In last week's blog post I talked about how to set your research up for success—and the important role of literature search. Conducting a thorough literature search at the start of your project will help you capture the current understanding of your topic, uncover gaps in the existing body of knowledge—and then formulate a strong research question.
The hard part, of course, is digesting the immense amount of peer-reviewed research that's been published. Reading review articles can help!
Review articles (sometimes called survey articles), summarize and survey the body of research on a particular topic. In addition, their bibliographies can be used to find relevant peer-reviewed research papers for deeper reading. (Note that even though they are often published in primary research journals, review articles are considered secondary literature, because unlike research articles they do not present new original research.)
Review articles help you understand:
- Who is doing research in the field
- What recent advances have been made
- What research is well supported
- Where there’s controversy and debate
- Where the research seems to be headed
Where to Find Review Articles
Finding review papers is fairly simple if you know where to look. The best place to start, of course, is in review journals. Here are four well-respected brands offering review journals:
Annual Reviews. The original reviews publisher, Annual Reviews is an independent not-for-profit publisher. The Annual Review series currently includes more than 50 journals, covering a wide range of disciplines within the Biomedical, Life, Physical, and Social Sciences, including Economics. Examples of journal titles:
- Annual Review of Biomedical Engineering
- Annual Review of Immunology
- Annual Review of Vision Science
Current Opinions. Published by the Cell Press imprint of Elsevier, the Current Opinion series currently includes 17 journals in life sciences and adjacent fields. Examples of journal titles:
- Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences
- Current Opinion in Pharmacology
- Current Opinion in Virology
Trends. Also published by the Cell Press imprint of Elsevier, the Trends series includes 15 scientific journals covering a range of areas of biology. Examples of journal titles:
- Trends in Biochemical Sciences
- Trends in Genetics
- Trends in Molecular Medicine
Nature Reviews. Now published by Springer Nature, the Nature Reviews series currently includes 20 journals in the areas of life sciences, clinical sciences, and physical sciences. Examples of journal titles:
- Nature Reviews Cardiology
- Nature Reviews Cancer
- Nature Reviews Urology
How to Run a Search for Review Articles
Most scholarly search engines (e.g. PubMed, Google Scholar, Web of Science) include filtering features that let you limit your search to literature reviews. Although they all work differently, most have a "document type" or "publication type" category within their advanced search features. Look for options such as “review article”, “literature review” or “review journal.” If you know which review journal you want to search, you can likely input its title as well. Review articles often include the word "review" or "literature review"—so you may want to add those terms to your keyword search.
There's a Gadget for That!
Reprints Desk’s Article Galaxy Gadget Store offers a range of tools (aka Gadgets) you can use to streamline your search for review articles and articles from review journals. Using tools like the Reference Manager Gadget and the Document Delivery Gadget, you can search PubMed, subscribe to journal table-of-contents alerts, and download full-text review papers all from one central location. To access these Gadgets and more, sign up for a free Gadget Store account.