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The Lit Review

A literature review is a juggling act, writes Marco Pautasso at PLOS Computational Biology. "When starting from scratch, reviewing the literature can require a titanic amount of work," he adds.

He offers 10 rules to make the process a bit easier, starting with determining the topic and audience. That way, the review is focused on something that's interesting, important, and well-defined. Of course, researchers then need to wade through the literature, and Pautasso suggests using a paper management system to keep the articles organized. He also advises review-writers to take notes as they read those articles. "This way, by the time you have read the literature you selected, you will already have a rough draft of the review," he says.

Still, he notes that the draft will need to be re-written, edited, and re-written again, especially as the writer chooses what sort of review — mini or full, descriptive or integrative, or narrative and systematic — they want to write and find a structure for it to flow well.

Pautasso also advises review-writers to keep the review up to date, but also to no overlook older studies. "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," he adds. "But this is the nature of science."