Guidelines for Writing a Biology Review Paper

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Definition of a review paper

A review is a comprehensive synthesis of results from a wide and complex set of studies
A synthesis of findings rather than ideas.
Goal of a review paper is to help readers make sense of all available information
Direct quotations rarely found in reviews. Do Not Use!

Research reviews focus on primary sources

Original scientific experimentation reported in scientific journals
The quality of the review depends largely on the comprehensiveness of the literature search

Use of secondary sources--textbooks or review journals (Science, Scientific American, Discover)

Overview of material--easier to understand.
Use references for networking, authors
Get keywords
Help devise outline
Formatting the Paper
General Information

15-20 pages of text (not including figures and tables)
Typed, double-spaced
12 point serif type fonts (Times, Times New Roman, Palatino)
Margins 1.5" left, 1" top, 1" right, 1" bottom
Indent eah new paragraph 0.25"
Must be in a bound folder with a transparent cover
Title Page

Center title about 1/3 down the page in18-point font. Capitalize the first letter of each word except for articles (a, an, the), conjunctions (and, but, for) and prepositions (in, on, to)

The Adaptations for Thermoregulation in Winter Moths

Center your name 10 lines under the title in 12-point font
Center the date of submission date a double space below your name in 12-point font
Center the following phrase a triple space below the date: "a paper submitted to the faculty of the Department of Biology, Presbyterian College, in partial fulfillment of the requirements of Senior Seminar, Biology 401"

Number the pages consecutively, beginning with the title page, which does not have a page number but is still counted as the first page
Use only arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.)
Put the page numbers in the upper right hand corner

Use sparingly
Make them informative and concise
Center headings.
Triple space before the heading and double space after the heading
Use 12-point font, but bold
Using Numbers in Paper

Spell out numbers less than 10
Do not begin a sentence with a numeral, even if it larger than 10
Always use numerals when reporting quantitative data with a unit: 15 km, 8 g, 5 mL (check McMillan pp. 155-157 for proper abbreviations)

Tables and Figures

Must be incorporate/insert tables and figures in the text following the first text citation.
Cite according to number: "----as shown in Figure 3." "----the relationships of the species (Table 2)."
Each table and figure should be self-explanatory.
Left justify all titles and legends (single-spaced).

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Guidelines for Writing a Biology Review Paper." 25 Sep 2017
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Put a period after the number of the figure or table in the title. Figure 1. Survivorship of Xanthium strumarium seed over a period of 100 days.
Tables and figures should be cited according to number, "as shown in Figure 3," or "the relationships of the species (Table 2)."
Make sure to reference figures in title, if taken from a source.
Triple space before and after each table or figure.


At least one in paper
Make sure to know when to use and when not to use: Use to present many numberical data or to summarize verbal material from text. Do not use to show pattern sor trends
Reference table in preceding paragraph: Table 1 shows --- or ---- (Table1).
Number tables consecutively throughout paper, even if there is only one
Always horizontally centered
How to set up
Title at top, left justified--Table 1. XXXXXXXXXXXXX (Citation 2005).
Spanner line


Anything not a table is a figure
At least one in paper
Many different types.
Graphs: Line -- shows trends. Bar -- quantitative v/s qualitative
Reference figure in preceding paragraph. Figure 1 illustrates --- or ---(Fig. 1)
Number figures consecutively throughout, but separately from tables
Always horizontally centered
How to set up: Figure is on top. If it is a graph, make sure axes are labeled: independent variable on X-axis and dependent variable on Y-axis. If it is an illustration, include spanner lines
Title at bottom, left justified - Figure 1. XXXXXXXXXXX (Citation 2005).

