Guide to Review Paper Writing: REad, VIsualize, Encompass, and Write

Posted by Monica Mellinger on

by Aditi Khadilkar, PhD, Process Technology Development Engineer, Intel Corp.

Research, whether from a PhD student, post-doctoral scholar, academician, or industrialist perspective, greatly benefits from a succinct review that synthesizes available subject knowledge. This allows researchers to avoid reinventing the wheel by providing a detailed understanding of the state-of-art and a clear problem statement.

If your topic of interest has not been summarized in a published article recently, you have the opportunity to lead by publishing such an article. The goals of writing your literature review article include gaining thorough knowledge of the existing literature, synthesizing this material, identifying challenges for growth and continued R&D, articulating current knowledge gaps, and presenting your own thoughts on the topic and its future.

Collect relevant resources

The process of review article writing starts with an initial data collection phase. Here, you want to focus on collecting a breadth of resources. Start by identifying and securing access to broader resources such as relevant journal databases. Then conduct keyword searches to obtain all relevant documents.

In this phase, it is sufficient to skim the documents just enough to select relevant materials and categorize them into folders for later reference. Survey publications across several years, starting from the most recent, and consider using abstraction services as an aid.

Read and summarize

Once the initial data collection is complete, intense reading is necessary. Start by prioritizing the articles based on relevance, most-recent, number of citations, other review articles before research articles, and so on. Then read each article completely. While reading, highlight key information and start writing article summaries. When you have a few summaries, start preparing an article outline by organizing them into appropriate sections. To ensure thorough data collection, review article references and add them to your reading list.

As you progress in your reading, the gaps will start becoming obvious. At this point you can conduct a second phase of data collection to look for specific information that seems to be missing. Then continue summarizing and collecting data until you start finding the literature repetitive. By now, you will have developed basic subject knowledge, identified gaps and challenges, created an article outline and likely advanced your thoughts and opinions on the subject.

Synthesize and visualize

Next comes the critical thinking and writing phase. Begin to assimilate all the knowledge and start piecing the summaries into a coherent whole.  This is also your chance to let your imagination run wild and pen down any thoughts and ideas, criticize the available knowledge, and propose next steps. Visualization becomes important here, and it is the time to give the masterpiece your personal touch.

By now you may have noticed that review paper writing phases overlap and it should not surprise you if you find yourself doing more data collection and reading while simultaneously writing up your learnings and thoughts. This is a dynamic and iterative process! Don’t make the mistake of trying to rigidly separate the different steps, which can make the process dull and boring. It also prevents good synthesis of ideas, visualization, and critical thinking, all of which are essential to making your review article novel and worthwhile.

Write the intro last

The article’s introduction and conclusion should be written at the very end. The purpose of the introduction is to summarize the literature and give the different parts of the review a logical connection (i.e., establish your storyline). The conclusion should provide your perspective on the subject and highlight identified challenges and next steps.

Finally, to revise the article, look for words that express uncertainty and seek to clarify and quantify those. Adverbs that end in “ly” are examples of such words. Revisit the title to ensure that it is specific. Printing out a copy or reading aloud sometimes makes it easier to spot weak areas.

In summary, remember that review writing is an iterative, dynamic process that involves data collection, reading, synthesizing, thinking, visualizing, and lastly, writing. Writing and utilizing a review paper can help you find balance while “standing on the shoulders of giants” in the pursuit of novel developments and discoveries.

Aditi Khadilkar, PhD in Energy Engineering, is a Process Technology Development Engineer at Intel Corp. Oregon. Her research interests include energy, materials, semiconductors/data and their integration. She has authored two well-cited review articles. She can be contacted via email Linkedin: