Don’t feel confused when teachers assign you to write a review essay. This paper is always based on other published articles and it doesn’t report any original research. The basic purpose of writing a review paper is to generally sum up existing literature on the chosen topic to explain to the audience its current understanding. Review essays form valuable literature because they sum up interesting findings and let other people form a better idea about the existing knowledge on a particular subject without reading all published works in this field. All students need to complete this academic assignment and they get a number of benefits in return. Review papers allow them to find out about a specific subject matter while acing comprehensive exams. However, writing them is a big job, which requires a detailed guide to do it successfully.
Basic review paper FAQ
What is a review essay? You won’t be able to submit a good paper if you don’t know the right answer to this question. Your review paper can be the following:
- A scientific text that relies on previously published sources and data (no new information from your experiments are presented);
- Constructive and critical analysis of other sources in a specific subject through a summary, analysis, classification, and comparison;
- A stand-alone publication.
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For example, literature reviews are important parts of doctoral and master theses or grant proposals.
What is the main purpose served by review papers? They have the following purposes:
- Evaluate specific literature;
- Organize all primary and secondary sources;
- Synthesize data;
- Identify specific trends and patterns in literature;
- Determine existing research gaps and advise new research fields.
Who are future readers? They can be novice researchers, other students, decision-makers, experts in specific areas, professors, etc.
What re important review paper functions?
All review papers are targeted at a few groups, including the extended explanations of subjects. They are certain meta-analyses or critical evaluations of the materials that have already been published. By integrating, organizing, and evaluating them, you think about the progress of current research towards clarifying a given issue or matter. In some sense, your review paper is a tutorial because you need to do the following:
- Clarify and identify a particular problem;
- Sum up previous investigations to inform readers of the current research state;
- Determine contradictions, links, inconsistencies, and gaps in available sources;
- Suggest new steps in solving this problem.
Which types of review papers exist?
When writing a review paper, you should understand that there are different types and they’re classified based on a few methods. Types classified by a methodological approach include:
- Systematic reviews that statistically analyze findings from different individual studies by strict procedures (meta-analyses can be used to pool these results);
- Narrative reviews summarize and compare selected studies based on existing theories, models, and experiences (all results are based on a qualitative level instead of the quantitative one);
- Best-evidence review combined the focus of selected studies with the systematic methods of result exploration and study selection.
Types classified by their objective include:
- History reviews focused on the development of a specific field over time;
- Status-quo reviews present the latest research for a given field or topic;
- Model or theory reviews introduce a new model or theory in a given field of research;
- Issue reviews investigate a particular issue in a certain area.
Review paper types can be categorized based on their mandate:
- Commissioned reviews are the formal contracts of authors with customers;
- Invited reviews involved experiences authors;
- Unsolicited submissions where authors develop their ideas for a review and submit them.
How long should your review paper be? This assignment varies in its length considerably, and everything depends on prompts. Read them attentively or talk to professionals if you have any questions.
Review paper elements
Everything starts with a title that helps readers decide if they want to keep reading a review paper or not. There are certain criteria that your title should fit. For example, it should be informative and indicate that a given text is a review paper. Make sure that it contains all important terms and the main message.
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Your title should be short, so keep it concise and catchy. When it comes to choosing the right tense, it’s worth remembering that the past tense indicates that results are not any established knowledge, while the present tense highlights their overall validity and shows what you want to achieve with your review paper. You can write a title as a question only if it remains unanswered at the time of writing your review essay.
Your authorship and abstract
It declares your intellectual ownership of a particular text while providing personal and contact data. The abstract of your paper can either inform the audience about the main goals and results if it’s informative or indicate a specific text structure if it’s descriptive.
If you need to write a descriptive abstract, it’s like a table of contents in a paragraph form, so include a description of all the subjects covered with no specific details in the present tense.
When writing an informative abstract, which suits best-evidence and systematic review papers, you need to include the following elements:
- In objectives, describe the main intention and context of your essay in a few brief sentences;
- In methods and materials, provide readers with an overall picture of your chosen methodological approach in short;
- In results, describe the main outcomes in a few sentences;
- In conclusions, present your conclusion linked to the main objectives of your review paper.
A table of contents
This element shows the audience the organization of the entire text while helping them stay oriented among all sections. You should note that some teachers may ask you to print a table of contents at the very beginning of your review paper, while others don’t. In most cases, this element is necessary for all extensive narrative reviews, so talk to instructors to make sure that you need to include it in your assignment.
Your introductory paragraph
The introduction of your review paper provides readers with more information about its context while indicating your key motivation when writing it, researching a given question, explaining the entire structure, and defining the main focus. There are certain elements that should be included in this paragraph, such as:
- A subject background that briefly describes a general issue, topic, or area of concern and illustrates the main context;
- A given problem, new perspectives, trends, conflicts, and gaps;
- Your justification, motivation, or reasoning to review specific sources and a description of the organization and approach of your text.
Use the present tense when writing an introductory paragraph and feel free to include a few expert citations (make sure that they are short). Its length should be about 10-20% of the entire text. Your goal is to have an explicit subject matter and a narrow focus in this section because they need to be indicated clearly. You also need to provide readers with both practical and theoretical justification for the need for writing a review paper.
Methods and materials
Systematic and best-evidence review papers have a special methods section that enables motivated students repeat a review in the future. The narrative ones don’t have this section, but it’s still necessary to include some basic information about your applied methods at the end of an introductory paragraph. This paragraph should contain specific information, such as:
- Search strategies and terms in addition to your selection criteria, like the exclusion or inclusion of studies;
- Data sources or bibliographical databases;
- The number of studies screened and included;
- Statistical methods of your analysis.
It’s possible to include a few citations in your methods and materials, such as software used or statistical analyses. Be sure to write this section in the past tense and it should be about 5% of the entire text. Furthermore, all data sources should be clearly identified, and precision is your top priority when writing this paragraph.
The main body
The main body is the main part of your review paper, and a coherent structure of the chosen topic is necessary to end up with the well-written one. Subheadings are important because they reflect the organization of your subject and indicate the content of different paragraphs. You can use different criteria when structuring the main body, including:
- Theories or models;
- Methodological approaches;
- Studies that either agree or disagree with others;
- The extent of support for your thesis;
- Geographical location;
- Chronological order.
When structuring paragraphs in the main body of a review paper, cover one topic idea or aspect in one paragraph and avoid referring to just one study because you need to consider at least a few ones in each section. You should regularly link your discussed findings to the question stated in an introductory paragraph. This is what creates a certain thread of coherence in your essay. Don’t forget to link all studies to each other while discussing and comparing their relationships. In the main body, there are 3 tenses commonly used by students:
- The present tense is used to report readers what other authors believe, think, and write while stating information of overall validity and current knowledge;
- Present perfect is used to refer to a specific area with many independent researchers involved;
- Simple past is used to refer to a specific author found or did in a single work.
The length of your main body should be about 70-90% of the core text. Make sure that you organize different facts into a strong line of argument. That’s because the right organization of your information has a direct impact on the quality of your review paper. You should focus on writing an idea-driven paper instead of the literature-driven one.
The use of citations
In most cases, citations are indirect, but it’s possible to cite directly some relevant and pointed remarks. Integral or direct references indicate that the author’s name has a significant grammatical function in the text and they are used to emphasize the contribution of certain people. Non-integral or indirect references are used to emphasize a particular theory, idea, or results instead of people behind it. For example, most references used in biology review papers are non-integral.
A concluding paragraph
The conclusion of your review paper is necessary to answer the question stated in its introduction. There are certain elements that should be covered by this section, such as:
- Interpretations that must be kept separate from factual data;
- Implications of findings;
- Identification of any unresolved questions.
Use the present tense when making conclusions and summarizing. If you need to refer to a specific area or literature, you’re allowed to use present perfect. The length of a concluding paragraph should be about 5% of the entire text, and it’s not advisable to include any citations. Make a clear message to integrate the main points discussed in your review paper. Its conclusion should never repeat an abstract or an introduction.
Acknowledgements and references
Acknowledgements are written to express your gratitude to people who helped you complete this academic assignment, its writing and structuring. For instance, this brief section of your paper should contain the full names of people and their particular contributions to your writing project. Use the present tense when doing that.
References are necessary to avoid possible plagiarism charges, acknowledge the work of others, and show your readers how to find the sources used and mentioned in a review paper. You need to include each reference cited in your text, but don’t include any extra references and avoid online sources. If it’s required to use them, find the original sources for online references and be sure to cite them directly and correctly. When writing narrative reviews, focus on including only high-quality studies, while systematic and best-evidence papers require explicit criteria.
When including any illustrations, concept maps are quite helpful in review papers because they visualize your topic while showing existing links between different models, concepts, studies, and theories. If you need to organize data, arrange special boxes with names and terms in a 2-dimensional space. Use arrows to link all boxes and write specifications of their relationships. Any legend describes the content of a concept map, and it must be informative and specific to let other people understand it without reading the entire text. This tool is quite helpful when displaying all complex relationships. A glossary is often provided by students to explain specific terms to reach a broad audience. Boxes are provided to explain different concepts and terms to people who are interesting in studying the chosen topic in depth.
Prepare a review paper in a few basic steps
It’s easy to write your review essay in several key steps, including:
- Narrowing the chosen topic and determining important questions or issues;
- Looking for reliable and updated sources of information, researching questions, and refining your topic;
- Reading, classifying, and evaluating all sources while making notes;
- Redefining the main focus and question;
- Writing a preliminary title and developing a basic structure of your paper;
- Determining the best structuring principle for your review, such as a subject matter, chronological, experimental procedure, and so on;
- Creating and outlining and writing headings for all sections;
- Planning the content of every paragraph in your review paper;
- Preparing concept maps, tables, and other important elements;
- Writing the methods section when needed;
- Writing the main body;
- Writing a concluding paragraph;
- Coming up with a great introduction;
- Drafting and revising an abstract;
- Rereading and editing each section of your assignment;
- Revising all references and citations;
- Adjusting the layout of your paper before its further submission;
- Correct any spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other mistakes.
There are some extra points that should be considered and defined during the preparation stage when writing best-evidence and systematic reviews, including:
- The selection of published data, databases, search strategies, and other resources;
- Statistical procedures to analyze all studies;
- Specific criteria for excluding and including them;
- The treatment of your qualitative research introduced in a review.
All the above-mentioned aspects should be described in methods and materials. Finally, some teachers or instructors may rarely require a detailed review protocol from their students. Ask other people for their competent feedbacks when writing your review paper of any type.
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