[Our last post of 2016 is a guest post by Dr. Haseeb Md. Irfanullah. Haseeb is an AuthorAID mentor who works for IUCN in Bangladesh. Since publishing his first review paper in 2002, he has seen some changes in his approach to writing such papers. In this post he shares his thoughts. Haseeb tweets as @hmirfanullah. Thank you, Haseeb. Wishing you and all our readers an excellent 2017! —Barbara]
My first review paper was a traditional one. In it, I compiled studies that had been done since the 1970s on a particular plant group in Bangladesh. To write the paper, I went to libraries and consulted 152 relevant papers and reports.
I wrote my second review paper in 2003 when I came to Dhaka to spend a month-long holiday in the middle of my PhD at the University of Liverpool. I used my review to answer some questions. I used statistics to analyse research trends by consulting several hundred papers published in Bangladesh during 1972−2002. The review paper was full of graphs and tables with numbers. The data interpretation led to specific suggestions on research opportunities and approaches. The review paper was almost an original research paper, for the analysis of data generated new knowledge. I used this approach in my other review papers in the following decade.
I, however, see another change in my last two review papers, which were published in 2011 and 2013. There I used data analyses as evidence to influence Bangladeshi researchers to improve their current practices. My review papers became my tool for influencing research culture and environment.
Given the wealth of knowledge that we have in hand, I believe we should write review papers more like research papers starting with specific questions or assumptions. Review papers now should use interesting, innovative methods to analyse consulted papers and should present findings in creative ways. A review paper is essentially a historical account. But it should not stop at the recent past; rather, it should guide future research directions. Finally, we should put the scientific elements of a review paper, where possible, in a much larger context. For example, the subject of a review paper on research on drought-tolerant rice varieties can be linked with technology transfer or Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In these ways, a review paper can be an exciting reading experience for research strategists, policy-makers, and journalists along with its main target—researchers.