I am an undergraduate of Animal and Environmental Biology. I don't have much research experience, but I have taken some courses on research writing and have assisted some senior students in their research projects. I want to write a review paper, but I am not sure how far I can go. Is it really possible for me to write a good review without much research experience in the field?

I would also appreciate working with a senior author, an experienced person in the field of Entomology.

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    This seems like a question for a local faculty member who can possibly help and give you advice.
    – Buffy
    Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 14:13
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    I'd suggest review articles are not the best use of people's time. Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 16:54
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Why?
    – Pablo H
    Commented Apr 25, 2022 at 13:56

5 Answers 5


Is it really possible for me to write a good review without much research experience in the field?

I would say "only in exceptional cases", a fundamental component of writing a review is evaluating the material, which isn't really feasible without experience.

I have noticed that quite often students reference review papers written by other students that have been published, and quite often they are not very good review papers (they miss papers than more experienced researchers may be aware of and the reviews are often uncritical). Unfortunately the students are not in a position to judge whether it is a good systematic review, which rather defeats the object of having a review. I think students write reviews because they and their supervisors want to get additional value from the work the student must do in learning their field, but in general reviews are best written by people who really know the field.

Perhaps the question is to ask how much the readers would gain from the review paper. How could you be sure it was relatively complete, fair and accurate in it's evaluation?

There are exceptions, I can think of some very good reviews written by students and early-career researchers, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

The problem is that experienced researchers probably have little to gain by writing review papers...

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    "researchers probably have little to gain by writing review papers." except citations. Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 16:53
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    @AnonymousPhysicist yes, however not grants, which is the primary performance metric for most institutions. Writing a good review paper is very hard work, and it is often easier (and more interesting) to get citations by doing novel work. I don't recall citations being an issue at any of my performance appraisals ;o) Commented Apr 24, 2022 at 16:58

I think if you were able to find an interested supervisor with sufficient experience in the field and with the review question you are interested in pursuing, then I think conducting specifically a systematic or systematized review can be both a valuable way to contribute your time and energy in answering a pressing question in your field as well as to gain a LOT more knowledge and understanding of the literature in your chosen topic.

Systematic (or to a lesser extent systematized) reviews are meant to be conducted in a scientifically rigorous way that removes some of the biases that might be associated with people who are highly opinionated about a particular topic as well review papers where the citations that get chosen are only reliant on that person's expertise and experience. Both traditional literature reviews and systematic reviews and meta-analyses have value, but as you are a newer reseracher who doesn't have the necessary expertise to be relied on to have an authoritative viewpoint on your topic nor the experience to know what literature to include, then by conducting a systematic review with sufficient and documented methodology, you can create the trust necessary to publish a review paper on a topic that people can respect.

I myself conducted a systematized review in a field that I was very new to and, because it fulfilled a great need in my field and had a sufficiently rigorous methodology that could be validated by others, then it has been well-received by even senior researchers in my field. Because I had to read so much of the literature on my chosen topic, I also gained a lot of knowledge and a publication in my chosen field, which I am now further backing up with other empirical and experimental research projects. The process of undergoing a systematized review has therefore been incredibly valuable to me personally while also helping my field progress in a meaningful way.

That being said, even a systematic review should not be taken on without consulting a whole host of people, including researchers familiar with your topic of interest, researchers with experience working on systematic reviews and the host of protocols they require, and with librarians with expertise in literature searches and databases. I imagine if you were to contact a senior researcher in your department, if you both have similar interests, then they could help guide you throughout the process and contribute the expertise and experience that you might be lacking.

I will warn you, however, as you are considering your options, that systematic reviews can take as much or even more time to do well than a lab experiment or field sampling or other research approach might take from the time of planning to publication, so I would also only recommend undertaking a review if you have certain limitations that prevent other methods of pursuing your particular question or if you feel fairly sure of your interest and motivation to accomplish the task (i.e., looking through hundreds or usually thousands of papers in the case of a systematic review).

This all comes from my own personal experience as an early-career researcher, and some of the other comments and answers you receive might disagree with me, but I hope that my point of view and my own experience with a very similar situation to yours can be helpful in contributing to your descision-making. I wish you all the best in whatever you ultimately decide to undertake!


Go for it!

Trust and follow your interests, especially whenever it involves both reading and thinking.

Can I write a systematic review as an undergraduate...

Sure! Yes! Go for it!

You should follow anything that inspires and interests you, and ignore any comments to the contrary. Trust your judgement; there's no better way to learn about a field than to sample a wide variety of different authors' perspectives, techniques and results.

Most researcher groups can not avoid imparting at least a degree of tunnel vision since they are sort-of by definition mission-driven to publish their own unique results and perspectives.

I had an initially maddening experience with an undergraduate independent project; it was for credit and approved, and I sought out the department expert on the subject. They gave me no helpful information and a single very old reference from 20 years earlier and told me to "muddle through".

At first I was taken aback, but as soon as I hit the journals I had the time of my life! This is back when "hitting the journals" meant carting a new 50 pounds of bound volumes to your desk in the library every hour or two, lots of little ripped pieces of paper marking pages to be photocopied or read, and pages of scribbled lists of what to go look for next.

It was incredibly educational! I saw the drama of reported discoveries, corrections, alternative interpretations, theories, new theories, unfold before my eyes in a way that is almost impossible to see any other way (except for a few cases that make it to TV etc.)

...and get it published in a journal?

Why not!?

Yes as other answers point out, the probability is low that you can just do it yourself for say a semester, then fire it off to a journal and get an acceptance notification the first time.

But if the process interests you, then even a rejection might be an interesting step!

And now that you have this large body of information, you might consider revisiting it again in a year or two, or "marketing" it to potential co-authors who may have excellent ideas how to improve and expand upon it.


I think you are asking two slightly different questions (though you seem to think that they are the same thing):

  • "Can I write a systematic review as an undergraduate and get it published in a journal?"
  • "Is it really possible for me to write a good review without much research experience in the field?"

For the first question, yes, an undergraduate student can generally follow a systematic review method and then publish the results in a journal somewhere. This is because there are journals that accept all ranges of quality of work, ranging from very stringent journals with less than 10% acceptance rate to journals that publish almost anything submitted to them (as long as the authors pay the publication fee).

Your second question asks if you can actually produce a "good" review. Obviously, "good" is very subjective. A review that is "good" for student readers might not be "good" for highly experienced researchers, though it might be "good" for the majority of moderately experienced researchers who would like to learn more about the topic. I would suggest that the practical way to write a meaningfully "good" review is to identify a specific researcher whom you consider credibly expert on the topic and then ask them for a friendly review of your completed paper, and then recommend a journal whose selectiveness standards match the quality of the article. If this expert would be your supervisor or even coauthor for your writing of the paper, then that would greatly enhance the chance that it would be of higher quality.


It is standard practice in my lab to start your PhD by writing a review on your subject. I was very critical about this at first, but it is an excellent way to boost, organize and integrate your literature search, gather material to populate your thesis later on, work on your writing skills, and deal with the editing process. As others have pointed, the quality varies widely, and it would be better if actual experts would write reviews, but as they don't, a motivated PhD student is the best second choice, and they sometimes do a good job...

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