When is a good time to write a scientific review?

by Janice Nigro

I have never written a scientific review. Admitting that is like saying I never achieved expert status in anything as a scientist.

It’s partly true. Many journals solicit review articles only from so-called experts in a field. I have simply never been asked.

But my training was to focus on generating data driven articles. Writing and publishing any manuscript takes a lot of time, so I always thought the best strategy was to spend my time on articles reporting original data.

Once you have a reputation in research, you then become that expert.

The problem is today our programs force us to focus largely on the number of publications rather than on the content we are publishing. One solution to this issue is to write scientific reviews as they are not dependent on generating any new data.

So what’s the answer? While I am not crazy about the idea-a review is a potential lengthy distraction from generating new work-others argue that all trainees should have the experience of writing a scientific review. A review is one way to get experience writing a paper and to become immersed in the body of literature published on a specific subject.

The process though is no different than if one is preparing to write a manuscript based on original data. In either case, you need to do your research.

If you do write a review, to be successful, you need to provide a distinct perspective on the field as well as a survey of the available data. In other words, interpret the information for the reader as well as collect it.

A good example of this type of review is one critically assessing the cancer stem cell hypothesis (Cancer stem cells in the central nervous system-a critical review). Enough data had been collected at the time to warrant a critical review of the field. The review reports not only on the data that led to the development of the model, but also the data (and arguments) that opposed the model. The authors therefore provoke the reader to consider what the results mean, for example, in the context of the limitations of tumorigenic assays.

Writing a good scientific review takes time. I advocate writing a review, but only after you have published in a field. If you plan to write one, keep in mind that it should have some of the same goals as an original research paper. Present the facts (although we do acquire them differently) and then let us know what you think their significance is.


What are your thoughts about writing scientific reviews?

More help on how to write a review is at the following link: How to write a review article that people will read.


©Janice Marie Nigro/www.janikiInk.com

Looking for a scientific editor or writer? Contact Janice Nigro at Janice Nigro Scientific Editing and Writing. I have published in Cell, Science, and Nature, and articles I have edited have appeared in Cancer Research, PLoSONE, the Journal of Surgical Oncology, and Oncotarget.


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