Over at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology's ASBMB Today, Emily Crawford shares tips for young investigators writing their first literature review articles. As a fifth-year graduate student, Crawford says her article is essentially a "case story with an N of one, but it is the sort of essay I wish had been available to me when I started."
When getting started on a review article, Crawford says it's imperative to assess not only the limits imposed by journals, but also one's "own limits and the necessity to balance the writing project with lab work." From there, she says, "narrowing the scope of the article to conform to these boundaries [is] perhaps the biggest challenge of this process."
Overall, she says that writing her first review article was "one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had," particularly because "distilling all sorts of data from experiments done by scientists all around the world into a coherent story turned out to be very satisfying." However, Crawford notes there are ways she could have approached the task more efficiently.
"Your labmates and collaborators are invaluable resources," Crawford says. She suggests asking "colleagues which papers they'd give to a rotation student to read and what the most important recent advances are in the field" when first defining the paper's scope. Crawford also says it's important not to dwell on previous review articles on a similar or the same topic, as "that sucks up time and gives you unnecessary insecurity about the contribution you’re trying to make to the field."
Among other things, Crawford says it's the author's job to "impose some structure on the mess that is the scientific literature," to tabulate related trends in a readable format. "I found that once I had made a table, the narrative of that particular research topic almost wrote itself," she adds.