Conducting a thorough literature search is critical. At the start of any research study, a comprehensive literature search helps you capture the current understanding of your topic, uncover gaps in the existing body of knowledge—and then formulate a strong research question.
But the literature search and discovery process is notoriously time consuming. Once you find the most relevant peer-reviewed articles (from an ever-growing sea of published research), you then must read, digest, and organize the immense amount of information they contain.
Review articles are a secret weapon for speeding up search and discovery.
What is a review article?
Review articles (also called survey articles) summarize and survey the body of scholarly literature on a particular topic. They can be useful as a “shortcut” of sorts, to help you get up to speed quickly on what research has been published relevant to your project.
A review article can 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
Looking through the bibliographies of review articles can be helpful, too. They can be a great resource for finding relevant peer-reviewed research papers, which you can then obtain for deeper reading.
Review articles vs. research articles
A quick but important note: Unlike research articles, review articles do not present new original research. As such, review articles are considered secondary literature—even though they are often published in primary research journals.
Where to find review articles
Finding review articles is fairly simple if you know where to look. Not surprisingly, the best place to start is in review journals. Here are four well-respected review journal collections:
ANNUAL REVIEWS: The original reviews publisher, Annual Reviews is an independent not-for-profit publisher. The Annual Review portfolio currently includes more than 50 journals, covering a wide range of disciplines within biomedical sciences, life sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences. 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 portfolio currently includes 27 journals in life sciences and adjacent fields. Examples of journal titles:
- Current Opinion in Cell Biology
- Current Opinion in Pharmacology
- Current Opinion in Solid State & Materials Science
TRENDS: Also published by the Cell Press imprint of Elsevier, the Trends portfolio includes 16 scientific journals covering a range of areas of biology. Examples of journal titles:
- Trends in Biotechnology
- Trends in Molecular Medicine
- Trends in Pharmacological Sciences
NATURE REVIEWS: Now published by Springer Nature, the Nature Reviews portfolio currently includes 21 journals in the areas of life sciences, clinical sciences, physical sciences, and earth sciences. Examples of journal titles:
- Nature Reviews Cancer
- Nature Reviews Disease Primers
- Nature Reviews Drug Discovery
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.
Article Galaxy Widget lets you search for review articles across more than 80 scholarly literature databases; order the review papers directly from your search results; and retrieve the full-text documents within seconds.