How to write a good scientific review article

Affiliation.

  • 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.

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How to Write a Scientific Review Article

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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.

Literature Searches

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).

Manuscript Preparation

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

Introduction

  • 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

Conclusions

  • This section should discuss the objective discussed in the introduction This section should discuss the implications of the findings, interpretations, and identify unresolved questions

Study Limitations

  • 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

Acknowledgements

  • Authors may thank the people or institutions who have supported the work

  References

  • Only those references cited in the text should be listed
  • 50 to 100 references are allowed
  • Internet sources are usually not allowed

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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

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Overview of the review report format, the first read-through, first read considerations, spotting potential major flaws, concluding the first reading, rejection after the first reading, before starting the second read-through, doing the second read-through, the second read-through: section by section guidance, how to structure your report, on presentation and style, criticisms & confidential comments to editors, the recommendation, when recommending rejection, additional resources, step by step guide to reviewing a manuscript.

When you receive an invitation to peer review, you should be sent a copy of the paper's abstract to help you decide whether you wish to do the review. Try to respond to invitations promptly - it will prevent delays. It is also important at this stage to declare any potential Conflict of Interest.

The structure of the review report varies between journals. Some follow an informal structure, while others have a more formal approach.

" Number your comments!!! " (Jonathon Halbesleben, former Editor of Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology)

Informal Structure

Many journals don't provide criteria for reviews beyond asking for your 'analysis of merits'. In this case, you may wish to familiarize yourself with examples of other reviews done for the journal, which the editor should be able to provide or, as you gain experience, rely on your own evolving style.

Formal Structure

Other journals require a more formal approach. Sometimes they will ask you to address specific questions in your review via a questionnaire. Or they might want you to rate the manuscript on various attributes using a scorecard. Often you can't see these until you log in to submit your review. So when you agree to the work, it's worth checking for any journal-specific guidelines and requirements. If there are formal guidelines, let them direct the structure of your review.

In Both Cases

Whether specifically required by the reporting format or not, you should expect to compile comments to authors and possibly confidential ones to editors only.

Reviewing with Empathy

Following the invitation to review, when you'll have received the article abstract, you should already understand the aims, key data and conclusions of the manuscript. If you don't, make a note now that you need to feedback on how to improve those sections.

The first read-through is a skim-read. It will help you form an initial impression of the paper and get a sense of whether your eventual recommendation will be to accept or reject the paper.

Keep a pen and paper handy when skim-reading.

Try to bear in mind the following questions - they'll help you form your overall impression:

  • What is the main question addressed by the research? Is it relevant and interesting?
  • How original is the topic? What does it add to the subject area compared with other published material?
  • Is the paper well written? Is the text clear and easy to read?
  • Are the conclusions consistent with the evidence and arguments presented? Do they address the main question posed?
  • If the author is disagreeing significantly with the current academic consensus, do they have a substantial case? If not, what would be required to make their case credible?
  • If the paper includes tables or figures, what do they add to the paper? Do they aid understanding or are they superfluous?

While you should read the whole paper, making the right choice of what to read first can save time by flagging major problems early on.

Editors say, " Specific recommendations for remedying flaws are VERY welcome ."

Examples of possibly major flaws include:

  • Drawing a conclusion that is contradicted by the author's own statistical or qualitative evidence
  • The use of a discredited method
  • Ignoring a process that is known to have a strong influence on the area under study

If experimental design features prominently in the paper, first check that the methodology is sound - if not, this is likely to be a major flaw.

You might examine:

  • The sampling in analytical papers
  • The sufficient use of control experiments
  • The precision of process data
  • The regularity of sampling in time-dependent studies
  • The validity of questions, the use of a detailed methodology and the data analysis being done systematically (in qualitative research)
  • That qualitative research extends beyond the author's opinions, with sufficient descriptive elements and appropriate quotes from interviews or focus groups

Major Flaws in Information

If methodology is less of an issue, it's often a good idea to look at the data tables, figures or images first. Especially in science research, it's all about the information gathered. If there are critical flaws in this, it's very likely the manuscript will need to be rejected. Such issues include:

  • Insufficient data
  • Unclear data tables
  • Contradictory data that either are not self-consistent or disagree with the conclusions
  • Confirmatory data that adds little, if anything, to current understanding - unless strong arguments for such repetition are made

If you find a major problem, note your reasoning and clear supporting evidence (including citations).

After the initial read and using your notes, including those of any major flaws you found, draft the first two paragraphs of your review - the first summarizing the research question addressed and the second the contribution of the work. If the journal has a prescribed reporting format, this draft will still help you compose your thoughts.

The First Paragraph

This should state the main question addressed by the research and summarize the goals, approaches, and conclusions of the paper. It should:

  • Help the editor properly contextualize the research and add weight to your judgement
  • Show the author what key messages are conveyed to the reader, so they can be sure they are achieving what they set out to do
  • Focus on successful aspects of the paper so the author gets a sense of what they've done well

The Second Paragraph

This should provide a conceptual overview of the contribution of the research. So consider:

  • Is the paper's premise interesting and important?
  • Are the methods used appropriate?
  • Do the data support the conclusions?

After drafting these two paragraphs, you should be in a position to decide whether this manuscript is seriously flawed and should be rejected (see the next section). Or whether it is publishable in principle and merits a detailed, careful read through.

Even if you are coming to the opinion that an article has serious flaws, make sure you read the whole paper. This is very important because you may find some really positive aspects that can be communicated to the author. This could help them with future submissions.

A full read-through will also make sure that any initial concerns are indeed correct and fair. After all, you need the context of the whole paper before deciding to reject. If you still intend to recommend rejection, see the section "When recommending rejection."

Once the paper has passed your first read and you've decided the article is publishable in principle, one purpose of the second, detailed read-through is to help prepare the manuscript for publication. You may still decide to recommend rejection following a second reading.

" Offer clear suggestions for how the authors can address the concerns raised. In other words, if you're going to raise a problem, provide a solution ." (Jonathon Halbesleben, Editor of Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology)

Preparation

To save time and simplify the review:

  • Don't rely solely upon inserting comments on the manuscript document - make separate notes
  • Try to group similar concerns or praise together
  • If using a review program to note directly onto the manuscript, still try grouping the concerns and praise in separate notes - it helps later
  • Note line numbers of text upon which your notes are based - this helps you find items again and also aids those reading your review

Now that you have completed your preparations, you're ready to spend an hour or so reading carefully through the manuscript.

As you're reading through the manuscript for a second time, you'll need to keep in mind the argument's construction, the clarity of the language and content.

With regard to the argument’s construction, you should identify:

  • Any places where the meaning is unclear or ambiguous
  • Any factual errors
  • Any invalid arguments

You may also wish to consider:

  • Does the title properly reflect the subject of the paper?
  • Does the abstract provide an accessible summary of the paper?
  • Do the keywords accurately reflect the content?
  • Is the paper an appropriate length?
  • Are the key messages short, accurate and clear?

Not every submission is well written. Part of your role is to make sure that the text’s meaning is clear.

Editors say, " If a manuscript has many English language and editing issues, please do not try and fix it. If it is too bad, note that in your review and it should be up to the authors to have the manuscript edited ."

If the article is difficult to understand, you should have rejected it already. However, if the language is poor but you understand the core message, see if you can suggest improvements to fix the problem:

  • Are there certain aspects that could be communicated better, such as parts of the discussion?
  • Should the authors consider resubmitting to the same journal after language improvements?
  • Would you consider looking at the paper again once these issues are dealt with?

On Grammar and Punctuation

Your primary role is judging the research content. Don't spend time polishing grammar or spelling. Editors will make sure that the text is at a high standard before publication. However, if you spot grammatical errors that affect clarity of meaning, then it's important to highlight these. Expect to suggest such amendments - it's rare for a manuscript to pass review with no corrections.

A 2010 study of nursing journals found that 79% of recommendations by reviewers were influenced by grammar and writing style (Shattel, et al., 2010).

