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Scientific Research and Communication — Science Literature Reviews

Developing Communication Competencies for STEM Students

What is a literature review in the sciences?

To answer this question, please read the following content excerpted from the UCLA Undergraduate Science Journal guidelines.  Also, if you scroll down this page there is a link to a recorded webinar about science literature reviews.

Guide to Writing a Review Article: What is a Literature Review?

A literature review addresses a specific topic by evaluating research that others have done on it. As an author, you will weave your review article around a certain thesis or problem you wish to address, evaluate the quality and the meaning of the studies done before, and arrives at a conclusion about the problem based on the studies evaluated.

A literature review is not a summary and it is not a list. The author cannot simply cite the studies that have been done and the results that have been obtained. If you describe past research without evaluating it, then your “review” is little more than a book report. A literature review must be a synthesis of the results of your search, organized around your chosen theme.

The article should be your evaluation of the literature and of the issue at stake. This is a challenging piece of work. You must:

1. Organize information and relate it to your thesis or research question

2. Synthesize results into a summary of what is and isn’t known

3. Identify contradictions, inconsistencies, and gaps in the research

4. Identify and analyze controversy when it appears in the literature

5. Develop questions for further research

6. Draw conclusions based on your evaluation of the studies presented

Literature Review vs. Research Article

A literature review surveys research done by others in a particular area. You will read and evaluate studies done by others, instead of conducting a new study yourself. Research articles, on the other hand, present research that you have conducted yourself. A research article should contain enough background information and literature evaluation to shed light on your study, but the ultimate purpose of the paper is to report research done by you.

Asian woman looking into microscope completing cancer research

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

Below is a recorded webinar led by the science and engineering librarians from Western Michigan State University on science literature reviews:

Here is another video on literature reviews by Associate Professor Cecile Badenhorst of Memorial University of Newfoundland.  Dr. Badenhorst uses examples from research in the field of education, but the theoretical components she introduces are of interest to science students as well.