . Heart Lung Circ 2018 ; 27 ( 7 ): 893 – 898 .
Heacock L , Reig B , Lewin AA , Toth HK , Moy L , Lee CS. Abbreviated breast MRI: road to clinical implementation . J Breast Imag 2020 ; 2 ( 3 ): 201 – 214 .
Neal CH. Screening breast MRI and gadolinium deposition: cause for concern ? J Breast Imag 2022 ; 4 ( 1 ): 10 – 18 .
Morris EA , Comstock CE , Lee CH , et al. ACR BI-RADS ® Magnetic Resonance Imaging . In: ACR BI-RADS ® Atlas, Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System . Reston, VA : American College of Radiology ; 2013 .
Nguyen DL , Myers KS , Oluyemi E , et al. BI-RADS 3 assessment on MRI: a lesion-based review for breast radiologists . J Breast Imag 2022 ; 4 ( 5 ): 460 – 473 .
Vong S , Ronco AJ , Najafpour E , Aminololama-Shakeri S. Screening breast MRI and the science of premenopausal background parenchymal enhancement . J Breast Imag 2021 ; 3 ( 4 ): 407 – 415 .
Bahl M. Screening MRI in women at intermediate breast cancer risk: an update of the recent literature . J Breast Imag 2022 ; 4 ( 3 ): 231 – 240 .
National Library of Medicine . PubMed . Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ . Accessed October 5, 2022 .
Elsevier . Scopus . Available at: https://www.elsevier.com/solutions/scopus/ . Accessed October 5, 2022 .
Clarivate . Web of Science . Available at: https://clarivate.com/webofsciencegroup/solutions/web-of-science/ . Accessed October 5, 2022 .
National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Management . NIH Library . Available at: https://www.nihlibrary.nih.gov/services/systematic-review-service/literature-search-databases-and-gray-literature/ . Accessed October 5, 2022 .
Vidal EIO , Fukushima FB. The art and science of writing a scientific review article . Cad Saude Publica 2021 ; 37 ( 4 ): e00063121 . doi: 10.1590/0102-311X00063121 .
Baethge C , Goldbeck-Wood S , Mertens S. SANRA—a scale for the quality assessment of narrative review articles . Res Integr Peer Rev 2019 ; 4 : 5 . doi: 10.1186/s41073-019-0064-8 .
Sanders DA. How to write (and how not to write) a scientific review article . Clin Biochem 2020 ; 81 : 65 – 68 .
Lingard L , Colquhoun H. The story behind the synthesis: writing an effective introduction to your scoping review . Perspect Med Educ 2022 ; 11 ( 5 ): 289 – 294 .
Murphy CM. Writing an effective review article . J Med Toxicol 2012 ; 8 ( 2 ): 89 – 90 .
The University of Manchester Academic Phrasebank . Being critical. Available at: https://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/being-critical/ . Accessed October 5, 2022 .
Clarivate . EndNote . Available at: https://endnote.com/ . Accessed October 5, 2022 .
Mendeley . Getting started with Mendeley Desktop . Available at: https://www.mendeley.com/guides/desktop/ . Accessed October 5, 2022 .
Paperpile . Available at: https://paperpile.com/ . Accessed October 5, 2022 .
RefWorks . Available at: https://www.refworks.com/refworks2/ . Accessed October 5, 2022 .
Zotero . Available at: https://www.zotero.org/ . Accessed October 5, 2022 .
Grimm LJ , Harvey JA. Practical steps to writing a scientific manuscript . J Breast Imag 2022 ; 4 ( 6 ): 640 – 648 .
Gasparyan AY , Ayvazyan L , Blackmore H , Kitas GD. Writing a narrative biomedical review: considerations for authors, peer reviewers, and editors . Rheumatol Int 2011 ; 31 ( 11 ): 1409 – 1417 .
Kim G , Bahl M. Assessing risk of breast cancer: a review of risk prediction models . J Breast Imag 2021 ; 3 ( 2 ): 144 – 155 .
Citing articles via.
- Recommend to your Librarian
- Journals Career Network
- Online ISSN 2631-6129
- Print ISSN 2631-6110
- Copyright © 2023 Society of Breast Imaging
- About Oxford Academic
- Publish journals with us
- University press partners
- What we publish
- New features
- Open access
- Institutional account management
- Rights and permissions
- Get help with access
- Media enquiries
- Oxford University Press
- Oxford Languages
- University of Oxford
Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide
- Copyright © 2023 Oxford University Press
- Cookie settings
- Legal notice
This Feature Is Available To Subscribers Only
Sign In or Create an Account
This PDF is available to Subscribers Only
For full access to this pdf, sign in to an existing account, or purchase an annual subscription.
