Writing and Publishing a Literature Review: Grad School Stress

I think one of the most stressful portions of grad school is writing academic papers. You want perfection when all you hear from everyone is “just get it done, it doesn’t have to be perfect.” I hated hearing this because I wanted all of my papers to be perfect., but what even is perfection? That may be another blog post to be honest. This post is about writing a literature review and going in for publication.

I submitted my manuscript to a journal in May, I believe (this year has been weird and my days and months are out of whack). We received comments in June and resubmitted three weeks later. I am waiting to hear back from the editor to see if I will be a published author or not. Hopefully I am.

This blog is about the process of writing such a monster of a paper. I believe I had 65-70 pages at the very end. Probably 30 of those pages were references though. I counted over 200 references when I was finished. Yes, it was a beast and very scary, but you can totally do it and have fun while skimming through articles for hours. Here’s a list of how I went about writing my lit review.

  1. Create a skeleton

You need a basic outline of what you want to include and where sections will go. Remember, literature reviews are trying to bring as much knowledge about a subject into one paper. It needs to have flow and tell a scientific story. What I mean by this is you want to tell the reader why your future research will be important due to a lack of knowledge in the field you are working on. Also, you want the reader engaged since this is a very long chapter of your dissertation. Having an outline will keep the paper organized, it will help you find specific papers to use, and it will make it engaging to the reader.

2. Just write and don’t go for perfection at first

It is much easier to just write than to think about writing. I often put off writing because I think that I can just do it later when I have motivation. I then spend hours or days thinking about the writing I have to do and it’s torture. Don’t do this, just write. This paper is long and you will need to put in time. It’s way easier to write a little everyday than to cram it in last minute and hope that it makes sense. Plus, your first draft will most likely suck. You will re-write sections multiple times and never be satisfied, but at least you wrote something. My first draft was absolute garbage, not going to lie. My adviser worked with me and we managed to turn something that belonged in a landfill into something that (hopefully) belongs in a journal.

3. Read, read, read

When you have all of your sections outlined, you need to start reading a ton of articles. I mean….A TON! I read about everything from lead poising in children, to quantum entanglement. My research deals with lead so how I ended up reading about quantum physics, I don’t know. But seriously, read as much as you can, and if you can, write a summary of the paper. That will help later on when you are looking for stuff to place in your lit review.

4. Be kind to yourself

Some days I would write1500 words in the span of a few hours. Other days, I would only write 200. This is normal!!! Push yourself to do the best you can but be kind to yourself when you don’t hit the crazy goals that you set for yourself. I promise you that you will finish.

5. Have your adviser review prior to submitting

My adviser had to review my paper since this was my very first manuscript to go in for publication. He added sections, subtracted sections, and rewrote quite a bit. After his revisions, it was time to go in for initial publication.

When submitting to a journal, it is extremely wise to determine if the journal you want to submit to will actually take you paper. I did a ton of research and found a decent one to send my review paper to. I will have another blog if/when it gets published. I went online and they have a few websites where you can upload your paper and it will give you recommendations on what journals to submit to. This is what I did and it worked fairly well. Once you find the journal, go on their web page and read everything about that journal. Make sure it has a good impact factor since you want more people to see your manuscript as well as cite it in their papers. These factors will help you get noticed and are great CV boosters. Once you submit, sit back and wait. Usually for literature reviews, you’ll get comments back a bit later. The reviewers usually go through the whole paper and read almost every citation you put in. Mine did at least.

6. Read the comments and reply

My comments were not terrible. I have heard of people reading the comments from their paper and immediately crying because the reviewers just ripped them apart. This probably won’t happen to you, though. So, read the comments, let them sort of digest and then tackle them head first. I would say a vast majority of the comments were dealing with grammatical errors and addition of some more references. If you do get crazy comments, talk with your adviser about how to address those specifically. Sometimes you may have to just fight the reviewer to keep what you have in the paper.

7. Send the comments back and wait.

This is where I am at in the process. I constantly check the journal website for any hope, but I know I need to be patient. I will update all of you when I find out the outcome. It should be any day.

Good luck with your lit review and I hope this somewhat helped. Peace for now

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