1. The Introduction

A well-written introduction:

  • Sets out the argument
  • Summarizes recent research related to the topic
  • Highlights gaps in current understanding or conflicts in current knowledge
  • Establishes the originality of the research aims by demonstrating the need for investigations in the topic area
  • Gives a clear idea of the target readership, why the research was carried out and the novelty and topicality of the manuscript

Originality and Topicality

Originality and topicality can only be established in the light of recent authoritative research. For example, it's impossible to argue that there is a conflict in current understanding by referencing articles that are 10 years old.

Authors may make the case that a topic hasn't been investigated in several years and that new research is required. This point is only valid if researchers can point to recent developments in data gathering techniques or to research in indirectly related fields that suggest the topic needs revisiting. Clearly, authors can only do this by referencing recent literature. Obviously, where older research is seminal or where aspects of the methodology rely upon it, then it is perfectly appropriate for authors to cite some older papers.

Editors say, "Is the report providing new information; is it novel or just confirmatory of well-known outcomes ?"

It's common for the introduction to end by stating the research aims. By this point you should already have a good impression of them - if the explicit aims come as a surprise, then the introduction needs improvement.

2. Materials and Methods

Academic research should be replicable, repeatable and robust - and follow best practice.

Replicable Research

This makes sufficient use of:

  • Control experiments
  • Repeated analyses
  • Repeated experiments

These are used to make sure observed trends are not due to chance and that the same experiment could be repeated by other researchers - and result in the same outcome. Statistical analyses will not be sound if methods are not replicable. Where research is not replicable, the paper should be recommended for rejection.

Repeatable Methods

These give enough detail so that other researchers are able to carry out the same research. For example, equipment used or sampling methods should all be described in detail so that others could follow the same steps. Where methods are not detailed enough, it's usual to ask for the methods section to be revised.

Robust Research

This has enough data points to make sure the data are reliable. If there are insufficient data, it might be appropriate to recommend revision. You should also consider whether there is any in-built bias not nullified by the control experiments.

Best Practice

During these checks you should keep in mind best practice:

  • Standard guidelines were followed (e.g. the CONSORT Statement for reporting randomized trials)
  • The health and safety of all participants in the study was not compromised
  • Ethical standards were maintained

If the research fails to reach relevant best practice standards, it's usual to recommend rejection. What's more, you don't then need to read any further.

3. Results and Discussion

This section should tell a coherent story - What happened? What was discovered or confirmed?

Certain patterns of good reporting need to be followed by the author:

  • They should start by describing in simple terms what the data show
  • They should make reference to statistical analyses, such as significance or goodness of fit
  • Once described, they should evaluate the trends observed and explain the significance of the results to wider understanding. This can only be done by referencing published research
  • The outcome should be a critical analysis of the data collected

Discussion should always, at some point, gather all the information together into a single whole. Authors should describe and discuss the overall story formed. If there are gaps or inconsistencies in the story, they should address these and suggest ways future research might confirm the findings or take the research forward.

4. Conclusions

This section is usually no more than a few paragraphs and may be presented as part of the results and discussion, or in a separate section. The conclusions should reflect upon the aims - whether they were achieved or not - and, just like the aims, should not be surprising. If the conclusions are not evidence-based, it's appropriate to ask for them to be re-written.

5. Information Gathered: Images, Graphs and Data Tables

If you find yourself looking at a piece of information from which you cannot discern a story, then you should ask for improvements in presentation. This could be an issue with titles, labels, statistical notation or image quality.

Where information is clear, you should check that:

  • The results seem plausible, in case there is an error in data gathering
  • The trends you can see support the paper's discussion and conclusions
  • There are sufficient data. For example, in studies carried out over time are there sufficient data points to support the trends described by the author?

You should also check whether images have been edited or manipulated to emphasize the story they tell. This may be appropriate but only if authors report on how the image has been edited (e.g. by highlighting certain parts of an image). Where you feel that an image has been edited or manipulated without explanation, you should highlight this in a confidential comment to the editor in your report.

6. List of References

You will need to check referencing for accuracy, adequacy and balance.

Where a cited article is central to the author's argument, you should check the accuracy and format of the reference - and bear in mind different subject areas may use citations differently. Otherwise, it's the editor’s role to exhaustively check the reference section for accuracy and format.

You should consider if the referencing is adequate:

  • Are important parts of the argument poorly supported?
  • Are there published studies that show similar or dissimilar trends that should be discussed?
  • If a manuscript only uses half the citations typical in its field, this may be an indicator that referencing should be improved - but don't be guided solely by quantity
  • References should be relevant, recent and readily retrievable

Check for a well-balanced list of references that is:

  • Helpful to the reader
  • Fair to competing authors
  • Not over-reliant on self-citation
  • Gives due recognition to the initial discoveries and related work that led to the work under assessment

You should be able to evaluate whether the article meets the criteria for balanced referencing without looking up every reference.

7. Plagiarism

By now you will have a deep understanding of the paper's content - and you may have some concerns about plagiarism.

Identified Concern

If you find - or already knew of - a very similar paper, this may be because the author overlooked it in their own literature search. Or it may be because it is very recent or published in a journal slightly outside their usual field.

You may feel you can advise the author how to emphasize the novel aspects of their own study, so as to better differentiate it from similar research. If so, you may ask the author to discuss their aims and results, or modify their conclusions, in light of the similar article. Of course, the research similarities may be so great that they render the work unoriginal and you have no choice but to recommend rejection.

"It's very helpful when a reviewer can point out recent similar publications on the same topic by other groups, or that the authors have already published some data elsewhere ." (Editor feedback)

Suspected Concern

If you suspect plagiarism, including self-plagiarism, but cannot recall or locate exactly what is being plagiarized, notify the editor of your suspicion and ask for guidance.

Most editors have access to software that can check for plagiarism.

Editors are not out to police every paper, but when plagiarism is discovered during peer review it can be properly addressed ahead of publication. If plagiarism is discovered only after publication, the consequences are worse for both authors and readers, because a retraction may be necessary.

For detailed guidelines see COPE's Ethical guidelines for reviewers and Wiley's Best Practice Guidelines on Publishing Ethics .

8. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

After the detailed read-through, you will be in a position to advise whether the title, abstract and key words are optimized for search purposes. In order to be effective, good SEO terms will reflect the aims of the research.

A clear title and abstract will improve the paper's search engine rankings and will influence whether the user finds and then decides to navigate to the main article. The title should contain the relevant SEO terms early on. This has a major effect on the impact of a paper, since it helps it appear in search results. A poor abstract can then lose the reader's interest and undo the benefit of an effective title - whilst the paper's abstract may appear in search results, the potential reader may go no further.

So ask yourself, while the abstract may have seemed adequate during earlier checks, does it:

  • Do justice to the manuscript in this context?
  • Highlight important findings sufficiently?
  • Present the most interesting data?

Editors say, " Does the Abstract highlight the important findings of the study ?"

If there is a formal report format, remember to follow it. This will often comprise a range of questions followed by comment sections. Try to answer all the questions. They are there because the editor felt that they are important. If you're following an informal report format you could structure your report in three sections: summary, major issues, minor issues.

  • Give positive feedback first. Authors are more likely to read your review if you do so. But don't overdo it if you will be recommending rejection
  • Briefly summarize what the paper is about and what the findings are
  • Try to put the findings of the paper into the context of the existing literature and current knowledge
  • Indicate the significance of the work and if it is novel or mainly confirmatory
  • Indicate the work's strengths, its quality and completeness
  • State any major flaws or weaknesses and note any special considerations. For example, if previously held theories are being overlooked

Major Issues

  • Are there any major flaws? State what they are and what the severity of their impact is on the paper
  • Has similar work already been published without the authors acknowledging this?
  • Are the authors presenting findings that challenge current thinking? Is the evidence they present strong enough to prove their case? Have they cited all the relevant work that would contradict their thinking and addressed it appropriately?
  • If major revisions are required, try to indicate clearly what they are
  • Are there any major presentational problems? Are figures & tables, language and manuscript structure all clear enough for you to accurately assess the work?
  • Are there any ethical issues? If you are unsure it may be better to disclose these in the confidential comments section

Minor Issues

  • Are there places where meaning is ambiguous? How can this be corrected?
  • Are the correct references cited? If not, which should be cited instead/also? Are citations excessive, limited, or biased?
  • Are there any factual, numerical or unit errors? If so, what are they?
  • Are all tables and figures appropriate, sufficient, and correctly labelled? If not, say which are not

Your review should ultimately help the author improve their article. So be polite, honest and clear. You should also try to be objective and constructive, not subjective and destructive.

You should also:

  • Write clearly and so you can be understood by people whose first language is not English
  • Avoid complex or unusual words, especially ones that would even confuse native speakers
  • Number your points and refer to page and line numbers in the manuscript when making specific comments
  • If you have been asked to only comment on specific parts or aspects of the manuscript, you should indicate clearly which these are
  • Treat the author's work the way you would like your own to be treated

Most journals give reviewers the option to provide some confidential comments to editors. Often this is where editors will want reviewers to state their recommendation - see the next section - but otherwise this area is best reserved for communicating malpractice such as suspected plagiarism, fraud, unattributed work, unethical procedures, duplicate publication, bias or other conflicts of interest.

However, this doesn't give reviewers permission to 'backstab' the author. Authors can't see this feedback and are unable to give their side of the story unless the editor asks them to. So in the spirit of fairness, write comments to editors as though authors might read them too.

Reviewers should check the preferences of individual journals as to where they want review decisions to be stated. In particular, bear in mind that some journals will not want the recommendation included in any comments to authors, as this can cause editors difficulty later - see Section 11 for more advice about working with editors.

You will normally be asked to indicate your recommendation (e.g. accept, reject, revise and resubmit, etc.) from a fixed-choice list and then to enter your comments into a separate text box.

Recommending Acceptance

If you're recommending acceptance, give details outlining why, and if there are any areas that could be improved. Don't just give a short, cursory remark such as 'great, accept'. See Improving the Manuscript

Recommending Revision

Where improvements are needed, a recommendation for major or minor revision is typical. You may also choose to state whether you opt in or out of the post-revision review too. If recommending revision, state specific changes you feel need to be made. The author can then reply to each point in turn.

Some journals offer the option to recommend rejection with the possibility of resubmission – this is most relevant where substantial, major revision is necessary.

What can reviewers do to help? " Be clear in their comments to the author (or editor) which points are absolutely critical if the paper is given an opportunity for revisio n." (Jonathon Halbesleben, Editor of Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology)

Recommending Rejection

If recommending rejection or major revision, state this clearly in your review (and see the next section, 'When recommending rejection').

Where manuscripts have serious flaws you should not spend any time polishing the review you've drafted or give detailed advice on presentation.

Editors say, " If a reviewer suggests a rejection, but her/his comments are not detailed or helpful, it does not help the editor in making a decision ."

In your recommendations for the author, you should:

  • Give constructive feedback describing ways that they could improve the research
  • Keep the focus on the research and not the author. This is an extremely important part of your job as a reviewer
  • Avoid making critical confidential comments to the editor while being polite and encouraging to the author - the latter may not understand why their manuscript has been rejected. Also, they won't get feedback on how to improve their research and it could trigger an appeal

Remember to give constructive criticism even if recommending rejection. This helps developing researchers improve their work and explains to the editor why you felt the manuscript should not be published.

" When the comments seem really positive, but the recommendation is rejection…it puts the editor in a tough position of having to reject a paper when the comments make it sound like a great paper ." (Jonathon Halbesleben, Editor of Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology)

Visit our Wiley Author Learning and Training Channel for expert advice on peer review.

Watch the video, Ethical considerations of Peer Review

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Introduction, selection of a topic, scientific literature search and analysis, structure of a scientific review article, tips for success, acknowledgments, conflict of interest statement.

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A Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Scientific Review Article

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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

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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).

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).

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.

Be Objective

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.

None declared.

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.

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Peer Review Template

Save or print this guide Download PDF

Think about structuring your reviewer report like an upside-down pyramid. The most important information goes at the top, followed by supporting details.

scientific review paper template

Sample outline

In your own words, summarize the main research question, claims, and conclusions of the study. Provide context for how this research fits within the existing literature.

Discuss the manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses and your overall recommendation.

Major Issues

  • Other points (optional) If applicable, add confidential comments for the editors. Raise any concerns about the manuscript that they may need to consider further, such as concerns about ethics. Do not use this section for your overall critique. Also mention whether you might be available to look at a revised version.

Peer review templates, expert examples and free training courses

scientific review paper template

Joanna Wilkinson

Learning how to write a constructive peer review is an essential step in helping to safeguard the quality and integrity of published literature. Read on for resources that will get you on the right track, including peer review templates, example reports and the Web of Science™ Academy: our free, online course that teaches you the core competencies of peer review through practical experience ( try it today ).

How to write a peer review

Understanding the principles, forms and functions of peer review will enable you to write solid, actionable review reports. It will form the basis for a comprehensive and well-structured review, and help you comment on the quality, rigor and significance of the research paper. It will also help you identify potential breaches of normal ethical practice.

This may sound daunting but it doesn’t need to be. There are plenty of peer review templates, resources and experts out there to help you, including:

Peer review training courses and in-person workshops

  • Peer review templates ( found in our Web of Science Academy )
  • Expert examples of peer review reports
  • Co-reviewing (sharing the task of peer reviewing with a senior researcher)

Other peer review resources, blogs, and guidelines

We’ll go through each one of these in turn below, but first: a quick word on why learning peer review is so important.

Why learn to peer review?

Peer reviewers and editors are gatekeepers of the research literature used to document and communicate human discovery. Reviewers, therefore, need a sound understanding of their role and obligations to ensure the integrity of this process. This also helps them maintain quality research, and to help protect the public from flawed and misleading research findings.

Learning to peer review is also an important step in improving your own professional development.

You’ll become a better writer and a more successful published author in learning to review. It gives you a critical vantage point and you’ll begin to understand what editors are looking for. It will also help you keep abreast of new research and best-practice methods in your field.

We strongly encourage you to learn the core concepts of peer review by joining a course or workshop. You can attend in-person workshops to learn from and network with experienced reviewers and editors. As an example, Sense about Science offers peer review workshops every year. To learn more about what might be in store at one of these, researcher Laura Chatland shares her experience at one of the workshops in London.

There are also plenty of free, online courses available, including courses in the Web of Science Academy such as ‘Reviewing in the Sciences’, ‘Reviewing in the Humanities’ and ‘An introduction to peer review’

The Web of Science Academy also supports co-reviewing with a mentor to teach peer review through practical experience. You learn by writing reviews of preprints, published papers, or even ‘real’ unpublished manuscripts with guidance from your mentor. You can work with one of our community mentors or your own PhD supervisor or postdoc advisor, or even a senior colleague in your department.

Go to the Web of Science Academy

Peer review templates

Peer review templates are helpful to use as you work your way through a manuscript. As part of our free Web of Science Academy courses, you’ll gain exclusive access to comprehensive guidelines and a peer review report. It offers points to consider for all aspects of the manuscript, including the abstract, methods and results sections. It also teaches you how to structure your review and will get you thinking about the overall strengths and impact of the paper at hand.

  • Web of Science Academy template (requires joining one of the free courses)
  • PLoS’s review template
  • Wiley’s peer review guide (not a template as such, but a thorough guide with questions to consider in the first and second reading of the manuscript)

Beyond following a template, it’s worth asking your editor or checking the journal’s peer review management system. That way, you’ll learn whether you need to follow a formal or specific peer review structure for that particular journal. If no such formal approach exists, try asking the editor for examples of other reviews performed for the journal. This will give you a solid understanding of what they expect from you.

Peer review examples

Understand what a constructive peer review looks like by learning from the experts.

Here’s a sample of pre and post-publication peer reviews displayed on Web of Science publication records to help guide you through your first few reviews. Some of these are transparent peer reviews , which means the entire process is open and visible — from initial review and response through to revision and final publication decision. You may wish to scroll to the bottom of these pages so you can first read the initial reviews, and make your way up the page to read the editor and author’s responses.

  • Pre-publication peer review: Patterns and mechanisms in instances of endosymbiont-induced parthenogenesis
  • Pre-publication peer review: Can Ciprofloxacin be Used for Precision Treatment of Gonorrhea in Public STD Clinics? Assessment of Ciprofloxacin Susceptibility and an Opportunity for Point-of-Care Testing
  • Transparent peer review: Towards a standard model of musical improvisation
  • Transparent peer review: Complex mosaic of sexual dichromatism and monochromatism in Pacific robins results from both gains and losses of elaborate coloration
  • Post-publication peer review: Brain state monitoring for the future prediction of migraine attacks
  • Web of Science Academy peer review: Students’ Perception on Training in Writing Research Article for Publication

F1000 has also put together a nice list of expert reviewer comments pertaining to the various aspects of a review report.

Co-reviewing

Co-reviewing (sharing peer review assignments with senior researchers) is one of the best ways to learn peer review. It gives researchers a hands-on, practical understanding of the process.

In an article in The Scientist , the team at Future of Research argues that co-reviewing can be a valuable learning experience for peer review, as long as it’s done properly and with transparency. The reason there’s a need to call out how co-reviewing works is because it does have its downsides. The practice can leave early-career researchers unaware of the core concepts of peer review. This can make it hard to later join an editor’s reviewer pool if they haven’t received adequate recognition for their share of the review work. (If you are asked to write a peer review on behalf of a senior colleague or researcher, get recognition for your efforts by asking your senior colleague to verify the collaborative co-review on your Web of Science researcher profiles).

The Web of Science Academy course ‘Co-reviewing with a mentor’ is uniquely practical in this sense. You will gain experience in peer review by practicing on real papers and working with a mentor to get feedback on how their peer review can be improved. Students submit their peer review report as their course assignment and after internal evaluation receive a course certificate, an Academy graduate badge on their Web of Science researcher profile and is put in front of top editors in their field through the Reviewer Locator at Clarivate.

Here are some external peer review resources found around the web:

  • Peer Review Resources from Sense about Science
  • Peer Review: The Nuts and Bolts by Sense about Science
  • How to review journal manuscripts by R. M. Rosenfeld for Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery
  • Ethical guidelines for peer review from COPE
  • An Instructional Guide for Peer Reviewers of Biomedical Manuscripts by Callaham, Schriger & Cooper for Annals of Emergency Medicine (requires Flash or Adobe)
  • EQUATOR Network’s reporting guidelines for health researchers

And finally, we’ve written a number of blogs about handy peer review tips. Check out some of our top picks:

  • How to Write a Peer Review: 12 things you need to know
  • Want To Peer Review? Top 10 Tips To Get Noticed By Editors
  • Review a manuscript like a pro: 6 tips from a Web of Science Academy supervisor
  • How to write a structured reviewer report: 5 tips from an early-career researcher

Want to learn more? Become a master of peer review and connect with top journal editors. The Web of Science Academy – your free online hub of courses designed by expert reviewers, editors and Nobel Prize winners. Find out more today.

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Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.

Introduction:

  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.

Conclusion:

  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

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Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

Marco pautasso.

1 Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), CNRS, Montpellier, France

2 Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB), FRB, Aix-en-Provence, France

Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications [1] . For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively [2] . Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every single new paper relevant to their interests [3] . Thus, it is both advantageous and necessary to rely on regular summaries of the recent literature. Although recognition for scientists mainly comes from primary research, timely literature reviews can lead to new synthetic insights and are often widely read [4] . For such summaries to be useful, however, they need to be compiled in a professional way [5] .

When starting from scratch, reviewing the literature can require a titanic amount of work. That is why researchers who have spent their career working on a certain research issue are in a perfect position to review that literature. Some graduate schools are now offering courses in reviewing the literature, given that most research students start their project by producing an overview of what has already been done on their research issue [6] . However, it is likely that most scientists have not thought in detail about how to approach and carry out a literature review.

Reviewing the literature requires the ability to juggle multiple tasks, from finding and evaluating relevant material to synthesising information from various sources, from critical thinking to paraphrasing, evaluating, and citation skills [7] . In this contribution, I share ten simple rules I learned working on about 25 literature reviews as a PhD and postdoctoral student. Ideas and insights also come from discussions with coauthors and colleagues, as well as feedback from reviewers and editors.

Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience

How to choose which topic to review? There are so many issues in contemporary science that you could spend a lifetime of attending conferences and reading the literature just pondering what to review. On the one hand, if you take several years to choose, several other people may have had the same idea in the meantime. On the other hand, only a well-considered topic is likely to lead to a brilliant literature review [8] . The topic must at least be:

  • interesting to you (ideally, you should have come across a series of recent papers related to your line of work that call for a critical summary),
  • an important aspect of the field (so that many readers will be interested in the review and there will be enough material to write it), and
  • a well-defined issue (otherwise you could potentially include thousands of publications, which would make the review unhelpful).

Ideas for potential reviews may come from papers providing lists of key research questions to be answered [9] , but also from serendipitous moments during desultory reading and discussions. In addition to choosing your topic, you should also select a target audience. In many cases, the topic (e.g., web services in computational biology) will automatically define an audience (e.g., computational biologists), but that same topic may also be of interest to neighbouring fields (e.g., computer science, biology, etc.).

Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature

After having chosen your topic and audience, start by checking the literature and downloading relevant papers. Five pieces of advice here:

  • keep track of the search items you use (so that your search can be replicated [10] ),
  • keep a list of papers whose pdfs you cannot access immediately (so as to retrieve them later with alternative strategies),
  • use a paper management system (e.g., Mendeley, Papers, Qiqqa, Sente),
  • define early in the process some criteria for exclusion of irrelevant papers (these criteria can then be described in the review to help define its scope), and
  • do not just look for research papers in the area you wish to review, but also seek previous reviews.

The chances are high that someone will already have published a literature review ( Figure 1 ), if not exactly on the issue you are planning to tackle, at least on a related topic. If there are already a few or several reviews of the literature on your issue, my advice is not to give up, but to carry on with your own literature review,

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is pcbi.1003149.g001.jpg

The bottom-right situation (many literature reviews but few research papers) is not just a theoretical situation; it applies, for example, to the study of the impacts of climate change on plant diseases, where there appear to be more literature reviews than research studies [33] .

  • discussing in your review the approaches, limitations, and conclusions of past reviews,
  • trying to find a new angle that has not been covered adequately in the previous reviews, and
  • incorporating new material that has inevitably accumulated since their appearance.

When searching the literature for pertinent papers and reviews, the usual rules apply:

  • be thorough,
  • use different keywords and database sources (e.g., DBLP, Google Scholar, ISI Proceedings, JSTOR Search, Medline, Scopus, Web of Science), and
  • look at who has cited past relevant papers and book chapters.

Rule 3: Take Notes While Reading

If you read the papers first, and only afterwards start writing the review, you will need a very good memory to remember who wrote what, and what your impressions and associations were while reading each single paper. My advice is, while reading, to start writing down interesting pieces of information, insights about how to organize the review, and thoughts on what to write. This way, by the time you have read the literature you selected, you will already have a rough draft of the review.

Of course, this draft will still need much rewriting, restructuring, and rethinking to obtain a text with a coherent argument [11] , but you will have avoided the danger posed by staring at a blank document. Be careful when taking notes to use quotation marks if you are provisionally copying verbatim from the literature. It is advisable then to reformulate such quotes with your own words in the final draft. It is important to be careful in noting the references already at this stage, so as to avoid misattributions. Using referencing software from the very beginning of your endeavour will save you time.

Rule 4: Choose the Type of Review You Wish to Write

After having taken notes while reading the literature, you will have a rough idea of the amount of material available for the review. This is probably a good time to decide whether to go for a mini- or a full review. Some journals are now favouring the publication of rather short reviews focusing on the last few years, with a limit on the number of words and citations. A mini-review is not necessarily a minor review: it may well attract more attention from busy readers, although it will inevitably simplify some issues and leave out some relevant material due to space limitations. A full review will have the advantage of more freedom to cover in detail the complexities of a particular scientific development, but may then be left in the pile of the very important papers “to be read” by readers with little time to spare for major monographs.

There is probably a continuum between mini- and full reviews. The same point applies to the dichotomy of descriptive vs. integrative reviews. While descriptive reviews focus on the methodology, findings, and interpretation of each reviewed study, integrative reviews attempt to find common ideas and concepts from the reviewed material [12] . A similar distinction exists between narrative and systematic reviews: while narrative reviews are qualitative, systematic reviews attempt to test a hypothesis based on the published evidence, which is gathered using a predefined protocol to reduce bias [13] , [14] . When systematic reviews analyse quantitative results in a quantitative way, they become meta-analyses. The choice between different review types will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, depending not just on the nature of the material found and the preferences of the target journal(s), but also on the time available to write the review and the number of coauthors [15] .

Rule 5: Keep the Review Focused, but Make It of Broad Interest

Whether your plan is to write a mini- or a full review, it is good advice to keep it focused 16 , 17 . Including material just for the sake of it can easily lead to reviews that are trying to do too many things at once. The need to keep a review focused can be problematic for interdisciplinary reviews, where the aim is to bridge the gap between fields [18] . If you are writing a review on, for example, how epidemiological approaches are used in modelling the spread of ideas, you may be inclined to include material from both parent fields, epidemiology and the study of cultural diffusion. This may be necessary to some extent, but in this case a focused review would only deal in detail with those studies at the interface between epidemiology and the spread of ideas.

While focus is an important feature of a successful review, this requirement has to be balanced with the need to make the review relevant to a broad audience. This square may be circled by discussing the wider implications of the reviewed topic for other disciplines.

Rule 6: Be Critical and Consistent

Reviewing the literature is not stamp collecting. A good review does not just summarize the literature, but discusses it critically, identifies methodological problems, and points out research gaps [19] . After having read a review of the literature, a reader should have a rough idea of:

  • the major achievements in the reviewed field,
  • the main areas of debate, and
  • the outstanding research questions.

It is challenging to achieve a successful review on all these fronts. A solution can be to involve a set of complementary coauthors: some people are excellent at mapping what has been achieved, some others are very good at identifying dark clouds on the horizon, and some have instead a knack at predicting where solutions are going to come from. If your journal club has exactly this sort of team, then you should definitely write a review of the literature! In addition to critical thinking, a literature review needs consistency, for example in the choice of passive vs. active voice and present vs. past tense.

Rule 7: Find a Logical Structure

Like a well-baked cake, a good review has a number of telling features: it is worth the reader's time, timely, systematic, well written, focused, and critical. It also needs a good structure. With reviews, the usual subdivision of research papers into introduction, methods, results, and discussion does not work or is rarely used. However, a general introduction of the context and, toward the end, a recapitulation of the main points covered and take-home messages make sense also in the case of reviews. For systematic reviews, there is a trend towards including information about how the literature was searched (database, keywords, time limits) [20] .

How can you organize the flow of the main body of the review so that the reader will be drawn into and guided through it? It is generally helpful to draw a conceptual scheme of the review, e.g., with mind-mapping techniques. Such diagrams can help recognize a logical way to order and link the various sections of a review [21] . This is the case not just at the writing stage, but also for readers if the diagram is included in the review as a figure. A careful selection of diagrams and figures relevant to the reviewed topic can be very helpful to structure the text too [22] .

Rule 8: Make Use of Feedback

Reviews of the literature are normally peer-reviewed in the same way as research papers, and rightly so [23] . As a rule, incorporating feedback from reviewers greatly helps improve a review draft. Having read the review with a fresh mind, reviewers may spot inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and ambiguities that had not been noticed by the writers due to rereading the typescript too many times. It is however advisable to reread the draft one more time before submission, as a last-minute correction of typos, leaps, and muddled sentences may enable the reviewers to focus on providing advice on the content rather than the form.

Feedback is vital to writing a good review, and should be sought from a variety of colleagues, so as to obtain a diversity of views on the draft. This may lead in some cases to conflicting views on the merits of the paper, and on how to improve it, but such a situation is better than the absence of feedback. A diversity of feedback perspectives on a literature review can help identify where the consensus view stands in the landscape of the current scientific understanding of an issue [24] .

Rule 9: Include Your Own Relevant Research, but Be Objective

In many cases, reviewers of the literature will have published studies relevant to the review they are writing. This could create a conflict of interest: how can reviewers report objectively on their own work [25] ? Some scientists may be overly enthusiastic about what they have published, and thus risk giving too much importance to their own findings in the review. However, bias could also occur in the other direction: some scientists may be unduly dismissive of their own achievements, so that they will tend to downplay their contribution (if any) to a field when reviewing it.

In general, a review of the literature should neither be a public relations brochure nor an exercise in competitive self-denial. If a reviewer is up to the job of producing a well-organized and methodical review, which flows well and provides a service to the readership, then it should be possible to be objective in reviewing one's own relevant findings. In reviews written by multiple authors, this may be achieved by assigning the review of the results of a coauthor to different coauthors.

Rule 10: Be Up-to-Date, but Do Not Forget Older Studies

Given the progressive acceleration in the publication of scientific papers, today's reviews of the literature need awareness not just of the overall direction and achievements of a field of inquiry, but also of the latest studies, so as not to become out-of-date before they have been published. Ideally, a literature review should not identify as a major research gap an issue that has just been addressed in a series of papers in press (the same applies, of course, to older, overlooked studies (“sleeping beauties” [26] )). This implies that literature reviewers would do well to keep an eye on electronic lists of papers in press, given that it can take months before these appear in scientific databases. Some reviews declare that they have scanned the literature up to a certain point in time, but given that peer review can be a rather lengthy process, a full search for newly appeared literature at the revision stage may be worthwhile. Assessing the contribution of papers that have just appeared is particularly challenging, because there is little perspective with which to gauge their significance and impact on further research and society.

Inevitably, new papers on the reviewed topic (including independently written literature reviews) will appear from all quarters after the review has been published, so that there may soon be the need for an updated review. But this is the nature of science [27] – [32] . I wish everybody good luck with writing a review of the literature.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to M. Barbosa, K. Dehnen-Schmutz, T. Döring, D. Fontaneto, M. Garbelotto, O. Holdenrieder, M. Jeger, D. Lonsdale, A. MacLeod, P. Mills, M. Moslonka-Lefebvre, G. Stancanelli, P. Weisberg, and X. Xu for insights and discussions, and to P. Bourne, T. Matoni, and D. Smith for helpful comments on a previous draft.

Funding Statement

This work was funded by the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) through its Centre for Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity data (CESAB), as part of the NETSEED research project. The funders had no role in the preparation of the manuscript.

Grad Coach (R)

What’s Included: Literature Review Template

This template is structure is based on the tried and trusted best-practice format for formal academic research projects such as dissertations and theses. The literature review template includes the following sections:

  • Before you start – essential groundwork to ensure you’re ready
  • The introduction section
  • The core/body section
  • The conclusion /summary
  • Extra free resources

Each section is explained in plain, straightforward language , followed by an overview of the key elements that you need to cover. We’ve also included practical examples and links to more free videos and guides to help you understand exactly what’s required in each section.

The cleanly-formatted Google Doc can be downloaded as a fully editable MS Word Document (DOCX format), so you can use it as-is or convert it to LaTeX.

PS – if you’d like a high-level template for the entire thesis, you can we’ve got that too .

FAQs: Literature Review Template

What format is the template (doc, pdf, ppt, etc.).

The literature review chapter template is provided as a Google Doc. You can download it in MS Word format or make a copy to your Google Drive. You’re also welcome to convert it to whatever format works best for you, such as LaTeX or PDF.

What types of literature reviews can this template be used for?

The template follows the standard format for academic literature reviews, which means it will be suitable for the vast majority of academic research projects (especially those within the sciences), whether they are qualitative or quantitative in terms of design.

Keep in mind that the exact requirements for the literature review chapter will vary between universities and degree programs. These are typically minor, but it’s always a good idea to double-check your university’s requirements before you finalize your structure.

Is this template for an undergrad, Master or PhD-level thesis?

This template can be used for a literature review at any level of study. Doctoral-level projects typically require the literature review to be more extensive/comprehensive, but the structure will typically remain the same.

Can I modify the template to suit my topic/area?

Absolutely. While the template provides a general structure, you should adapt it to fit the specific requirements and focus of your literature review.

What structural style does this literature review template use?

The template assumes a thematic structure (as opposed to a chronological or methodological structure), as this is the most common approach. However, this is only one dimension of the template, so it will still be useful if you are adopting a different structure.

Does this template include the Excel literature catalog?

No, that is a separate template, which you can download for free here . This template is for the write-up of the actual literature review chapter, whereas the catalog is for use during the literature sourcing and sorting phase.

How long should the literature review chapter be?

This depends on your university’s specific requirements, so it’s best to check with them. As a general ballpark, literature reviews for Masters-level projects are usually 2,000 – 3,000 words in length, while Doctoral-level projects can reach multiples of this.

Can I include literature that contradicts my hypothesis?

Yes, it’s important to acknowledge and discuss literature that presents different viewpoints or contradicts your hypothesis. So, don’t shy away from existing research that takes an opposing view to yours.

How do I avoid plagiarism in my literature review?

Always cite your sources correctly and paraphrase ideas in your own words while maintaining the original meaning. You can always check our plagiarism score before submitting your work to help ease your mind. 

Do you have an example of a populated template?

We provide a walkthrough of the template and review an example of a high-quality literature research chapter here .

Can I share this literature review template with my friends/colleagues?

Yes, you’re welcome to share this template in its original format (no editing allowed). If you want to post about it on your blog or social media, all we ask is that you reference this page as your source.

Do you have templates for the other dissertation/thesis chapters?

Yes, we do. You can find our full collection of templates here .

Can Grad Coach help me with my literature review?

Yes, you’re welcome to get in touch with us to discuss our private coaching services , where we can help you work through the literature review chapter (and any other chapters).

Free Webinar: Literature Review 101

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If you wish to enquire whether your Article might be suitable for consideration by Nature , please use our online presubmission enquiry service . All presubmission enquiries must include a cover paragraph to the editor stating the interest to a broad scientific readership, a fully referenced summary paragraph, and a reference list.

Readability

Nature is an international journal covering all the sciences. Contributions should therefore be written clearly and simply so that they are accessible to readers in other disciplines and to readers for whom English is not their first language. Thus, technical jargon should be avoided as far as possible and clearly explained where its use is unavoidable. Abbreviations, particularly those that are not standard, should also be kept to a minimum. The background, rationale and main conclusions of the study should be clearly explained. Titles and abstracts in particular should be written in language that will be readily intelligible to any scientist. Essential but specialized terms should be explained concisely but not didactically.

For gene, protein and other specialized names authors can use their preferred terminology so long as it is in current use by the community, but they must give all known names for the entity at first use in the paper. Nature prefers authors to use internationally agreed nomenclature. Papers containing new or revised formal taxonomic nomenclature for animals, whether living or extinct, are accepted conditional on the provision of LSIDs (Life Science Identifiers) by means of registration of such nomenclature with ZooBank, the proposed online registration system for the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN).

Even though no paper will be rejected because of poor language, non–native English speakers occasionally receive feedback from editors and reviewers regarding language and grammar usage in their manuscripts. You may wish to consider asking colleagues to read your manuscript and/or to use a professional editing service such as those provided by our affiliates Nature Research Editing Service or American Journal Experts . You can also get a fast, free grammar check of your manuscript that takes into account all aspects of readability in English. Please note that the use of a language editing service is not a requirement for publication in Nature .

Nature 's editors provide detailed advice about the expected print length when asking for the final version of the manuscript. Nature 's editors often suggest revised titles and rewrite the summary paragraphs of Articles so the conclusions are clear to a broad readership.

After acceptance, Nature 's subeditors (copyeditors) ensure that the text and figures are readable and clear to those outside the field, and edit papers into Nature 's house style. They pay particular attention to summary paragraphs, overall clarity, figures, figure legends and titles.

Proofs are sent before publication; authors are welcome to discuss proposed changes with Nature 's subeditors, but Nature reserves the right to make the final decision about matters of style and the size of figures.

A useful set of articles providing general advice about writing and submitting scientific papers can be found on the SciDev.Net website.

Format of Articles

Contributions should be double-spaced and written in English (spellings as in the Oxford English Dictionary ).

Contributions should be organized in the sequence: title, authors, affiliations (plus present addresses), bold first paragraph, main text, main references, tables, figure legends, methods (including separate data and code availability statements), methods references, acknowledgements, author contributions, competing interest declaration, additional information (containing supplementary information line (if any) and corresponding author line), extended data figure/table legends. In order to facilitate the review process, for initial submissions we encourage authors to present the manuscript text and figures together in a single file (Microsoft Word or PDF, up to 30 MB in size). The figures may be inserted within the text at the appropriate positions or grouped at the end, and each figure legend should be presented together with its figure. Also, please include line numbers within the text.

Titles do not exceed two lines in print. This equates to 75 characters (including spaces). Titles do not normally include numbers, acronyms, abbreviations or punctuation. They should include sufficient detail for indexing purposes but be general enough for readers outside the field to appreciate what the paper is about.

An uninterrupted page of text contains about 1250 words.

A typical 6-page Article contains about 2,500 words of text and, additionally, 4 modest display items (figures and/or tables) with brief legends, reference list and online-only methods section if applicable. A composite figure (with several panels) usually needs to take about half a page, equivalent to about 600 words, in order for all the elements to be visible (see section 5.9 for instructions on sizing figures).

A typical 8-page Article contains about 4300 words of text and, additionally, 5-6 modest display items (figures and/or tables) with brief legends, reference list and online-only methods section if applicable. A composite figure (with several panels) usually needs to take about half a page, equivalent to about 600 words, in order for all the elements to be visible (see section 5.9 for instructions on sizing figures).

Authors of contributions that significantly exceed the limits stated here (or as specified by the editor) will have to shorten their papers before acceptance, inevitably delaying publication.

Nature requires authors to specify the contribution made by their co-authors in the end notes of the paper (see section 5.5). If authors regard it as essential to indicate that two or more co-authors are equal in status, they may be identified by an asterisk symbol with the caption ‘These authors contributed equally to this work’ immediately under the address list. If more than three co-authors are equal in status, this should be indicated in the author contributions statement. Present addresses appear immediately below the author list (below the footnote rule at the bottom of the first page) and may be identified by a dagger symbol; all other essential author-related explanation is placed in the acknowledgements.

Our preferred format for text is Microsoft Word, with the style tags removed.

TeX/LaTeX: If you have prepared your paper using TeX/LaTeX, we will need to convert this to Word after acceptance, before your paper can be typeset. All textual material of the paper (including references, tables, figure captions, online methods, etc.) should be included as a single .tex file.

We prefer the use of a ‘standard’ font, preferably 12-point Times New Roman. For mathematical symbols, Greek letters and other special characters, use normal text or Symbol font. Word Equation Editor/MathType should be used only for formulae that cannot be produced using normal text or Symbol font.

The ‘Methods’ section is in the main text file, following the figure legends. This Methods section will appear in the PDF and in the full-text (HTML) version of the paper online, but will not appear in the printed issue. The Methods section should be written as concisely as possible but should contain all elements necessary to allow interpretation and replication of the results. As a guideline, the Methods section does not typically exceed 3,000 words. To increase reproducibility, authors are encouraged to deposit a detailed description of protocols used in their study in a protocol sharing platform of their choice. Nature Portfolio’s Protocol Exchange is a free and open service designed to help researchers share experimental know-how. Protocols deposited by the authors in Protocol Exchange will be linked to the online Methods section upon publication.

Detailed descriptions of methods already published should be avoided; a reference number can be provided to save space, with any new addition or variation stated.

The Methods section should be subdivided by short bold headings referring to methods used and we encourage the inclusion of specific subsections for statistics, reagents and animal models. If further references are included in this section their numbering should continue from the end of the last reference number in the rest of the paper and they are listed after the Methods section.

Please provide separate Data Availability and Code Availability statements after the main text statements and before the Extended Data legends; detailed guidance can be found in our data availability and data citations policy . Certain data types must be deposited in an appropriate public structured data depository (details are available here ), and the accession number(s) provided in the manuscript. Full access is required at the time of publication. Should full access to data be required for peer review, authors must provide it.

The Methods section cannot contain figures or tables (essential display items should be included in the Extended Data or exceptionally in the Supplementary Information).

References are each numbered, ordered sequentially as they appear in the text, tables, boxes, figure legends, Methods, Extended Data tables and Extended Data figure legends.

When cited in the text, reference numbers are superscript, not in brackets unless they are likely to be confused with a superscript number.

Do not use linked fields (produced by EndNote and similar programs). Please use the one-click button provided by EndNote to remove EndNote codes before saving your file.

As a guideline, Articles allow up to 50 references in the main text if needed and within the average page budget. Only one publication can be listed for each number. Additional references for Methods or Supplementary Information are not included in this count.

Only articles that have been published or accepted by a named publication, or that have been uploaded to a recognized preprint server (for example, arXiv, bioRxiv), should be in the reference list; papers in preparation should be mentioned in the text with a list of authors (or initials if any of the authors are co-authors of the present contribution).

Published conference abstracts, numbered patents, preprints on recognized servers, papers in press, and research datasets that have been assigned a digital object identifier may be included in reference lists, but text, grant details and acknowledgements may not. (An exception is the highlighted references which we ask authors of Reviews, Perspectives and Insights articles to provide.)

All authors should be included in reference lists unless there are more than five, in which case only the first author should be given, followed by ‘et al.’.

Please follow the style below in the published edition of Nature in preparing reference lists.

Authors should be listed surname first, followed by a comma and initials of given names.

Titles of all cited articles are required. Titles of articles cited in reference lists should be in upright, not italic text; the first word of the title is capitalized, the title written exactly as it appears in the work cited, ending with a full stop. Book titles are italic with all main words capitalized. Journal titles are italic and abbreviated according to common usage. Volume numbers are bold. The publisher and city of publication are required for books cited. (Refer to published papers in Nature for details.)

Research datasets may be cited in the reference list if they have been assigned digital object identifiers (DOIs) and include authors, title, publisher (repository name), identifier (DOI expressed as a URL). Example: Hao, Z., AghaKouchak, A., Nakhjiri, N. & Farahmand, A. Global Integrated Drought Monitoring and Prediction System (GIDMaPS) data sets. figshare http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.853801 (2014).

Recognized preprints may be cited in the reference list. Example: Babichev, S. A., Ries, J. & Lvovsky, A. I. Quantum scissors: teleportation of single-mode optical states by means of a nonlocal single photon. Preprint at http://arXiv.org/quant-ph/0208066 (2002).

References to web-only journals should give authors, article title and journal name as above, followed by URL in full - or DOI if known - and the year of publication in parentheses.

References to websites should give authors if known, title of cited page, URL in full, and year of posting in parentheses.

End notes are brief and follow the Methods (or Methods References, if any).

Acknowledgements should be brief, and should not include thanks to anonymous referees and editors, inessential words, or effusive comments. A person can be thanked for assistance, not “excellent” assistance, or for comments, not “insightful” comments, for example. Acknowledgements can contain grant and contribution numbers.

Author Contributions: Authors are required to include a statement to specify the contributions of each co-author. The statement can be up to several sentences long, describing the tasks of individual authors referred to by their initials. See the authorship policy page for further explanation and examples.

Competing interests  statement.

Additional Information: Authors should include a set of statements at the end of the paper, in the following order:

Papers containing Supplementary Information contain the statement: “Supplementary Information is available for this paper.”

A sentence reading "Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to XX.” Nature expects this identified author to respond to readers’ enquiries and requests for materials, and to coordinate the handling of any other matters arising from the published contribution, including corrections complaints. The author named as corresponding author is not necessarily the senior author, and publication of this author’s name does not imply seniority. Authors may include more than one e-mail address if essential, in which event Nature will communicate with the first-listed address for any post-publication matters, and expect that author to coordinate with the other co-authors.

Peer review information includes the names of reviewers who agree to be cited and is completed by Nature staff during proofing.

A sentence reading “Reprints and permissions information is available at www.nature.com/reprints.”

Life sciences and behavioural & social sciences reporting guidelines

To improve the transparency of reporting and the reproducibility of published results, authors of life sciences and behavioural & social sciences Articles must provide a completed Reporting Summary that will be made available to editors and reviewers during manuscript assessment. The Reporting Summary will be published with all accepted manuscripts.

Please note: because of the advanced features used in these forms, you must use Adobe Reader to open the documents and fill them out.

Guidance and resources related to the use and reporting of statistics are available here .

Tables should each be presented on a separate page, portrait (not landscape) orientation, and upright on the page, not sideways.

Tables have a short, one-line title in bold text. Tables should be as small as possible. Bear in mind the size of a Nature page as a limiting factor when compiling a table.

Symbols and abbreviations are defined immediately below the table, followed by essential descriptive material as briefly as possible, all in double-spaced text.

Standard table formats are available for submissions of cryo-EM , NMR and X-ray crystallography data . Authors providing these data must use these standard tables and include them as Extended Data.

Figure legends

For initial submissions, we encourage authors to present the manuscript text and figures together in a single Word doc or PDF file, and for each figure legend to be presented together with its figure. However, when preparing the final paper to be accepted, we require figure legends to be listed one after the other, as part of the text document, separate from the figure files, and after the main reference list.

Each figure legend should begin with a brief title for the whole figure and continue with a short description of each panel and the symbols used. If the paper contains a Methods section, legends should not contain any details of methods. Legends should be fewer than 300 words each.

All error bars and statistics must be defined in the figure legend, as discussed above.

Nature requires figures in electronic format. Please ensure that all digital images comply with the Nature journals’ policy on image integrity .

Figures should be as small and simple as is compatible with clarity. The goal is for figures to be comprehensible to readers in other or related disciplines, and to assist their understanding of the paper. Unnecessary figures and parts (panels) of figures should be avoided: data presented in small tables or histograms, for instance, can generally be stated briefly in the text instead. Avoid unnecessary complexity, colouring and excessive detail.

Figures should not contain more than one panel unless the parts are logically connected; each panel of a multipart figure should be sized so that the whole figure can be reduced by the same amount and reproduced on the printed page at the smallest size at which essential details are visible. For guidance, Nature ’s standard figure sizes are 90 mm (single column) and 180 mm (double column) and the full depth of the page is 170 mm.

Amino-acid sequences should be printed in Courier (or other monospaced) font using the one-letter code in lines of 50 or 100 characters.

Authors describing chemical structures should use the Nature Research Chemical Structures style guide .

Some brief guidance for figure preparation:

Lettering in figures (labelling of axes and so on) should be in lower-case type, with the first letter capitalized and no full stop.

Units should have a single space between the number and the unit, and follow SI nomenclature or the nomenclature common to a particular field. Thousands should be separated by commas (1,000). Unusual units or abbreviations are defined in the legend.

Scale bars should be used rather than magnification factors.

Layering type directly over shaded or textured areas and using reversed type (white lettering on a coloured background) should be avoided where possible.

Where possible, text, including keys to symbols, should be provided in the legend rather than on the figure itself.

Figure quality

At initial submission, figures should be at good enough quality to be assessed by referees, preferably incorporated into the manuscript text in a single Word doc or PDF, although figures can be supplied separately as JPEGs if authors are unable to include them with the text. Authors are advised to follow the initial and revised submissions guidelines with respect to sizing, resolution and labelling.

Please note that print-publication quality figures are large and it is not helpful to upload them at the submission stage. Authors will be asked for high-quality figures when they are asked to submit the final version of their article for publication.At that stage, please prepare figures according to these guidelines .

Third party rights

Nature discourages the use or adaptation of previously published display items (for example, figures, tables, images, videos or text boxes). However, we recognize that to illustrate some concepts the use of published data is required and the reuse of previously published display items may be necessary. Please note that in these instances we might not be able to obtain the necessary rights for some images to be reused (as is, or adapted versions) in our articles. In such cases, we will contact you to discuss the sourcing of alternative material.

Figure costs

In order to help cover some of the additional cost of four-colour reproduction, Nature Portfolio charges our authors a fee for the printing of their colour figures. Please contact our offices for exact pricing and details. Inability to pay this charge will not prevent publication of colour figures judged essential by the editors, but this must be agreed with the editor prior to acceptance.

Production-quality figures

When a manuscript is accepted in principle for publication, the editor will ask for high-resolution figures. Do not submit publication-quality figures until asked to do so by an editor. At that stage, please prepare figures according to these guidelines .

Extended Data

Extended Data figures and tables are online-only (appearing in the online PDF and full-text HTML version of the paper), peer-reviewed display items that provide essential background to the Article but are not included in the printed version of the paper due to space constraints or being of interest only to a few specialists. A maximum of ten Extended Data display items (figures and tables) is typically permitted. See Composition of a Nature research paper .

Extended Data tables should be formatted along similar lines to tables appearing in print (see section 5.7) but the main body (excluding title and legend, which should be included at the end of the Word file) should be submitted separately as an image rather than as an editable format in Word, as Extended Data tables are not edited by Nature’s subediting department. Small tables may also be included as sub-panels within Extended Data figures. See Extended Data Formatting Guide .

Extended Data figures should be prepared along slightly different guidelines compared to figures appearing in print, and may be multi-panelled as long as they fit to size rules (see Extended Data Formatting Guide ). Extended Data figures are not edited or styled by Nature’s art department; for this reason, authors are requested to follow Nature style as closely as possible when preparing these figures. The legends for Extended Data figures should be prepared as for print figures and should be listed one after the other at the end of the Word file.

If space allows, Nature encourages authors to include a simple schematic, as a panel in an Extended Data figure, that summarizes the main finding of the paper, where appropriate (for example, to assist understanding of complex detail in cell, structural and molecular biology disciplines).

If a manuscript has Extended Data figures or tables, authors are asked to refer to discrete items at an appropriate place in the main text (for example, Extended Data Fig. 1 and Extended Data Table 1).

If further references are included in the Extended Data tables and Extended Data figure legends, the numbering should continue from the end of the last reference number in the main paper (or from the last reference number in the additional Methods section if present) and the list should be added to the end of the list accompanying the additional Methods section, if present, or added below the Extended Data legends if no additional Methods section is present.

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (SI) is online-only, peer-reviewed material that is essential background to the Article (for example, large data sets, methods, calculations), but which is too large or impractical, or of interest only to a few specialists, to justify inclusion in the printed version of the paper. See the Supplementary Information page for further details.

Supplementary Information should not contain figures (any figures additional to those appearing in print should be formatted as Extended Data figures). Tables may be included in Supplementary Information, but only if they are unsuitable for formatting as Extended Data tables (for example, tables containing large data sets or raw data that are best suited to Excel files).

If a manuscript has accompanying SI, either at submission or in response to an editor’s letter that requests it, authors are asked to refer to discrete items of the SI (for example, videos, tables) at an appropriate point in the main manuscript.

Chemical structures and characterization of chemical materials

For guidelines describing Nature ’s standards for experimental methods and the characterization of new compounds, please see the information sheet on the characterization of chemical materials .

We aim to produce chemical structures in a consistent format throughout our articles. Please use the Nature Portfolio Chemical Structures Guide and ChemDraw template to ensure that you prepare your figures in a format that will require minimal changes by our art and production teams. Submit final files at 100% as .cdx files.

Registered Reports

Registered Reports are empirical articles testing confirmatory hypotheses in which the methods and proposed analyses are pre-registered and peer reviewed prior to research being conducted. For further details about Registered Reports and instructions for how to submit such articles to Nature please consult our Registered Reports page.

All contributions should be submitted online , unless otherwise instructed by the editors. Please be sure to read the information on what to include in your cover letter as well as several important content-related issues when putting a submission together.

Before submitting, all contributors must agree to all of Nature's publication policies .

Nature authors must make data and materials publicly available upon publication. This includes deposition of data into the relevant databases and arranging for them to be publicly released by the online publication date (not after). A description of our initiative to improve the transparency and the reproducibility of published results is available here . A full description of Nature’s publication policies is at the Nature Portfolio Authors and Referees website .

Other Nature Research journals

An account of the relationship between all the Nature journals is provided at the Nature family page . 

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Write a Critical Review of a Scientific Journal Article

What is a scientific journal, what is a critical review, more help with science writing.

  • Analyzing the Text
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A scientific journal is a publication intended to further the progress of scientific discovery by reporting novel research. Scientific journals publish both original research articles and review articles.

A critical review is an assessment of an original research article.  Writing a critical review of a journal article can help you improve your research skills. By assessing the work of others, you develop skills as a critical reader and become familiar with the types of evaluation criteria that will be applied to research in your field.

You are expected to read the article carefully, analyze it, and evaluate the quality and originality of the research, as well as its relevance and presentation. You should assess its strengths and weaknesses, followed by its overall value.

  • Do not be confused by the term critique: it does not mean that you only look at the negative aspects of what the researchers have done. You should address both the positive and negative aspects of the journal article.
  • If your instructor has given you specific advice on how to write a critical review, follow that advice. If not, the following steps may help you. 

This guide is divided into two parts. The first part, "Analyzing the Text," outlines the steps involved in evaluating a research article. The second part, "Writing Your Critique," discusses two possible ways to structure your review.​

  • Developing a Research Question + Worksheet Use this worksheet to develop, assess, and refine your research questions. There is also a downloadable PDF version.
  • Research Article Mapping Template This workbook provides writers with a mapping template and fillable worksheets to begin organizing and drafting sections of a research article.
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  1. How to write a good scientific review article

    Review MeSH terms Writing* 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 part …

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    January 2019 3. While you are gathering sources, read at least the abstracts and carry out a scoping exercise that helps you set the boundaries of the topic and the literature you intend to review. Keeping notes as you go of key features of each source will help you later when you lay down the structure of the paper. 4.

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    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.

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    How to write a good scientific review article - Dhillon - 2022 - The FEBS Journal - Wiley Online Library The FEBS Journal Words of Advice Free Access How to write a good scientific review article Paraminder Dhillon First published: 06 July 2022 https://doi.org/10.1111/febs.16565 Citations: 4 Sections PDF Tools Share Abstract

  5. How to Write a Peer Review

    Here's how your outline might look: 1. Summary of the research and your overall impression. In your own words, summarize what the manuscript claims to report. This shows the editor how you interpreted the manuscript and will highlight any major differences in perspective between you and the other reviewers. Give an overview of the manuscript ...

  6. Step by Step Guide to Reviewing a Manuscript

    Step by step. guide to reviewing a manuscript. When you receive an invitation to peer review, you should be sent a copy of the paper's abstract to help you decide whether you wish to do the review. Try to respond to invitations promptly - it will prevent delays. It is also important at this stage to declare any potential Conflict of Interest.

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    By Elisabeth Pain A good peer review requires disciplinary expertise, a keen and critical eye, and a diplomatic and constructive approach. Credit: dmark/iStockphoto As junior scientists develop their expertise and make names for themselves, they are increasingly likely to receive invitations to review research manuscripts.

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    The peer review template for patients and novice reviewers ( table 1) is a series of steps designed to create a workflow for the main components of peer review. A structured workflow can help a reviewer organise their thoughts and create space to engage in critical thinking. The template is a starting point for anyone new to peer review, and it ...

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    Clarivate April 6, 2022 5 minute read Learning how to write a constructive peer review is an essential step in helping to safeguard the quality and integrity of published literature.

  14. Writing a Literature Review

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    Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications .For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively .Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every ...

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    The literature review template includes the following sections: Before you start - essential groundwork to ensure you're ready The introduction section The core/body section The conclusion /summary Extra free resources Each section is explained in plain, straightforward language, followed by an overview of the key elements that you need to cover.

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    This workbook provides writers with a mapping template and fillable worksheets to begin organizing and drafting sections of a research article. Organizing your Research Proposal - Template This 6-page fillable pdf handout provides writers with a template to begin outlining sections of their own research proposal. WriteOnline.ca

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