Genre Purpose Audience Role Rhetorical Situation
Literature Review To report on the latest research related to a scientific issue or finding, evaluate its significance, and make an argument about the direction of future research. Readers of the Journal of Young Investigators (or another undergraduate peer-reviewed journal of your choosing) UNC student researcher You are working in a science lab at UNC and your PI (primary investigator) asks you to compile some background information about a certain topic so that she can choose a future direction for the lab’s research.

One of the most ubiquitous genres in scientific research (and many other disciplines) is the literature review, although it is a genre found in almost every discipline. The literature review offers an opportunity to research a specific area of interest and establish what research has been done in the field to date. You will be compiling a literature review based on a natural science topic of your choosing.  Sometimes they are stand-alone pieces (as it will be here), but in other instances, it may be a component of a larger project, or it may be just the first step in the process of doing scientific research.  Creating a literature review is an important task that all scientists face at various points in their career.  It requires the culmination of many skills: navigating library resources (research), arrangement of information, and scientific writing.

It is important to remember that a literature review does not simply review information on a given topic, it reviews the literature that contains information on a given topic.  Do you see the distinction?  Thus, the role of a good literature review is to find and present the most pertinent work from the primary literature in a logical, organized manner and to bring the reader as up-to-date as possible.  You may wish to consult some review literature in forming your own introduction to the material, but remember that your primary goal here is to present and evaluate the current state of research on your chosen topic.

Some possible topics include:

  • An infectious disease (AIDs, malaria, cholera, etc.)
  • A technology (nanotechnology, biotechnology, computer science, etc.);
  • A new or controversial drug (such as hormone replacements, anti-depressants and suicide risk in young adults, etc.)
  • An environmental issue – nuclear waste, climate change, loss of biodiversity, oil drilling, water issues, etc.
  • A national security risk – anthrax, biological weapons, etc.
  • A chemical  – phthalates, bisphenol-A, etc.
  • A food-related issue– i.e. exposure to mercury in fish; exposure to e.coli, obesity, anorexia, organic vs. industrial farming, etc.

Try to find a topic in which you have a personal interest. The best writing comes from your own personal investment in the task.