I want to write a survey on one emerging research topic in wireless communications (It can be applied to any field!). There are almost 500 papers on this topic as published or in early access. And the publishing rate in this topic is increasing day by day. So, I want to write a survey on this topic keeping in mind that it will get high citation and it will help new scholar who are in struggle with this topic. I found only one survey written by some reputed authors, however it lacks in many ways, like detailed information related to particular direction, it just assembles the papers in a good manner. I want to pick some directions and discuss important approaches with good connection between them. However, I find it very difficult to proceed with large number of papers. Is there any good way to handle the survey process in a good efficient and quick way? PS. According to me, many people have already started to write this.

  • 4
    As you said, the publishing rate in this topic is increasing day by day. I am afraid the survey paper will be a living document. You probabaly will need to update it every week. My suggestion: only discuss the most important papers in that survey.
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 8:17
  • 1
    @ scaaahu yes, it is true that I have to keep updating every week. Any detailed suggestions is appreciated. May I just add some reference of old paper in proper place without digging more inside the paper?
    – Mithun
    Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 8:24
  • I am no expert in your area. I don't know how critical those old papers are to your field. So, it's up to you.
    – Nobody
    Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 8:33
  • The think you are asking about is called a literature-review - we already have a lot of questions about that. And people write whole books to answer your question: see, for example, the Booth reference here
    – 410 gone
    Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 8:56
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    If you have trouble getting an overview of the topic due to the number of papers, then you are probably not the right person to write a survey of it. Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 10:38

3 Answers 3


The point of a survey paper of the type you are discussion (as distinct from a systematic review), is to provide an organized view of the current state of the field. As such, you should not be attempting to cite every paper, but only the ones that are significant (which will still be an awful lot).

Writing a good survey paper is hard, and there really aren't any good shortcuts: you do need to become familiar with the content of a very large number of papers, in order to make sure that the view you are presenting is sane.

My suggestion, based on my own experience in this area, is to use the following iterative process:

  1. Begin by collecting a large pile of papers to survey.
  2. Based on your experience and a few initial readings, hypothesize an organization schema for the field.
  3. Start reading (mostly skimming) and organizing your collection of papers you read using this schema, including noting which ones are most important and which do not fit the schema well.
  4. As you find significant numbers of papers that do not fit the schema well, adjust the schema to better fit what you are actually finding and shift the organization of your collection to match.
  5. Add new papers to the "to be read" collection based on the adjusted schema, then return to reading and organizing.

When the process converges to a stable schema and an empty to-be-read pile, you will have a well-developed view of the current state of the field and be in a good position to write a survey. Note, however, that this may take a number of months...

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    That's what I am looking for. Hope this will help me to proceed. In addition to this, I got some information about good software or package to handle reference like mendeley, Zotero etc.
    – Mithun
    Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 13:22

I recently wrote a survey paper (which is now accepted and published) and here is what I learned from it:

  • Set the scope Each research field is evolving (some at a faster rate) and hence you need to define the scope of your paper. Scoping has to be done not only for the topics/dimensions to be covered in the paper but also for the time duration in which relevant papers are published that you will explore. The first part of the scoping can be done by defining research questions concretely.
  • Search protocol Define the literature search protocol early, document it, and follow it rigorously. Number of papers may reduce if you apply well-defined inclusion and exclusion criteria.
  • Take notes Read all relevant papers and document relevant notes. If possible, classify each relevant paper according to your research questions.
  • Infer, classify, and synthesize This is the most important step of writing a survey paper. IMHO, a survey should not produce a laundry list of papers for a specific dimension. Information in the synthesized form is much more appreciated than simply listing main contributions of the papers. For example: if a concept has been defined by 20 different authors, infer main characteristics of the concept commonly appeared in these definitions, and report them (obviously, cite relevant authors with each identified characteristic).
  • Take away/implications Compile implications of your inferences/synthesis.
  • Open research questions Include open research questions of the research domain - not (only) what you believe but also more importantly what the research community believe in general.

To further add something on the accepted answer, your paper should have a clear aim or should eventually reach to a well-justified conclusion. Whereas its purpose can always be a collection of top notch papers in wireless communications, this would not probably make it a high-citation/high-quality one, as it will again be "one of the many" in that sense.

Barton P. Miller's answer on researchgate.net better describes what I am trying to say above: "Think of a survey as a research paper whose data and results are taken from other papers." And based on these results, you can make your point and identify a possible gap in your field of research e.g. "To conclude, we see a lack of reliability in X wireless protocol" or "Power consumption is still an unresolved issue in this area".

The conclusion you try to reach to will help defining the structure of the paper. See Barton P. Miller's answer again for examples.

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