Sunday, February 19, 2012

Writing review articles is hard!

I never realized how difficult it was to write a good review until I tried writing one myself. I can write a bad one in an afternoon, but I'm aiming for producing a Nature Reviews article (even though that's not where I'm submitting this, I always want to produce the best material possible). And apparently that takes time. At least for me.

Not only do good reviews encompass an expansive exploration of the literature, but they must bring something new to the table. Some unique perspective or spin that makes people want to sit up and take time from their day. And if it is particularly interesting, people will hopefully cite it.

I suppose one of my problems is that I find it difficult to keep it focused and on topic. Partially that's because I'm so excited and passionate about my topic that I want to go on and on and on and on about it, but I'm not convinced that readers would appreciate a soliloquy on why my gene is the most important gene in the universe. (because, although I'm a bit biased, I think it is). The other reason is that I think I stumbled upon an awesome story that could be paradigm shifting (but don't we all say that), and I want to share it with the world.

But I digress.

I've written many research articles, but in my opinion, this review is the hardest thing I've ever tried doing. I've narrowed down the scope to make it palatable, yet I continue to see new research that I feel I must incorporate into the story. At some point (it better be soon, methinks) I better just stop reading and pull the plug and submit this..

After all, what good is a review if it's never submitted....


  1. I like to Boice review articles. An hour a day if I have that much time until it is due. And don't forget the importance of making an outline!

    1. I've been trying to write just a little a day, but when I look back it seems somewhat disjointed, even with the help of an outline.

      It probably doesn't help that I'm not terribly patient and want it finished ASAP. Especially when I find other, much more renowned scientists sniffing around the same topic. Someone (big) even recently published a review on a related topic that directly relates to my gene (although they don't know it yet).

      That being said, I better sit my butt down and write for an hour or so. I'm close to finishing, but still not thrilled with the product yet. I'm hoping a week of editing will fix that....

    2. Sure, they're disjointed in the first draft. That's why you edit and rewrite. That's a step in the writing process and tends to be easier to do once you have what you want to say down without self-censoring.

  2. Those are the hardest to write, by far. I finished something similar recently and I thought it was going to win the battle and I came close to declaring defeat more than once.

    I agree -- the diligent regular writing approach really helps on these.

    1. The only problem for me is that I like to set strict deadlines for myself and end up needing too much time to meet them. Time to revise my strategy....

      Also, how do you deal with figures? I'm not an artist, so it takes me forever (much more than an hour) to get a review figure I like.