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Publishing these thoughtful articles can jumpstart or recharge your career
Andrew Meehan

Because the sheer volume of published journal papers overwhelms even the most diligent scientist, review articles play an increasingly important role in a researcher's life. Want to brush up on a new topic? Reading two or three review articles will give you a good overview of the current status of a field, including some historical perspective and a point-counterpoint of controversial ideas and emerging hypotheses. Trying to glean the same information from dozens of abstracts is simply impossible.
"Review articles are becoming more popular," says Sam Enna, professor of pharmacology, toxicology, and therapeutics at University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. "To keep up with those things that are peripheral to your own specific expertise and interest, there's just no way you can go to the primary literature, wade through every single article and make any kind of judgment about the quality of the work."
Review articles are useful not only to the scientific community, they also can advance their authors' careers by increasing name recognition and intellectual capital. "It can become your most highly cited paper," says Peter Kalivas, professor and chair of the Department of Physiology and Neuroscience at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
An influential review can jumpstart or recharge a career. "It's a good way to begin to establish name recognition, visibility, and sort of fortitude in a particular area," adds Jim Barrett, senior vice president of research and development at Memory Pharmaceuticals in Montvale, NJ.
Reaping the benefits of writing a review depends on one condition: You must do it well. Barrett and other scientists and editors emphasize four steps for writing a successful review:
     1. Define the scope, whether it be an in-depth analysis or a pithy synopsis of a current discovery. Annual Reviews publishes long, in-depth reviews. "The more comprehensive, global kinds of reviews do benefit the field substantially," Barrett says.
Another valuable kind of review focuses on current data supporting an idea. This type of article doesn't dwell on the history or development of a discovery, but "brings together cutting-edge pieces to create a new hypothesis," Kalivas says. It opens many doors and generates many hypotheses that can be tested, he adds. He considers these "the most landmark types of reviews." Scientists who write this kind of review "stick their necks way out with as much support as they can muster at that particular time." With a laugh, he warns that authors might "get their heads cut off.".
Barrett laments that reviews covering newly emerging fields are less frequently available. "A review of that kind, where it's sort of sitting on the cusp and about to explode, would be very helpful."
Alice Young, professor of psychology at Wayne State University in Detroit, puts in a vote for reviews that explicitly present a point of view, such as those published in the Trends journals. "They'll have reviews on principles, and then they'll have reviews that are clearly identified as opinions." As an editor, she likes to fish for an article on a particular topic in which "everybody [but the writer] seems to be off base in how they're interpreting a certain thing." 
     2. Focus your topic. Define it so that it isn't "so broad as to be diffuse," warns Barrett. A good review article, Enna says, has a theme or a new angle. "If you think it's just a matter of accumulating a bunch of manuscripts on your desk and just putting into your own words the abstract of each of the manuscripts," he cautions, "nothing's duller than that!" Young agrees: "The organizational opinion of the writer matters." 
     3. Recognize your audience. The journal you target will define the audience in some way, Barrett says. Many researchers use review articles to get up to speed on topics peripheral to their expertise, says Enna, so the writer should make the review understandable to people outside the field. Writing a review with "a lot of jargon that would be understood by only three people in the world" is a big mistake, he says.
     4. Take a less formal approach. Writing reviews requires different language and a different approach as compared to writing an original research report. Reviews are interpretative, Young says.
In research reports, authors tend to be very cautious with their interpretations; it is standard practice to use conditional language such as "these data suggest." Review articles are "more literary," says Kalivas. "For most scientists, it requires a loosening up." He says that's why most people start by writing a more scholarly review, in the style with which they are most familiar. "Gradually they get more comfortable infusing the scholarly infrastructure with their own ideas and opinions."

BENEFITS TO YOUR RESEARCH In addition to raising your stature in the scientific community, a review article can boost your own scholarly self-confidence. "It helps you formulate your own ideas," says Kalivas.
Young describes the inspiration for one review article she wrote: She read an article by a competitor. She still has her copy with notes all along the margins: 'Aha!' 'There's a way to test this.' 'He's dead wrong!' Energized by the article, she quickly outlined a set of experiments. "I had to go into the literature to see what was already known," she says. "Who else had thought about related problems in that way?" By addressing her creative burst in a scholarly manner, she was able to write a review article and lay the foundation for a new research direction in her laboratory.
A new idea can develop from writing a review, and that idea becomes more powerful because you're combining your data with that of other people, says Lakshmi Devi, professor of pharmacology and biological chemistry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "It's like a communal observation versus a single observation."
When writing your own original paper, Devi explains, you don't have all the pieces of the puzzle. "You're looking at one [piece]. Especially the kind of work we do, we're looking at like half a piece of a puzzle," she quips. But in a review, you can put the pieces together and come up with a model. "You can think about it as a whole," she says.
A successful review article will add up to more than the sum of its parts. In a research report, you describe your experiments in a set fashion, and the take-home message is a finding. In contrast, a review article takes a wide angle and captures the puzzle as a whole. Not only do you see its shape, but you see a new picture as well. Whether communicated through theme or hypothesis, model or opinion, the take-home message of a review is an original idea. "Reviews are a complement to experimental work," says Young. "I think the two inform each other in productive sorts of ways."

Jill Adams (Этот адрес электронной почты защищён от спам-ботов. У вас должен быть включен JavaScript для просмотра.) is a freelance writer in Delmar, NY.

The Scientist.- 2003.- V. 17, N16