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Course Support: Neurology Clerkship

Ten Rules for Writing a Literature Review

Rule 1: Define your Topic and Audience.

This seems obvious, but having a clear idea about what you are doing and who you are doing it for will make your job a lot easier. 

Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature

Make sure that you keep track of the searches you have done, so you know what is working and what isn’t and so that you can replicate it later if needed.

Make sure that you keep track of different papers as you look through your search results. At this point it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest some time and effort in to a bibliographic management system like EndNote or Zotero.

Going back to rule 1, know what you are doing so that you can better include and exclude papers that will help you.

Consider thinking outside the box and looking into areas outside of traditional databases (i.e. PubMed) and consider other databases. If you need help identifying some of these, make an appointment with Sa’ad.  

See if someone has already done a literature review that is the same or similar as yours. This will give you a better idea of what might be the most relevant papers or ideas to consider.

Rule 3: Take notes as your review your results

This is a more efficient way to extract data and ideas, as opposed to reading and then taking notes. While you are reading, in addition to the content of the papers, consider how they are organized and presented.

Rule 4: Be critical of what you find

Don’t just collect the papers that you have found, but consider what the strengths and weaknesses of each might be, major areas of debate, as well as any gaps within the collective body of papers.

Rule 5: Consider feedback

If possible, consider asking someone that you know is familiar with the topic to review your work. They may be able to identify gaps or problematic areas that you will want to consider.


Adapted from: Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review [Internet]. [cited 2019 Sep 9]. Available from: