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BIO 3320 Principles of Development


Library Session:

Purpose:  To give you tools and strategies for developing a topic and finding the resources for your Literature Review Paper.

 Assignment:  This literature review assignment will allow you to explore a particular concept in-depth, 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.

Resource Guidelines:

The paper should focus on three primary research (not review) articles from peer-reviewed journals that focus on the same topic.

  • The 3 papers must be published on or after January 1, 2017.
  • The papers must be hypothesis-driven.
  • The three papers must come from at least two different reputable journals (for example, they cannot all come from the same journal).
  • A total of 6-10 references must be cited (there are no restriction for date or resource type for the additional sources)

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 literally reviewing 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 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)

You may also want to look at PLoS One's Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review to get ideas to how to approach this assignment and things to think about as you work

Selecting and Refining Your Topic

It may be tempting to jump right into search for your three research articles, but you will have much greater success if you spend some time reading secondary sources that help you understand the background and "big picture" around your potential topic.  Your textbook, a review article, or a subject encyclopedia are great places to get started.

Review articles: 
(be sure to check the reference list of any review articles you find - these are great sources for primary research articles):

  • the library subscribes to the Current Topics in Developmental Biology -  each 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.
  • search Google Scholar or Biological Abstract and include the word "review" in your search

Biology Subject Encyclopedias:

  • AccessScience is another reference resource you can use to get some background information on possible topics.
  • Wikipedia can be another great source at the beginning stages (do don't want to end up with this cited in your final paper though)

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