Photo by John Fleischman
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:
- View all journals
- Explore content
- About the journal
- Publish with us
- Sign up for alerts
- CAREER FEATURE
- 04 December 2020
- Correction 09 December 2020
How to write a superb literature review
Andy Tay is a freelance writer based in Singapore.
You can also search for this author in PubMed Google Scholar
Literature reviews are important resources for scientists. They provide historical context for a field while offering opinions on its future trajectory. Creating them can provide inspiration for one’s own research, as well as some practice in writing. But few scientists are trained in how to write a review — or in what constitutes an excellent one. Even picking the appropriate software to use can be an involved decision (see ‘Tools and techniques’). So Nature asked editors and working scientists with well-cited reviews for their tips.
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 / 30 days
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 51 print issues and online access
$199.00 per year
only $3.90 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Prices vary by article type
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Updates & Corrections
Correction 09 December 2020 : An earlier version of the tables in this article included some incorrect details about the programs Zotero, Endnote and Manubot. These have now been corrected.
Hsing, I.-M., Xu, Y. & Zhao, W. Electroanalysis 19 , 755–768 (2007).
Article Google Scholar
Ledesma, H. A. et al. Nature Nanotechnol. 14 , 645–657 (2019).
Article PubMed Google Scholar
Brahlek, M., Koirala, N., Bansal, N. & Oh, S. Solid State Commun. 215–216 , 54–62 (2015).
Choi, Y. & Lee, S. Y. Nature Rev. Chem . https://doi.org/10.1038/s41570-020-00221-w (2020).
- Research management
Most scientists don’t enjoy writing grants. Here’s how to change that
Career Column 05 DEC 23
Why I launched Malaysia’s first scientific newspaper
Career Q&A 04 DEC 23
Disability lawsuit lands Howard Hughes Medical Institute in court
Career News 02 DEC 23
Broaden scope of review boards to boost public trust
Correspondence 05 DEC 23
Remote collaboration fuses fewer breakthrough ideas
Article 29 NOV 23
City-based scientists get creative to tackle rural-research needs
Nature Index 21 NOV 23
Is AI leading to a reproducibility crisis in science?
News Feature 05 DEC 23
Stunning stem cells and Starlink trails — November’s best science images
News 04 DEC 23
Position: Research Scientist
Saudi Arabia (SA)
King Abdullah International Medical Research Center
Postdoctoral Associate- Data Analysis
Houston, Texas (US)
Baylor College of Medicine (BCM)
Research associate - molecular biology, nihr gosh brc 3-year clinical training (phd) fellowship.
Clinical PhD Fellowship for paediatric doctors and wider Healthcare Professionals at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health
London (Greater) (GB)
NIHR GOSH BRC
Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.
- Explore articles by subject
- Guide to authors
- Editorial policies
How to write a good scientific review article
- 1 The FEBS Journal Editorial Office, Cambridge, UK.
- PMID: 35792782
- DOI: 10.1111/febs.16565
Literature reviews are valuable resources for the scientific community. With research accelerating at an unprecedented speed in recent years and more and more original papers being published, review articles have become increasingly important as a means to keep up to date with developments in a particular area of research. A good review article provides readers with an in-depth understanding of a field and highlights key gaps and challenges to address with future research. Writing a review article also helps to expand the writer's knowledge of their specialist area and to develop their analytical and communication skills, amongst other benefits. Thus, the importance of building review-writing into a scientific career cannot be overstated. In this instalment of The FEBS Journal's Words of Advice series, I provide detailed guidance on planning and writing an informative and engaging literature review.
© 2022 Federation of European Biochemical Societies.
How to Write a Scientific Review Article
In the biosciences, review articles written by researchers are valuable tools for those looking for a synopsis of several research studies in one place without having to spend time finding the research and results themselves. A well-presented review paper provides the reader with unbiased information on studies within the discipline and presents why the results of some research studies are or are not valid. In addition, institutions that fund research tend to use review articles to help them decide whether further research is necessary; however, their value is only as good as the objectives achieved and how the results are communicated.
The objective of a review should be “to achieve an organization and synthesis of past work around the chosen theme in order to accelerate the accumulation and assimilation of recent knowledge into the existing body of knowledge.” Importantly, a review should present results clearly and accurately—good writing is essential and must follow a strict set of rules.
In 1996, Quality of Reporting of Meta-analyses (QUOROM), which focused on meta-analyses of randomized controlled studies, was created during a conference involving a group of scientists, clinicians, and statisticians. The QUOROM statement, checklist, and flow diagram were introduced to researchers to help them better organize their reviews and ensure that specific criteria were followed. QUOROM was later updated and renamed Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) with the same values and criteria.
Types of Review Articles
A review article is not an original study. It examines previous studies and compiles their data and evidence.
Based on their structure and formulation, literature reviews are broadly classified as-
- Narrative or Traditional Literature Reviews – This is the classic literature review that summarizes the collated literature relevant to the thesis body.
- Scoping Reviews – Scoping reviews involves systematic searching of all the material on the topic and replicate your searches. This enables the researcher to fill in any gaps that appear in results.
- Systematic Literature Reviews – It is a methodical approach to collate and synthesize all relevant data about a predefined research question.
- Cochrane Reviews – These are internationally recognized systematic reviews for human health care and policy.
Although narrative reviews can be useful, they are not in depth and do not necessarily analyze data or study-group sizes for determining whether results are valid. Systematic reviews , on the other hand, are more detailed and involve a more comprehensive literature search—they are the “gold standard” of review articles. A meta-analysis is a quantitative systematic review. It combines data from several studies to reach a conclusion that is statistically stronger than any in the single studies, mainly because of having more study subjects and more diversity among subjects.
A good review usually concentrates on a theme, such as different theories, information on the progress of developing a new medical device, or how past developments influence new discoveries. A review might also ask that more resources be used to continue research in that specific field.
There are advantages and disadvantages to writing a review . In addition to having more available data, other advantages include confirmatory data analysis and that reviews are considered to be an evidence-based resource. Some of the disadvantages are they are more time consuming and not all studies will provide the requisite amount of data. In addition, statistical functions and interpretations are more complex and authors must ensure that the populations from each study and all studies combined are heterogeneous.
Previous reviews on the chosen theme using Google Scholar can provide information on any new findings, and the following points should be considered when conducting searches:
- The author and any possible conflicting interests
- The purpose of the article
- The author’s hypothesis and whether it is supported
- How the literature will contribute to your topic
- Whether opinions expressed by the author(s) are correct
Once the inclusion and exclusion criteria have been identified based on these points, authors are ready to prepare their paper. Sources such as Popular Science and WebMD.com should be avoided. These sources, among others, are not allowed to be used as sources for review articles. Authors must ensure that the sources are legitimate research studies and that they are similar in nature (e.g., all randomized controlled trials).
Maximum length can vary depending on the author guidelines from the journal to which you are submitting, so authors must always check those guidelines before they begin. As a general rule, most journals ask that a specific font and size be used (e.g., Times New Roman, 12 point), that 1.0-inch margins be used on all four sides, and 1.5 line spacing be used.
The article structure should contain very specific sections, which might vary slightly according to different science disciplines. In scientific writing, the IMRAD structure (introduction, methods, results, and discussion) is a standard format adopted by a majority of academic journals. Although specific author guidelines might vary, in most cases, the review paper should contain the following sections:
- Main title (possibly, short title)
- Zurich-Basel Plant Science Center suggests providing titles which are 8 to 12 words in length
- The title must contain key elements of the subject matter .
- Author names and affiliations should be included
- Corresponding author details should be mentioned
- Main points, or a synthesis , of the project should be outlined
- Subheadings should be included if required (e.g., objective, methods, results, and conclusions)
- The length of the abstract should be between 200 and 250 words
- No citations included within the abstract
- Acronyms and abbreviations should be included only if used more than once
- Background information on the topic should be discussed
- Introduction must address the objective (research question)
- Text should be written in present tense
Materials and Methods
- Should be written in past tense
- Should provide information necessary to repeat the review
- Search strategies, inclusion and exclusion criteria, data sources and geographical information, characteristics of study subjects, and statistical analyses used should be included
- Authors must include all the results
- Their relevance to the objective should be mentioned
- Results must include heterogeneity of the study groups or samples
- Statistical significance should be mentioned
- Background information and objective can be reiterated
- Results and their relevance clearly and concisely discussed
- This section should discuss the objective discussed in the introduction This section should discuss the implications of the findings, interpretations, and identify unresolved questions
- An assessment of whether the studies were adequate to reach a conclusion that can be applied to a much larger group, stating reasons
- Suggestions for future studies should be provided
- Authors may thank the people or institutions who have supported the work
- Only those references cited in the text should be listed
- 50 to 100 references are allowed
- Internet sources are usually not allowed
Very informative and helped in me understanding the do and donts of writing a review…. A big motivational and knowledgeable article for those qho want to get motivation to begin the process of ones thought into practical work and take the first stwp in this regard
Rate this article Cancel Reply
Your email address will not be published.
Enago Academy's Most Popular
- Old Webinars
- Webinar Mobile App
Improving Your Chances of Publication in International Peer-reviewed Journals
Types of literature reviews Tips for writing review articles Role of meta-analysis Reporting guidelines
Introduction to Review Articles: Writing Systematic and Narrative Reviews
学术出版中综述文章的概述和意义 不同类型文献综述的比较分析 写好系统综述与叙述性综述的技巧 整合分析（meta-analysis）的作用
综述论文的种类-系统综述与叙述性综述 PRISMA 检核表及流程图 综述论文的组成 为您的综述选择合适的期刊以发表
How to Author a Review Article
Systematic and Non-Systematic Reviews PRISMA Flowcharts and Checklists Parts of a Review Article Drafting a…
What Is a Systematic Review in Research?
Systematic Review: Structure and Process
New Physics Framework by Dan S. Correnti: A Book Review
How Scholarly Book Review Differs from an Article Review
Sign-up to read more
Subscribe for free to get unrestricted access to all our resources on research writing and academic publishing including:
- 2000+ blog articles
- 50+ Webinars
- 10+ Expert podcasts
- 50+ Infographics
- 10+ Checklists
- Research Guides
We hate spam too. We promise to protect your privacy and never spam you.
I am looking for Editing/ Proofreading services for my manuscript Tentative date of next journal submission:
According to you, how can one ensure ethical compliance in research and academia?
Write a Critical Review of a Scientific Journal Article
1. identify how and why the research was carried out, 2. establish the research context, 3. evaluate the research, 4. establish the significance of the research.
- Writing Your Critique
Ask Us: Chat, email, visit or call
Video: How to Integrate Critical Voice into Your Literature Review
Video: Note-taking and Writing Tips to Avoid Plagiarism
The library offers a range of helpful services. All of our appointments are free of charge and confidential.
- Book an appointment
Read the article(s) carefully and use the questions below to help you identify how and why the research was carried out. Look at the following sections:
- What was the objective of the study?
- What methods were used to accomplish this purpose (e.g., systematic recording of observations, analysis and evaluation of published research, assessment of theory, etc.)?
- What techniques were used and how was each technique performed?
- What kind of data can be obtained using each technique?
- How are such data interpreted?
- What kind of information is produced by using the technique?
- What objective evidence was obtained from the authors’ eﬀorts (observations, measurements, etc.)?
- What were the results of the study?
- How was each technique used to obtain each result?
- What statistical tests were used to evaluate the signiﬁcance of the conclusions based on numeric or graphic data?
- How did each result contribute to answering the question or testing the hypothesis raised in the introduction?
- How were the results interpreted? How were they related to the original problem (authors’ view of evidence rather than objective ﬁndings)?
- Were the authors able to answer the question (test the hypothesis) raised?
- Did the research provide new factual information, a new understanding of a phenomenon in the ﬁeld, or a new research technique?
- How was the signiﬁcance of the work described?
- Do the authors relate the findings of the study to literature in the field?
- Did the reported observations or interpretations support or refute observations or interpretations made by other researchers?
These questions were adapted from the following sources: Kuyper, B.J. (1991). Bringing up scientists in the art of critiquing research. Bioscience 41(4), 248-250. Wood, J.M. (2003). Research Lab Guide. MICR*3260 Microbial Adaptation and Development Web Site . Retrieved July 31, 2006.
Once you are familiar with the article, you can establish the research context by asking the following questions:
- Who conducted the research? What were/are their interests?
- When and where was the research conducted?
- Why did the authors do this research?
- Was this research pertinent only within the authors’ geographic locale, or did it have broader (even global) relevance?
- Were many other laboratories pursuing related research when the reported work was done? If so, why?
- For experimental research, what funding sources met the costs of the research?
- On what prior observations was the research based? What was and was not known at the time?
- How important was the research question posed by the researchers?
These questions were adapted from the following sources: Kuyper, B.J. (1991). Bringing up scientists in the art of critiquing research. Bioscience 41(4), 248-250. Wood, J.M. (2003). Research Lab Guide. MICR*3260 Microbial Adaptation and Development Web Site . Retrieved July 31, 2006.
Remember that simply disagreeing with the material is not considered to be a critical assessment of the material. For example, stating that the sample size is insufficient is not a critical assessment. Describing why the sample size is insufficient for the claims being made in the study would be a critical assessment.
Use the questions below to help you evaluate the quality of the authors’ research:
- Does the title precisely state the subject of the paper?
- Read the statement of purpose in the abstract. Does it match the one in the introduction?
- Could the source of the research funding have influenced the research topic or conclusions?
- Check the sequence of statements in the introduction. Does all the information lead coherently to the purpose of the study?
- Review all methods in relation to the objective(s) of the study. Are the methods valid for studying the problem?
- Check the methods for essential information. Could the study be duplicated from the methods and information given?
- Check the methods for ﬂaws. Is the sample selection adequate? Is the experimental design sound?
- Check the sequence of statements in the methods. Does all the information belong there? Is the sequence of methods clear and pertinent?
- Was there mention of ethics? Which research ethics board approved the study?
- Carefully examine the data presented in the tables and diagrams. Does the title or legend accurately describe the content?
- Are column headings and labels accurate?
- Are the data organized for ready comparison and interpretation? (A table should be self-explanatory, with a title that accurately and concisely describes content and column headings that accurately describe information in the cells.)
- Review the results as presented in the text while referring to the data in the tables and diagrams. Does the text complement, and not simply repeat data? Are there discrepancies between the results in the text and those in the tables?
- Check all calculations and presentation of data.
- Review the results in light of the stated objectives. Does the study reveal what the researchers intended?
- Does the discussion clearly address the objectives and hypotheses?
- Check the interpretation against the results. Does the discussion merely repeat the results?
- Does the interpretation arise logically from the data or is it too far-fetched?
- Have the faults, ﬂaws, or shortcomings of the research been addressed?
- Is the interpretation supported by other research cited in the study?
- Does the study consider key studies in the ﬁeld?
- What is the significance of the research? Do the authors mention wider implications of the findings?
- Is there a section on recommendations for future research? Are there other research possibilities or directions suggested?
Consider the article as a whole
- Reread the abstract. Does it accurately summarize the article?
- Check the structure of the article (ﬁrst headings and then paragraphing). Is all the material organized under the appropriate headings? Are sections divided logically into subsections or paragraphs?
- Are stylistic concerns, logic, clarity, and economy of expression addressed?
These questions were adapted from the following sources: Kuyper, B.J. (1991). Bringing up scientists in the art of critiquing research. Bioscience 41(4), 248-250. Wood, J.M. (2003). Research Lab Guide. MICR*3260 Microbial Adaptation and Development Web Site. Retrieved July 31, 2006.
After you have evaluated the research, consider whether the research has been successful. Has it led to new questions being asked, or new ways of using existing knowledge? Are other researchers citing this paper?
You should consider the following questions:
- How did other researchers view the signiﬁcance of the research reported by your authors?
- Did the research reported in your article result in the formulation of new questions or hypotheses (by the authors or by other researchers)?
- Have other researchers subsequently supported or refuted the observations or interpretations of these authors?
- Did the research make a signiﬁcant contribution to human knowledge?
- Did the research produce any practical applications?
- What are the social, political, technological, medical implications of this research?
- How do you evaluate the signiﬁcance of the research?
To answer these questions, look at review articles to ﬁnd out how reviewers view this piece of research. Look at research articles and databases like Web of Science to see how other people have used this work. What range of journals have cited this article?
These questions were adapted from the following sources:
Kuyper, B.J. (1991). Bringing up scientists in the art of critiquing research. Bioscience 41(4), 248-250. Wood, J.M. (2003). Research Lab Guide. MICR*3260 Microbial Adaptation and Development Web Site . Retrieved July 31, 2006.
- << Previous: Start Here
- Next: Writing Your Critique >>
- Last Updated: Jun 19, 2023 11:14 AM
- URL: https://guides.lib.uoguelph.ca/WriteCriticalReview
Suggest an edit to this guide
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
- Primary Antibodies
- Conjugated Antibodies for IF
- Conjugated Antibodies for FC
- Secondary Antibodies
- Antibody Labeling Kits New
- Magnetic Cell Separation Kits
- Cytokines & Growth Factors
- Neutralizing/activating Antibodies
- Nanobody-based Reagents
- Accessory Products and Kits
- Fusion Proteins
- Atlantic Blue™
- Cardinal Red™
- CoraLite® Plus 405
- CoraLite® Plus 488
- CoraLite® Plus 647
- CoraLite® Plus 750
- Alexa Fluor® 488
- Alexa Fluor® 568
- Alexa Fluor® 647
- CoraLite Plus 405
- FITC Plus NEW
- CoraLite Plus 488
- CoraLite Plus 555
- CoraLite Plus 647
- CoraLite Plus 750
How to Review a Scientific Paper in 10 Easy Steps
Summary of how to perform an invited review of a paper for publication.
Blog written by Jaime Fernández Sobaberas , 3 rd year PhD student in Biochemistry at Heidelberg University, Germany.
Reviewing scientific papers is an essential part of academic research and the publication process. It allows experts to assess the quality, validity, and significance of research findings before they are disseminated to the broader scientific community. Writing a comprehensive and constructive review contributes to the overall improvement of scientific knowledge. In this blog, we will discuss the key steps and considerations involved in reviewing a scientific paper.
1. Understand the Purpose of the Review:
Before you begin the review process, it’s important to understand the purpose of the review. Ask yourself why you have been asked to review the paper and what specific aspects you should focus on. Keep in mind that the goal is to provide a fair, unbiased, and constructive critique that helps the authors improve their work.
2. Familiarize Yourself with the Paper:
Start by reading the paper thoroughly and gaining a clear understanding of its content. Take note of the research question, methodology, data analysis, results, and conclusions. Identify any areas where you have expertise or concerns.
3. Evaluate the Paper’s Structure and Clarity:
Assess the paper’s overall structure, organization, and clarity of writing. Consider whether the abstract provides a concise summary of the study and whether the introduction effectively establishes the research context. Evaluate the logical flow of ideas, the use of headings and subheadings, and the clarity of the language. Note any sections that could benefit from additional clarification or restructuring.
4. Evaluate the Research Methods:
Assess the appropriateness and rigor of the research methods employed. Evaluate the study design, sample size, data collection techniques, and statistical analyses. Check whether the methods are adequately described, allowing for replication by other researchers. Identify any potential flaws or limitations in the methodology that could affect the validity of the results. Ensure that unique identifiers have been for used all reagents; for example, catalog numbers of RRIDs for all antibodies used.
5. Evaluate the Results and Analysis:
Examine the results and analysis presented in the paper. Assess whether the data supports the research question and if the statistical analysis is appropriate. Look for any inconsistencies or gaps in the data or areas where data may have been deliberately misled. Consider the significance and implications of the results and whether they are supported by the evidence presented. Read all the supporting/supplemental resources (if available) to confirm they show enough evidence to support their main findings.
6. Assess the Discussion and Conclusions:
Evaluate the interpretation of the results in the discussion section. Consider whether the authors have provided a balanced and objective analysis of the findings. Assess the extent to which the conclusions align with the research question and the overall study objectives. Note any alternative interpretations or potential avenues for future research.
7. Consider Ethical Considerations:
While reviewing a scientific paper, it’s important to be mindful of ethical considerations. Evaluate whether the study adheres to ethical guidelines and standards, such as obtaining informed consent, maintaining participant confidentiality, and minimizing potential harm. Assess whether the study design and methods align with ethical principles, particularly when human or animal subjects are involved. If you identify any ethical concerns, highlight them in your review and suggest potential remedies or improvements.
8. Verify References and Citations:
Ensure that the references and citations provided in the paper are accurate, relevant, and up-to-date. Verify that all sources mentioned in the text are included in the reference list and vice versa. Check the quality and credibility of the references, assessing whether they are from reputable sources and contribute to the overall strength of the paper. If you notice any missing or inaccurate references, point them out in your review and suggest appropriate replacements if necessary.
9. Provide Constructive Feedback:
When writing your review, be constructive and respectful in your feedback. Clearly outline both the strengths and weaknesses of the paper, offering specific suggestions for improvement. Be specific and provide references to relevant literature to support your comments. Avoid making personal attacks or using derogatory language.
10. Summarize Your Review:
Conclude your review with a concise summary of your main points. Highlight the paper’s strengths, such as novel contributions or a well-executed methodology. Discuss the key weaknesses and areas that need improvement. Finally, provide an overall recommendation regarding the acceptance, revision, or rejection of the paper.
Reviewing a scientific paper is a critical process that contributes to the quality and integrity of scientific research. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can provide valuable feedback to authors, help improve the quality of the research, and contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge. Remember to approach the review process with objectivity, fairness, and a commitment to fostering scientific excellence.
How to make a scientific conference poster
How to write a PhD thesis- 10 top tips
How to navigate finishing your PhD remotely
ChatGPT and BioGPT as tools for life science research
Pathway Posters Library
Early Career Researcher Hub
Stay up-to-date with our latest news and events. New to Proteintech? Get 10% off your first order when you sign up.
An official website of the United States government
The .gov means it’s official. Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.
The site is secure. The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.
- Account settings
- Advanced Search
- Journal List
- Turk J Urol
- v.39(Suppl 1); 2013 Sep
How to write a review article?
In the medical sciences, the importance of review articles is rising. When clinicians want to update their knowledge and generate guidelines about a topic, they frequently use reviews as a starting point. The value of a review is associated with what has been done, what has been found and how these findings are presented. Before asking ‘how,’ the question of ‘why’ is more important when starting to write a review. The main and fundamental purpose of writing a review is to create a readable synthesis of the best resources available in the literature for an important research question or a current area of research. Although the idea of writing a review is attractive, it is important to spend time identifying the important questions. Good review methods are critical because they provide an unbiased point of view for the reader regarding the current literature. There is a consensus that a review should be written in a systematic fashion, a notion that is usually followed. In a systematic review with a focused question, the research methods must be clearly described. A ‘methodological filter’ is the best method for identifying the best working style for a research question, and this method reduces the workload when surveying the literature. An essential part of the review process is differentiating good research from bad and leaning on the results of the better studies. The ideal way to synthesize studies is to perform a meta-analysis. In conclusion, when writing a review, it is best to clearly focus on fixed ideas, to use a procedural and critical approach to the literature and to express your findings in an attractive way.
The importance of review articles in health sciences is increasing day by day. Clinicians frequently benefit from review articles to update their knowledge in their field of specialization, and use these articles as a starting point for formulating guidelines. [ 1 , 2 ] The institutions which provide financial support for further investigations resort to these reviews to reveal the need for these researches. [ 3 ] As is the case with all other researches, the value of a review article is related to what is achieved, what is found, and the way of communicating this information. A few studies have evaluated the quality of review articles. Murlow evaluated 50 review articles published in 1985, and 1986, and revealed that none of them had complied with clear-cut scientific criteria. [ 4 ] In 1996 an international group that analyzed articles, demonstrated the aspects of review articles, and meta-analyses that had not complied with scientific criteria, and elaborated QUOROM (QUality Of Reporting Of Meta-analyses) statement which focused on meta-analyses of randomized controlled studies. [ 5 ] Later on this guideline was updated, and named as PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses). [ 6 ]
Review articles are divided into 2 categories as narrative, and systematic reviews. Narrative reviews are written in an easily readable format, and allow consideration of the subject matter within a large spectrum. However in a systematic review, a very detailed, and comprehensive literature surveying is performed on the selected topic. [ 7 , 8 ] Since it is a result of a more detailed literature surveying with relatively lesser involvement of author’s bias, systematic reviews are considered as gold standard articles. Systematic reviews can be diivded into qualitative, and quantitative reviews. In both of them detailed literature surveying is performed. However in quantitative reviews, study data are collected, and statistically evaluated (ie. meta-analysis). [ 8 ]
Before inquring for the method of preparation of a review article, it is more logical to investigate the motivation behind writing the review article in question. The fundamental rationale of writing a review article is to make a readable synthesis of the best literature sources on an important research inquiry or a topic. This simple definition of a review article contains the following key elements:
- The question(s) to be dealt with
- Methods used to find out, and select the best quality researches so as to respond to these questions.
- To synthetize available, but quite different researches
For the specification of important questions to be answered, number of literature references to be consulted should be more or less determined. Discussions should be conducted with colleagues in the same area of interest, and time should be reserved for the solution of the problem(s). Though starting to write the review article promptly seems to be very alluring, the time you spend for the determination of important issues won’t be a waste of time. [ 9 ]
The PRISMA statement [ 6 ] elaborated to write a well-designed review articles contains a 27-item checklist ( Table 1 ). It will be reasonable to fulfill the requirements of these items during preparation of a review article or a meta-analysis. Thus preparation of a comprehensible article with a high-quality scientific content can be feasible.
PRISMA statement: A 27-item checklist
Contents and format
Important differences exist between systematic, and non-systematic reviews which especially arise from methodologies used in the description of the literature sources. A non-systematic review means use of articles collected for years with the recommendations of your colleagues, while systematic review is based on struggles to search for, and find the best possible researches which will respond to the questions predetermined at the start of the review.
Though a consensus has been reached about the systematic design of the review articles, studies revealed that most of them had not been written in a systematic format. McAlister et al. analyzed review articles in 6 medical journals, and disclosed that in less than one fourth of the review articles, methods of description, evaluation or synthesis of evidence had been provided, one third of them had focused on a clinical topic, and only half of them had provided quantitative data about the extend of the potential benefits. [ 10 ]
Use of proper methodologies in review articles is important in that readers assume an objective attitude towards updated information. We can confront two problems while we are using data from researches in order to answer certain questions. Firstly, we can be prejudiced during selection of research articles or these articles might be biased. To minimize this risk, methodologies used in our reviews should allow us to define, and use researches with minimal degree of bias. The second problem is that, most of the researches have been performed with small sample sizes. In statistical methods in meta-analyses, available researches are combined to increase the statistical power of the study. The problematic aspect of a non-systematic review is that our tendency to give biased responses to the questions, in other words we apt to select the studies with known or favourite results, rather than the best quality investigations among them.
As is the case with many research articles, general format of a systematic review on a single subject includes sections of Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion ( Table 2 ).
Structure of a systematic review
Preparation of the review article
Steps, and targets of constructing a good review article are listed in Table 3 . To write a good review article the items in Table 3 should be implemented step by step. [ 11 – 13 ]
Steps of a systematic review
The research question
It might be helpful to divide the research question into components. The most prevalently used format for questions related to the treatment is PICO (P - Patient, Problem or Population; I-Intervention; C-appropriate Comparisons, and O-Outcome measures) procedure. For example In female patients (P) with stress urinary incontinence, comparisons (C) between transobturator, and retropubic midurethral tension-free band surgery (I) as for patients’ satisfaction (O).
In a systematic review on a focused question, methods of investigation used should be clearly specified.
Ideally, research methods, investigated databases, and key words should be described in the final report. Different databases are used dependent on the topic analyzed. In most of the clinical topics, Medline should be surveyed. However searching through Embase and CINAHL can be also appropriate.
While determining appropriate terms for surveying, PICO elements of the issue to be sought may guide the process. Since in general we are interested in more than one outcome, P, and I can be key elements. In this case we should think about synonyms of P, and I elements, and combine them with a conjunction AND.
One method which might alleviate the workload of surveying process is “methodological filter” which aims to find the best investigation method for each research question. A good example of this method can be found in PubMed interface of Medline. The Clinical Queries tool offers empirically developed filters for five different inquiries as guidelines for etiology, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis or clinical prediction.
Evaluation of the Quality of the Study
As an indispensable component of the review process is to discriminate good, and bad quality researches from each other, and the outcomes should be based on better qualified researches, as far as possible. To achieve this goal you should know the best possible evidence for each type of question The first component of the quality is its general planning/design of the study. General planning/design of a cohort study, a case series or normal study demonstrates variations.
A hierarchy of evidence for different research questions is presented in Table 4 . However this hierarchy is only a first step. After you find good quality research articles, you won’t need to read all the rest of other articles which saves you tons of time. [ 14 ]
Determination of levels of evidence based on the type of the research question
Formulating a Synthesis
Rarely all researches arrive at the same conclusion. In this case a solution should be found. However it is risky to make a decision based on the votes of absolute majority. Indeed, a well-performed large scale study, and a weakly designed one are weighed on the same scale. Therefore, ideally a meta-analysis should be performed to solve apparent differences. Ideally, first of all, one should be focused on the largest, and higher quality study, then other studies should be compared with this basic study.
In conclusion, during writing process of a review article, the procedures to be achieved can be indicated as follows: 1) Get rid of fixed ideas, and obsessions from your head, and view the subject from a large perspective. 2) Research articles in the literature should be approached with a methodological, and critical attitude and 3) finally data should be explained in an attractive way.