Skip to main content

BIO 3320 Principles of Development: Get Started

Subject Guide

Reading a Scientific Article

Manuscript Format: Development

Example of a Primer in the Journal of Experimental Biology


Class Assignment:

Purpose:  An important skill in any area of science is the ability to communicate experimental results to a broad audience.  One example of such communication is the literature review, which allow readers to get up to speed on recent progress in a specific topic.  Literature reviews do not simply summarize published research.  Rather, they synthesize results from related papers, placing these results in the context of the “big-picture question”.

 Assignment:  During this class, you will be exposed to major concepts in developmental biology.  This literature review assignment will allow you to explore a particular concept in-depth.  You will choose a topic (possible suggestions below), then identify three recent research papers (published in the last 5 years) related to this topic.  Your literature review will focus on these three papers, including other references that help you understand the background and history of the topic.

Library  Component:

  • The paper should focus on three primary research articles (published no earlier than 2013) that focus on the same topic.
  • The literature review should present the background and “big picture” question of the topic, describe the significant experiments and results from the papers, and explain how these papers contribute to our understanding of the field.
  • For the final paper, a total of 7 – 10 references must be cited.
    • 3 primary research articles noted above
    • at least 1 additional primary research article
    • at least 2 review articles
    • no more than 1 articles from a secondary source (textbook or encyclopedia)


What is a Literature Review?

When researchers begin to think about a topic to study, they spend some time finding out what has already been studied in their area of interest. They search for articles and reports that provide information on the history, background, key findings, related issues, and knowledge gaps related to their research.

Understanding what information is already out there on a topic helps the researchers focus their own study while placing it in the proper context of current and past research. This process is the literature review. The researchers are going over what has already been written on their topic.

Usually, when they are publishing the results of their own study in a journal article, the researchers begin with a short literature review which now provides background and context for the readers, helping them to understand the relevance and importance of the current study.

Watch these videos for further explanations:

Defining the Literature Review (3:11)

Types of Literature Reviews (1:44)

Selecting a Topic

Refining your Topic:

If you need some ideas for a topic, the library subscribes to the Current Topics in Developmental Biology (some titles also in print, call number: QL 951.C8).  Eash issue of Current Topics in Developmental Biology focuses on a different aspect of developmental biology and will have around 10 review articles on that topic.

AccessScience is another reference resource you can use to get some background information on possible topic.

Strategies for determining paper topic that is specific enough to research without being too narrow: