Review Essays for the Biological sciences

Key considerations for writing a biological review paper

This guide will inform you of certain things not to miss when writing a review paper. It will also give you some information about using and documenting your sources.

Keep your focus narrow.

When writing a review paper it is important to keep the scope of the topic narrow enough so that you can discuss it thoroughly. For example a topic such as air quality in factories could be narrowed significantly to something like carbon dioxide levels in auto manufacturing plants.

A good way to narrow your focus is to start with a broad topic that is of some interest to you, then read some of the literature in the field. Look for a thread of the discussion that points to a more specific topic.

Analyze, synthesize, and interpret.

A review paper is not a pure summary of the information you read for your review. You are required to analyze, synthesize, and interpret the information you read in some meaningful way.

It is not enough to simply present the material you have found, you must go beyond that and explain its relevance and significance to the topic at hand.

Establish a clear thesis from the onset of your writing and examine which pieces of your reading help you in developing and supporting the ideas in your thesis.

Use only academic sources.

A review paper reviews the academic body of literature—articles and research presented in academic journals. Lay periodicals such as, Discover, Scientific America, or Popular Science, are not adequate sources for an academic review paper.

If you are having trouble finding the academic journals in your field, ask one of your professors or a reference librarian.

Document your sources.

The material that you discuss in a review paper is obviously not your own, therefore it is crucial to document your sources properly. Proper documentation is crucial for two reasons: 1. It prevents the writer from being accused of plagiarism and 2. It gives the reader the opportunity to locate the sources the writer has reviewed because they may find them valuable in their own academic pursuits. Proper documentation depends on which style guide you are following.

Quote sparingly and properly.

No one wants to read a paper that is simply a string of quotes; reserve direct quotations for when you want to create a big impact. Often times the way a quote is written will not fit with the language or the style of your paper so paraphrase the authors words carefully and verbage as necessary to create a well formed paragraph.

Choose an informative title.

The title you choose for your review paper should give some indication of what lies ahead for the reader. You might consider the process you took in narrowing your topic to help you with your title—think of the title as something specific rather than a vague representation of your paper's topic. For example the title Wastewater Treatment might be more informative if rewritten as The Removal of Cloroform Bacteria as Practiced by California's Municipal Water Treatment Facilities.

Consider your audience.

More than likely your audience will be your academic peers, therefore you can make a couple assumptions and choose a writing style that suits the audience. Though your audience may lack the detailed knowledge you have about your topic, they do have similar background knowledge to you. You can assume that you audience understands much of the technical language you have to use to write about your topic and you do not have to go into great detail about background information.

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Introduction