The difference between a ‘review’ and a ‘regular’ research paper is one of the most common questions we are asked during our Charlesworth Knowledge paper writing workshops. Students often want to know ‘I’ve done a literature review as part of my PhD research work, would it not be easier for me to publish this rather than original research?’.
Review papers are important components of the academic literature, intended (as the name suggests) to provide citable overviews of fields, research areas, or questions. However, it’s not the best strategy to start your publishing career by writing one of these articles. In many cases, these sorts of papers are invited by journal editors and would usually be written, or at least initiated, by more senior researchers. Our advice is to get a few peer-reviewed original research articles on your research topic under your belt before thinking about putting out a review paper. Concentrate on building an academic reputation in your field so that the editor of a leading journal will consider inviting you to write a review paper in a few years. My old thesis advisor used to say that his strategy was to write five ordinary papers on a particular topic and then a review article.
No doubt, review articles are often highly cited and are a good way to consolidate your reputation within a field. When you feel ready, you can always propose writing these articles to journal editors. We can provide templates you can use when reaching out to editors to suggest that now is the time for a review paper, written by you, that covers a particular field, theme, or question.
Writing these articles is quite different to putting together an ‘ordinary’ research article because the way in which they are structured is quite different. We teach that before starting to write, one of the three key things you need to know is the structure of your article (alongside your ‘key message’ and ‘target audience’).
There is an art to writing effective review papers. In our paper writing workshops, booked via institutions, we teach authors how to structure and write these kinds of academic articles. Here are some top tips: First, define the area or question you will address. Top-and-tail these articles with an overview Introduction and a Conclusion section that summarise the key issues and unanswered questions within a particular area. List the main issues or areas that you’d like to cover in the review and then structure these to form the main body of the article (perhaps as a series of sub-headings). The aim of these articles is to effectively, comprehensively, and usefully summarise a particular area: You want people to read your review paper and then use it and cite it in their own subsequent work.
Should you include your own unpublished data in a review article you are writing? This related question is very hard to answer because it depends on a number of factors: How much new information do you have? Can it be summarised in a single figure? How important and significant are your new results? A general rule of thumb here is to always try to publish new data and results as standalone articles (or parts thereof) so that they can then be cited when it comes time to put a review paper together. This is the main reason that ‘review papers’ are usually written once a body of literature in a particular field has been established by a researcher, rather than straightaway at the start of their career.
Charlesworth Knowledge workshops and training materials can help you understand the difference between ‘review’ and ‘regular’ papers, as well as how to effectively structure and write either of these article types. Get in touch with one of our team for more information.