Scientific Writing: Literature Review and Citing

Posted on: 
Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Thanks to the Internet it is easy to find lots of information and articles about your topic, but not every article is useful for your purpose. Therefore it is very important to distinguish useful and not useful literature. Different searching methods are known, but everyone needs to figure out which way is the best for themselves. One way is to start with some general keywords and then add more and more specific keywords regarding your topic. Another possible way is to take a current review or articles related to your topic, and then check the cited literature for information important for you. On several databases it is also possible to get a list of publications that are citing this article. Checking the latest articles is leading to the latest research findings in a particular field.

While scanning all the articles that are provided by these techniques, it is nearly impossible to read all article completely. First check the abstracts and then scan the introduction and conclusion, and if these contain important information, you can read the whole article. While reading, take notes, what you think was the most important thing about this article. You will not remember the content in half a year!

Literature review itself is a big part of the whole process, as the reviewed literature is the backbone of your work. It is needed to explain why you did what you did and also to compare and link it to the work of others. Therefore it is necessary to organize and keep track of your collected literature. An easy way of doing so is using an online literature management program, some of them are provided for free at the University (For more information see: They can be linked to different writing programs which is simplifying to citing in a text and creating a complete reference list. But it is also good to check which program your group is using, as it is easier to work on the same document, if everyone is using the same programs. Also these programs offer to produce shared libraries, so if you are working on the same topic or writing an article together everyone is using the same library. The program also provides a complete list of references and is also adapting to the citing style you need. This makes life much easier.

Citing style always depend on where you want to publish (read the journals requirements), your professor´s preference or examination regulations (if writing a thesis), and sometimes on your own preference. But this is only formal requirements. The more important thing is to know when you need to cite. The easiest rule says: Cite, whenever you are using something provided by another person, may it an idea, a hypothesis, results, a figure or anything else. As mentioned before, it is important to compare your findings, ideas and aims to the findings, ideas and aims of others. Here it is important to cite, show the reader where you found your information (he may also want to read the cited article) and to keep your work transparent for the reader and the reviewer. Beside the fact that it is illegal to copy other people´s ideas it is some kind of appreciation and respect towards their work, ideas and results, if you cite everything properly.

Blog tags: