How to Write a Literature Review

I’ve posted another writing video on my Scientific Writing YouTube channel that focuses on preparation of a literature review. Whether you are writing a term paper, a thesis, a grant proposal, or an article for publication in a journal, you will need to include a literature review. In this video, I show how to conduct a literature search online and then how to organize and write a literature review for a research article.

What Do Journal Editors Want?

I just posted a new video on my scientific writing YouTube channel that looks at how journal editors decide to send out a paper for review. Some science journals send out for review less than half of papers submitted. Thus, it’s important to know how that decision is made and what an author can do to get past this first step in getting a paper accepted for publication. Here is that video:

How to Prepare a Graphical Abstract for a Scientific Paper

Some scientific journals are asking authors to prepare a graphical abstract to be submitted along with the manuscript. Graphical abstracts can help attract readers to your papers. In my opinion, it is worth the time and effort to craft them. In this video tutorial, I talk about the benefits of graphical abstracts to the author and briefly show how to prepare one. This and other writing tutorials are posted on my other YouTube channel.

Recording a Video with a Computer and a Script

I recently launched a new YouTube channel focused on scientific writing. Although I’ve written several essays about writing (How I Wrote My Best Scientific Paper, How to Write a Scientific Abstract), I knew that a lot of people dislike reading long articles. More and more people, especially students, like to get their information by watching brief videos. So, I decided to begin sharing what I’ve learned about writing over a forty-year career in a series of videos.

I’ve been making video tutorials about science videography for six years now. So, using video to share insights about writing was a no brainer. The only question was: What video format would work best for this particular topic? I decided to try something simple and that would make it easy to cover a lot of material on camera.

I used my computer camera and an external microphone to record these videos. I had my script or list of main points on my computer screen where I could easily see them. The trick is to deliver the material in a natural speaking voice and avoid the shifty-eye syndrome. That’s easier said than done. But I thought I would try it for a while and then in a future post offer some insights into what works and what doesn’t.

Here are a couple of the writing videos I’ve posted:




How to Write an Abstract for a Scientific Paper

640px-Everest-fromKalarPatarWriting a scientific article can be an intimidating and challenging task for first-timers. I vividly recall my first effort. I was initially overwhelmed with the idea because I was thinking about the entire paper in the same way an amateur mountaneer might view Mt. Everest: one long climb to the top. How would I ever reach the summit when I’ve never set foot on a mountain before?

(Image by Uwe Gille, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Fortunately, someone suggested to me that I break the job down into small parts and stop thinking about it as one huge task. They also suggested that I study published papers to see how each section was structured and then organize my narrative in a similar way. This piece of advice—to study the structure and writing style of well-written articles—helped me enormously, especially in the early days of preparing research articles for publication.

Over the succeeding years, I periodically “analyzed” papers—those in high-impact journals as well as those I just enjoyed reading—to discover ways to improve my own writing. Along the way, I realized that getting one’s work into top journals depended on how well the paper was written, in addition to ground-breaking research findings. I thus found it strange that my professors did not coach students in improving the quality of their scientific writing. A few professors had their students analyze papers in courses or lab group discussions, but the focus was on evaluating the science aspects of the article rather than the writing.

One section of my scientific papers that I initially did not spend much time crafting was the abstract. Like many novice writers, I left the abstract until last and then dashed off a mediocre summary composed of sentences mostly cut and pasted from the narrative. It was only much later that I understood the abstract to be one of the most important components of a scientific paper. The abstract is often the only section of a paper that is read. More importantly, the abstract can determine whether a reader downloads and reads the rest of the paper. Or, in the case of a conference paper, the abstract will determine whether it is accepted or not for presentation to colleagues. Journal editors and reviewers and conference organizers pay close attention to the abstract because it is a good predictor of the quality of the paper. A poorly written or mediocre abstract says the author is inexperienced or doesn’t care about quality.

Writing a decent abstract is not difficult…if you know what information needs to be included and how to structure it. The presentation embedded below explains how to write an abstract using a real example of a published abstract. I selected the example from one of my own publications–not because it’s particularly good, but because it illustrates some dos and don’ts. And, by using one of my own publications, I won’t embarrass anyone but myself!

Note that there is audio associated with each slide, so be sure to adjust the volume on your device (here is a direct link in case you cannot see the player window below).

Knowing how to condense a scientific article into a short, coherent summary is a handy skill that all science professionals should attain. If you’ve never written an abstract before, this guide should make the task a bit easier.