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In brief

  • The main aim of any research is making relevant contribution to the field of research in a field and to be able to add relevant content to the ‘conversation’.
  • To achieve this, one must begin by understanding the context of the ‘conversation’. And this important task is done by a properly conducted and documented review of literature.

Need for literature in research article and dissertation

      Biomedical research is at its peak today and publicationsare also increasing exponentially in the last few decades necessitating the need for dedicated medical writing services with domain-related expertise. Despite this, the number of rejections is on the rise. A good literature review, identifying the area of research in a crisp manner and clearly defining relevance of the research are often lacking resulting in rejection of manuscripts. Biomedical literature review is the first step towards any research.

  • Literature review explores previous research conducted in the field of interest, the limitations and conflict areas identified and the need for further research. This justifies the relevance and originality of the research work.
  • It also helps one in understanding and formulating one’s area of research in a better manner and justifies the methodology used.
  • Literature review helps connectthe statistical findings of the research with prior research statistics.
  • Review also conveys eagerness and preparedness to do the research till completion.
  • Review helps in preventing duplication of research and avoiding redundant fields and is needed for good quality research paper.
  • Dissertation is an important requirement for completion of academics and literature review is an important part of this academic requirement.

In short, literature review is done to place our research within the context of the topic-related existing research and justifies the need for proposed research.

Use of literature review

            There are various circumstances under which one must do a literature review.

  • Introduction to a primary research topic – This sets the context for the research article or dissertation by analysing previously published literature and clearly defining the place of the current research and its contribution to the advancement in the understanding of the topic in question.
  • Systematic review –It is related to meta-analysis and provide a quantitative or less often qualitative statistic summarizing several papers.
  • Secondary data analysis projects- It is a research project on its own and begins with a clear research question. The project aims at analysing available data in answering the question.

Source of data

Data has been sourced from libraries as well as digital sources. This is a cumbersome activity which continues throughout all the stages of the study and hence, it should be started early in the phase of research.


  • Picking up articles for review is another art and one should have clear inclusion and exclusion criteria to perform a relevant review. Also, citations should be recent and not too old and outdated in current context.
  • Adequate number of citations is often defined by the journal and that needs to be followed. Too few or too many citations fail to convey the crux in the correct proportions.
  • Citations should include not only those studies with clear-cut outcomes or inferences, it should also include those that are inconclusive or require further research. This is required for 360 degree understanding, avoiding bias, and defining further scope for research.
  • Bias in citations that intentionally quote only those that are congruent in their conclusions to the current study should be avoided.
  • Critical appraisal of the studies cited with an analytical review of the same is desirable.

Organising data

There are several ways to organize biomedical literature review and are used by PhD students for their biomedical dissertations.

  • Scientific manuscript writing services commonly use chronological sequence for listing out literature for review. This is often the method adopted when we are talking about something that we wish to trace over time and the topic has evolved over the years.
  • Another method often used in scientific article writing is a well-argued format grouping those with one school of thought together to contrast with those that are different from the first school of thought. This methodology is useful whenever there are two or more contrasting views that have probably been debated and still hold ground in different studies.
  • A reverse-triangle approach is where we start discussing based on the broader concepts and then gradually narrow in onto the topic of interest. Finally zeroing in on the study that is like the research question or objective in mind.
  • A similar approach involves starting with the known facts supported by literature and then moving to the grey zones and the less known to the unknown debated areas.

Basically, depending on the requirement of the topic of literature research, whether it is recent or been around for several years, whether most facts are clear or unclear, whether researchers agree or disagree on most matters and what is the outcome needed out of the literature search in context of the objective of the current study.In short, the review should be well-structured and should have some form to the flow of information.

Some broad guidelines are provided by PRISMA that gives a checklist of 27 items along with flowcharts to help in a comprehensive search.

The road ahead

            Literature review guidelines need to be defined in more precise terms. There are many shortcomings in the review of literature in the absence of uniformity of performing this task. Bias is to be reduced by clear definition of the methodology that is the need of the hour.

And so

            With increase in the number of publications, it becomes important to set the factual context of the current research study that one wishes to get published. This is relevant to participate in the ongoing ‘dialogue’ on the subject and contribute positively to that area of research. A thorough and relevant review of literature is paramount for this.


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  • Christine Susan Bruce (1994) Research students’ early experiences of the dissertation literature review, Studies in Higher Education, 19:2, 217-229.
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