A scientific literature review (sometimes also called related work or survey paper) is an integral part of:

  • Writing scientific papers
  • Writing position reports in a non-academic job
  • Writing your Bachelor/Master/PhD thesis

Here, you will find a collection of resources that should help you in addressing your scholarly needs.

Related Work/Literature Review/Survey Paper

Not All Publications Are Equal

Yes, quality matters. I am talking about both (i) the quality of a venue/journal and (ii) the quality of a paper published in the particular venue/journal.

In talking about a venue you want to consider impact factor, self-citation ratio and indexing of the venue as some key heuristics for understanding the “prestige” of the venue. If you have trouble in understanding the meaning of these terms, I described these aspects extensively in one of my recent articles that talks about understanding scientific venues. I also presented what white papers are and how you should consider them in your research.

You have to be aware of the quality of a publication per se and independently from where it has been published. It is particularly important for saving time as well as for being able to read works that can actually help you in solving your problem instead of making it more complicated. Over time, every scientist develops his/her heuristics and in this article I described mine. In a nutshell, it is about looking at the citations of the article, its abstract, the venue, and the authors.

Much more can be said about the topic. This is an extensive lecture series from the University of Washington. If you are curious, you can learn some of the dynamics of scientific publishing. The title “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data” gives you a good idea of the content.

Related Work/Literature Review and Active Reading

Do not limit yourself to only passive reading of scientific papers: instead, follow an active reading approach. In particular, you should take into account that scientific articles follow an  IMRaD structure. It stands for Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. In a recent article, I discussed how to take advantage of that structure for reading scientific papers quickly and effectively.

It is also important to always keep in mind the reason why you are doing a related work/literature review and act accordingly. Maybe you are trying to understand a problem or are trying to find the proper methodology for solving a clear problem. Your reading approach should be finetuned for the particular goal, and in this article you can find suggestions for taking advantage of a literature review for your research. Starting from asking yourself “why should I read this paper?”.

Leverage Proper Tools for Organizing Your Work

The more you will read, in particular if you will practice active reading, the more you will need to effectively organize your work. You should start organizing your work early on, when you have not yet accumulated an unmanageable amount of scientific resources. Otherwise, the inertia will cost you an unbearable amount of time.

There are dedicated tools for this task. In this article, I describe how you could organize your references using specific features of Microsoft words. There are several other tools like Mendeley and Citeulike that could help you in reducing the complexity of managing a large amount of resources.

Other Practical Aspects for a Literature Review:

In this video, Javed Vasillis presents a practical approach for conducting a literature review with a focus on the HCI domain.

However, many of the suggestions are valid for every domain of research. In particular, how to use the keywords of scientific papers as well as scientific research engines.

In this video, Shady Attia presents his view on how to conduct a literature review.

In addition, in case you are doing a literature review for non-scientific purposes or for the purpose of conducting an assignment, you may want to watch this video. You will find a quick and effective approach for this task.

However, in case you are not writing a company report or a white paper I would encourage you to take a more formal approach as described in this article and in the other videos. If your goal is to produce a (relatively) quick deliverable for an assignment you may want to consider it.

A collection of resources of conducting a Related Work (or #Literature #Review or #survey #Paper). Take advantage of #active reading and the dynamics of #scientific #writing. Click To Tweet

In Summary

Reading a good literature review (or related work or survey paper, call it in the way you prefer) can help you in understanding a problem and in providing you with clear ideas on how to solve a particular challenge. Writing an outstanding literature review can help you in positioning yourself as an expert in a field. They key is leveraging the structure of scientific papers, using an active reading approach, as well as using tools that can help you manage the increasing complexity.

This article (Related Work/Literature Review/Survey Paper: a collection of resources) is part of the miniseries on how to do a good thesis, you can see the full list of posts at the following links: