How to write an article for a literature review or data review for a medical journal

A thorough review of literature is needed for a new drug application (NDA); every article or abstract ever written on the drug needs to be referenced. These articles do not end up as a thoughtful opinion piece and are unlikely ever to be republished as is as a review article.

However, the medical literature is filled with review articles, I have prepared more than a few myself. They are useful in giving an overview of a scientific field, a disease, treatment options, just about anything of interest to health and science professionals.

And while we are defining review articles, a published review is always opinion, always a discussion of other folks’ primary data, and cannot, cannot, ever be referenced in an article for data. You have to go back to the original source of data to be able to quote it. Because the reviewer may have misinterpreted, misquoted, and remember, inaccurate health information kills.

A meta-analysis is an original paper, because the professionals listed at authors, or other professionals they hired, have collected original studies and analyzed them all for similarities and differences, to see if analysis of all of them results in an overarching conclusion. You may quote meta-analyses.

Writing a review, follow these steps, in this order:

  1. Make sure you understand formatting and styles in your word processing program, and that you know how to add page numbers, and create an automatic table of contents
  2. Have a dictionary handy to make sure you understand the words you use, and can spell them
  3. Define your audience: everything in your document must be directed at that audience
  4. Define your authors
  5. Formulate the question you are asking that the review will answer, eg, how effective are oral diabetes drugs in maintaining normal FBG (fasting blood glucose) in obese males between 30 and 60?
  6. Plan the search according to how you answer the question: is the review exhaustive (do you want every article every published anywhere on this topic) or narrow (every male between 30 and 60 who is living in Benin) or an article or 2 (2 articles that may or may not be representative of the literature)
  7. Remove review articles if your goal is to review the data
  8. Include review articles if your goal is to review opinion and make sure you attribute that opinion to the review article where that opinion was published
  9. Read all the articles and write an outline which tells a story
  10. Do not make up your mind about how to treat a disease which is at odds with guidelines, and then go searching for original articles to back up your ideas
  11. Pay attention to guidelines from professional organizations, eg, from American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association and write from their guidelines. Unless your client or boss has discovered something so amazing that the guidelines are obsolete (this has never happened to me in 2 decades in medical writing)
  12. Write an interesting story that is worth reading, between 1000 and 3000 words
  13. Back up each statement with original data;
    -don’t say “in Africa, men of 45 are dying from lack of treatment for diabetes” when you have as a source a single paper from a single village in Guinea that is a case report of one man
    -say “a case-study from a village in Guinea reported that a man died from lack of treatment for diabetes”
    -don’t say “500 million men, women and children have undiagnosed diabetes in the world”
    -say “An analysis by x international body was reported which estimates as many as 500 million men, women and children may be living with diabetes”
  14. Do not blame the patients who have the disease, and do not confuse the patient with the disease
  15. Add a complete reference section, according to the style sheets published by the journal you are writing for, in the absence of other guidance, the AMA Style Guide
  16. Go through your document backwards, making sure you have consistent punctuation, styles

How to write an article for a literature review or data review for a medical journal SJ Dodgson MJoTA 2017v11n1p0117

We can help you prepare a review article, investigator brochure, grant proposal, introduction or discussion in a manuscript.
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Published by

Susanna Dodgson

The Medical Writing Institute is a boutique school for training health and life science professionals in the art of medical writing and editing. The Institute invites professionals whose need help with their manuscripts, presentations and documents to hire our certified medical writers. The director, Dr Susanna J Dodgson, has been teaching medical writing since 2004, and life sciences since the 1970s, and really wants health science information to be properly presented. Because inaccurate health information kills.