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Perfecting your presentation

So far, we have thought about how to select a review topic and reach out to a target journal. Now that you have your structure, bibliography, and potential target journal in place – you are finally ready to write your review! In this final blog post, I will share with you a few tips and tricks to write a clear, concise and effective review article.

All the principles of good science writing apply, but ensuring clarity and concision are at the top of my list. It is tempting to write a thesis on your favourite subject, but consider your audience, their attention span and their time available to read your review. An effective review is often around 3,000-5,000 words (although some journals accept longer). If you think you will greatly exceed this word count, then perhaps your topic is too broad or you have started to diverge away from your original topic. The good news is that this might mean you have enough material to write another review later down the track!

Primary research articles are exciting and interesting because they are full of new data with supporting figures and tables. Make sure you bring the same level of interest to your review article. Blocks of unbroken text are daunting and off-putting to read. Aim for at least one display item to accompany each main section of your review: perhaps a cartoon, schematic, table, graph, or information box. Whatever you create, make it novel, informative and interesting. Remember – display items from reviews are often heavily recycled in conference talks and posters, and so serve as great advertising for your article and your research team!

Research articles condense the excitement of unraveling new data: how can you bring that level of intrigue to a review article? While a review article doesn’t necessarily include new data, you can still offer your unique opinion. Much of your audience will have chosen to read your review because of your authoritative position in the field, and others might be looking for inspiration. So, create a buzz by offering some speculation and suggesting new avenues for research and development in the field. Just make sure you explain that this is just your opinion (of many alternatives) and not necessarily consensus!

Finally, you should consider who is going to co-author your review if you choose not to fly solo. Review articles tend to include just a handful of authors who are ideally from different labs, representing different opinions and expertise. Including your entire research group is discouraged — rather, your audience will want to see that your review has been crafted by a select group of experts. To avoid arguments, think about this sooner rather than later!

We hope you found this series of blog posts on writing un-commissioned reviews helpful. The IEL team look forward to seeing what you produce over the coming year.