Table of Contents
Scientific Names

Always italicized
Genus capitalized, species not
Abbreviate genus name after the first reference: Querus alba becomes Q. alba
Avoid using common names without scientific names. For example, "corn" is not the same thing in different parts of the world. Give the scientific name instead of or following the common name: The great white shark, C. carcharias, is commonly found---- or C. carcharias is commonly found----
Do not use articles (the, a, an) with scientific names
"Species" is a collective singular: There is no such word as specie. For example, "This species is specific to one locale."
Genera names can be used alone if you are referring collectively (Some species of Sargassum grow----)
Taxonomic levels above the genus level are capitalized but not italicized: the Chilopoda (centipedes), Animalia, Chordata, Osteichthyes
Some taxa have been modified to become common names, which are not capitalized: lycopsids from Lycopsida; dipterans from Diptera

Subscripts and Superscripts
Use superscripts for degree measurements, ion charges, and mathematical expressions: 36oC, Ca++ or Ca+2, C+
Use subscripts for chemical compounds: CaCl2 Fe2(SO4)3

Writing the Paper
Remember the basic outline for a review paper.

Title Page
Title should be specific, informative, concise
See pages 89-90 in McMillan
Short, concise summary of paper (200-250 words)
No references
Center "Abstract" a double space before paragraph
Center "Introduction" above this section
Review the topic
Importance and significance.
Background information, conflicting views, major lines of thought
Statement of purpose
Document and reference sources
Body of text (topic 1, topic 2, Topic 3)
Present details of work done by researchers on topic
Mention and describe important techniques, methods, results, and conclusions
May have headings, but don't use "Body"
Develop and follow good topic sentences
Coherent, well-blended summation of all the work you could find that is important to your subject
Develop a pathway of thought that leads to conclusions
Document and reference sources
Consolidate ideas, strengthen relationships between ideas, patterns, tie up loose ends
Significance of topic
Make sure you conclude something
Do not introduce new data, results
What is next, future avenues of research
Write the paper well in advance of the due date
Set it aside and reread it later.
SAVE, SAVE, SAVE, SAVE (not only on disk, but on a hard drive somewhere)
Computer malfunctions will not be accepted as an excuse for late work


Most scientific work is written in the third person, but is written in passive, past tense
Avoid using pronouns
Facts and ideas are stated about procedures and results. Comparative studies were performed ---- or ---- was observed over a period of two years.
Table of Contents

Use the Literature Cited method (all references cited in the text). No footnotes and Nno numbers (as in Science)

In Text: Cite using the Harvard System (Name-Year)
One author
The most recent study of this species (Jackson 1996) shows ----
---- demonstrated in the most recent study of this species (Jackson 1996).
Jackson's (1996) study fails to account for ----
In a recent study of this species by Jackson (1996) ----

Common Errors. Watch where periods go.

----(Jackson, 1996).

----. (Jackson 1996)

----(Jackson 1996.)

Correct --- (Jackson 1996).

Two authors
In a study of the spotted skunk (Smith and Jones 1991) ----
Smith and Jones (1991) reported that ----

More than two authors
In a study of the snowy egret (Brown et al. 1994) ----
Brown et al. (1994) reported that ----

Two papers from the same author in the same year (alphabetical by authors, then titles)
----(Johnson et al. 2004a)

----(Johnson et al. 2005b)

More than one reference, different authors (chronological, then alphabetical)
Several models have been proposed (Wright 1935, Abrams and Chen 1960, Diaz 1980).
Several models have been proposed (Jones 1985, Allen 1990, Stokes 1990, Diaz 2004).

No author is given
Creeping bellflower has been reported ---- (Anon. 1986).

Unpublished work

General Info: The yolk-sac placenta of the cat shart contains a capillary plexus along its inner surface (Wourms, personal communication).

Research in progress: This capillary plexus serves to exchange metabolites across the egg envelope (Wourms, unpublished).

Manuscripts not yet printed: The cotylephores of Platystacus contain approximately 28.5% greater surface area for exchange than is availble in Solenostomus (Wetzel, in press).

Electronic Sources

Identifiable Author and Date: Still use name-date citation.

Identifiable author, but not Date: Use author's name and date the page was accessed.

No Identifiable Author: Use the rool web address ----(

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