Let's say I'm writing an original research paper about the design process in the helicopter industry.

In the literature review (or context/related work) section, I want to talk about:

  1. the various design processes that exists;
  2. specific features of design processes in aviations;
  3. specific features of design processes in helicopter industry;
  4. how to study a design process;
  5. etc.

I have found a major paper that deals with the design process in the airplane industry. This paper is recent (= references are up-to-date), frequently cited and published in a major journal (= acknowledged for its scientific quality). Its literature review is top-notch: clear, concise, well written, etc. It tackled the topics #1, 2 and 4 of the review I want to write.

Question: How to write my review, since this papers does almost all the job in a perfect manner?

  • 8
    If there is already a perfect paper, why do you want to write another?
    – gefei
    Mar 24, 2016 at 8:58
  • 1
    Because it focus on another-but-close field: helicopter vs. aircraft (and I assume there are some differences between both). Note: aircraft vs. helicopter serves as an example. My question is more general: how to write a literature review when (part of) it have already been written in a perfect way?
    – ebosi
    Mar 24, 2016 at 9:02
  • 1
    Please forgive my naivety, but aren't helicopters aircraft?
    – 410 gone
    Mar 24, 2016 at 10:35
  • 1
    A review should be written by somebody long enough in the field to know more than most of his/her fellow scientists to be useful. Or else to know things in a different way. A good test whether you should/could write a review is to give a lecture/seminar/tutorial series. Thumbs rule: if you can fill 3 two hour slots with non-trivial material, you are probably in a position to write a review. Mar 24, 2016 at 13:44
  • 1
    Edit: By "literature review", I meant the "Related work" section of an original research article.
    – ebosi
    Mar 25, 2016 at 8:23

4 Answers 4


I would use the other literature review as a baseline, and focuss on how helicopters are different from airplanes. So I would start with mentioning the other literature review, and saying that the basics are discussed there, and here I will focuss on how those apply and/or differ for helicopters.

  • Thx. Is it an issue if it makes the literature review unbalanced (ratio "significance of the topic" vs. "amount of text dealing with it")? And if my report is not standalone readable (i.e. if you need concepts explained in the "perfect paper" to understand what I'm saying)?
    – ebosi
    Mar 24, 2016 at 10:15
  • @ebo Perhaps a good way to deal with this is to go only into sufficient depth as is necessary to give sufficient background to understand your paper and the context it sits within. Then you can use the common line "For a more in depth discussion of design processes within aviation, see (1)." This directs the reader who wants more depth to the correct source and acknowledges that you are aware of the other review.
    – Geo
    Mar 25, 2016 at 16:54

I have recently written a paper which addresses a particular angle of a fairly common topic. Although I am presenting a new perspective, since the topic is a common one, I came across several papers during my literature search which has near perfect literature reviews. It definitely does help if you get one or two such exhaustive literature reviews: you will have pretty much covered everything if you can go back to the sources cited in these reviews and read them as well.

I don't know if the procedure I followed in writing my literature review was correct, but this is what I did. Once I had read whatever I could of the existing literature in the field (not in great detail, just read the abstract and results well and skimmed through the rest of the paper), I created an outline for my literature review - a basic framework with the key points that I would include. I started with a broad topic and gradually tried to narrow down to the angle I am covering. I then started writing the literature review based on this outline. For each of the points on my outline, I did a search on google scholar and came up with one or two most relevant articles (didn't take much time as I was already familiar with them) and cited them. I did not cite every single article in the field, nor did I go back to those perfect literature reviews while writing. My aim was to convincingly narrow the discussion down to my core topic and ensure that this particular topic had not been covered before. Later, one of the reviewers pointed out a couple of relevant articles that I had missed and I added them.

I have seen the other questions that you have posted. I feel you are overthinking and getting overwhelmed by all your reading. The best thing you can do now is to take a break from your reading. Let the ideas settle down for a day or two and then create your outline and start writing. Search as you write and cite the relevant articles that come up in your search. In fact, don't read the literature review of the other article at all. Even if some of the ideas are similar, you should be able to present them your own way. Also, try to reference the primary sources and not the secondary source.


In principle, for academic articles, you should only write things that are new and have not been published before. From this perspective, you should not rehash what others have already done if they've already done a good job doing it.

This makes your work easier. That means that you shouldn't spend the time writing up what others have already done, but rather spend your time on discussing your own new unique contributions beyond what others have already done.

That said, so that your article can stand on its own, it is necessary to do some kind of repetition so that your readers can sufficiently read and understand your article in its own right without having to read other articles for background reading just to follow your article.

Based on these principles, here is my recommendation for the scenario you described:

  • Since points 1, 2 and 4 have already been done nearly perfectly, do not redo it. However, do summarize these points in your own words in as much detail as necessary so that your readers do not need to read the other literature review to understand what you are talking about. In your summary, not only should you certainly cite the other literature review, but freely quote it as ncessary to get the message across. Then, you should explicitly ask readers to read that other article for further details. (However, I repeat, make sure that all absolutely necessary detail is included in your own summary in your own article.)

  • Develop point 3 in detail, since that is clearly different from the treatment in the other literature review. Make sure you highlight this difference so that readers can appreciate that although you borrow from the other article for points 1, 2 and 4, you are making a contribution above and beyond what has already been done.

With this approach, you not only benefit from the other work that the other article has done, but you use it as a platform to highlight your own valuable contributions.


Unless the "perfect literature review" is very recent, there will be new developments that warrant discussion, if only to contrast to what was already described. I'm not familiar with helicopter design, but I'd hazard the guess that larger supercomputers build on different architectures require new approaches to numerical modelling; larger/faster supercomputers means more detailed or precise models can be tackled; there are new requirements, like less noise or even less radar cross-section.

Or you could focus on some specific aspect(s), doing a more in-depth study of that. Or even do a sort of history instead of discussing the current state of the art.

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