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How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

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To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).


The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.


If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources


A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.

Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility


  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a body of text that aims to review the critical points of current knowledge on a particular topic. Most often associated with science-oriented literature, such as a thesis, the literature review usually proceeds a research proposal, methodology and results section. Its ultimate goals is to bring the reader up to date with current literature on a topic and forms that basis for another goal, such as the justification for future research in the area. (retrieved from  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literature_review )

Writing a Literature Review

The literature review is the section of your paper in which you cite and briefly review the related research studies that have been conducted. In this space, you will describe the foundation on which  your  research will be/is built. You will:

  • discuss the work of others
  • evaluate their methods and findings
  • identify any gaps in their research
  • state how  your  research is different

The literature review should be selective and should group the cited studies in some logical fashion.

If you need some additional assistance writing your literature review, the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines offers a  Graduate Writing Service .

Demystifying the Literature Review

For more information, visit our guide devoted to " Demystifying the Literature Review " which includes:

  • guide to conducting a literature review,
  • a recorded 1.5 hour workshop covering the steps of a literature review, a checklist for drafting your topic and search terms, citation management software for organizing your results, and database searching.

Online Resources

  • A Guide to Library Research at Cornell University
  • Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students North Carolina State University 
  • The Literature Review: A Few Tips on Conducting Written by Dena Taylor, Director, Health Sciences Writing Centre, and Margaret Procter, Coordinator, Writing Support, University of Toronto
  • How to Write a Literature Review University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Review of Literature The Writing Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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7 Writing a Literature Review

Hundreds of original investigation research articles on health science topics are published each year. It is becoming harder and harder to keep on top of all new findings in a topic area and – more importantly – to work out how they all fit together to determine our current understanding of a topic. This is where literature reviews come in.

In this chapter, we explain what a literature review is and outline the stages involved in writing one. We also provide practical tips on how to communicate the results of a review of current literature on a topic in the format of a literature review.

7.1 What is a literature review?

Screenshot of journal article

Literature reviews provide a synthesis and evaluation  of the existing literature on a particular topic with the aim of gaining a new, deeper understanding of the topic.

Published literature reviews are typically written by scientists who are experts in that particular area of science. Usually, they will be widely published as authors of their own original work, making them highly qualified to author a literature review.

However, literature reviews are still subject to peer review before being published. Literature reviews provide an important bridge between the expert scientific community and many other communities, such as science journalists, teachers, and medical and allied health professionals. When the most up-to-date knowledge reaches such audiences, it is more likely that this information will find its way to the general public. When this happens, – the ultimate good of science can be realised.

A literature review is structured differently from an original research article. It is developed based on themes, rather than stages of the scientific method.

In the article Ten simple rules for writing a literature review , Marco Pautasso explains the importance of literature reviews:

Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications. For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively. Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every single new paper relevant to their interests. Thus, it is both advantageous and necessary to rely on regular summaries of the recent literature. Although recognition for scientists mainly comes from primary research, timely literature reviews can lead to new synthetic insights and are often widely read. For such summaries to be useful, however, they need to be compiled in a professional way (Pautasso, 2013, para. 1).

An example of a literature review is shown in Figure 7.1.

Video 7.1: What is a literature review? [2 mins, 11 secs]

Watch this video created by Steely Library at Northern Kentucky Library called ‘ What is a literature review? Note: Closed captions are available by clicking on the CC button below.

Examples of published literature reviews

  • Strength training alone, exercise therapy alone, and exercise therapy with passive manual mobilisation each reduce pain and disability in people with knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review
  • Traveler’s diarrhea: a clinical review
  • Cultural concepts of distress and psychiatric disorders: literature review and research recommendations for global mental health epidemiology

7.2 Steps of writing a literature review

Writing a literature review is a very challenging task. Figure 7.2 summarises the steps of writing a literature review. Depending on why you are writing your literature review, you may be given a topic area, or may choose a topic that particularly interests you or is related to a research project that you wish to undertake.

Chapter 6 provides instructions on finding scientific literature that would form the basis for your literature review.

Once you have your topic and have accessed the literature, the next stages (analysis, synthesis and evaluation) are challenging. Next, we look at these important cognitive skills student scientists will need to develop and employ to successfully write a literature review, and provide some guidance for navigating these stages.

Steps of writing a ltierature review which include: research, synthesise, read abstracts, read papers, evaualte findings and write

Analysis, synthesis and evaluation

Analysis, synthesis and evaluation are three essential skills required by scientists  and you will need to develop these skills if you are to write a good literature review ( Figure 7.3 ). These important cognitive skills are discussed in more detail in Chapter 9.

Diagram with the words analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Under analysis it says taking a process or thing and breaking it down. Under synthesis it says combining elements of separate material and under evaluation it says critiquing a product or process

The first step in writing a literature review is to analyse the original investigation research papers that you have gathered related to your topic.

Analysis requires examining the papers methodically and in detail, so you can understand and interpret aspects of the study described in each research article.

An analysis grid is a simple tool you can use to help with the careful examination and breakdown of each paper. This tool will allow you to create a concise summary of each research paper; see Table 7.1 for an example of  an analysis grid. When filling in the grid, the aim is to draw out key aspects of each research paper. Use a different row for each paper, and a different column for each aspect of the paper ( Tables 7.2 and 7.3 show how completed analysis grid may look).

Before completing your own grid, look at these examples and note the types of information that have been included, as well as the level of detail. Completing an analysis grid with a sufficient level of detail will help you to complete the synthesis and evaluation stages effectively. This grid will allow you to more easily observe similarities and differences across the findings of the research papers and to identify possible explanations (e.g., differences in methodologies employed) for observed differences between the findings of different research papers.

Table 7.1: Example of an analysis grid

A tab;e split into columns with annotated comments

Table 7.3: Sample filled-in analysis grid for research article by Ping and colleagues

Source: Ping, WC, Keong, CC & Bandyopadhyay, A 2010, ‘Effects of acute supplementation of caffeine on cardiorespiratory responses during endurance running in a hot and humid climate’, Indian Journal of Medical Research, vol. 132, pp. 36–41. Used under a CC-BY-NC-SA licence.

Step two of writing a literature review is synthesis.

Synthesis describes combining separate components or elements to form a connected whole.

You will use the results of your analysis to find themes to build your literature review around. Each of the themes identified will become a subheading within the body of your literature review.

A good place to start when identifying themes is with the dependent variables (results/findings) that were investigated in the research studies.

Because all of the research articles you are incorporating into your literature review are related to your topic, it is likely that they have similar study designs and have measured similar dependent variables. Review the ‘Results’ column of your analysis grid. You may like to collate the common themes in a synthesis grid (see, for example Table 7.4 ).

Table showing themes of the article including running performance, rating of perceived exertion, heart rate and oxygen uptake

Step three of writing a literature review is evaluation, which can only be done after carefully analysing your research papers and synthesising the common themes (findings).

During the evaluation stage, you are making judgements on the themes presented in the research articles that you have read. This includes providing physiological explanations for the findings. It may be useful to refer to the discussion section of published original investigation research papers, or another literature review, where the authors may mention tested or hypothetical physiological mechanisms that may explain their findings.

When the findings of the investigations related to a particular theme are inconsistent (e.g., one study shows that caffeine effects performance and another study shows that caffeine had no effect on performance) you should attempt to provide explanations of why the results differ, including physiological explanations. A good place to start is by comparing the methodologies to determine if there are any differences that may explain the differences in the findings (see the ‘Experimental design’ column of your analysis grid). An example of evaluation is shown in the examples that follow in this section, under ‘Running performance’ and ‘RPE ratings’.

When the findings of the papers related to a particular theme are consistent (e.g., caffeine had no effect on oxygen uptake in both studies) an evaluation should include an explanation of why the results are similar. Once again, include physiological explanations. It is still a good idea to compare methodologies as a background to the evaluation. An example of evaluation is shown in the following under ‘Oxygen consumption’.

Annotated paragraphs on running performance with annotated notes such as physiological explanation provided; possible explanation for inconsistent results

7.3 Writing your literature review

Once you have completed the analysis, and synthesis grids and written your evaluation of the research papers , you can combine synthesis and evaluation information to create a paragraph for a literature review ( Figure 7.4 ).

Bubble daigram showing connection between synethesis, evaulation and writing a paragraph

The following paragraphs are an example of combining the outcome of the synthesis and evaluation stages to produce a paragraph for a literature review.

Note that this is an example using only two papers – most literature reviews would be presenting information on many more papers than this ( (e.g., 106 papers in the review article by Bain and colleagues discussed later in this chapter). However, the same principle applies regardless of the number of papers reviewed.

Introduction paragraph showing where evaluation occurs

The next part of this chapter looks at the each section of a literature review and explains how to write them by referring to a review article that was published in Frontiers in Physiology and shown in Figure 7.1. Each section from the published article is annotated to highlight important features of the format of the review article, and identifies the synthesis and evaluation information.

In the examination of each review article section we will point out examples of how the authors have presented certain information and where they display application of important cognitive processes; we will use the colour code shown below:

Colour legend

This should be one paragraph that accurately reflects the contents of the review article.

An annotated abstract divided into relevant background information, identification of the problem, summary of recent literature on topic, purpose of the review


The introduction should establish the context and importance of the review

An annotated introduction divided into relevant background information, identification of the issue and overview of points covered

Body of literature review

Annotated body of literature review with following comments annotated on the side: subheadings are included to separate body of review into themes; introductory sentences with general background information; identification of gap in current knowledge; relevant theoretical background information; syntheis of literature relating to the potential importance of cerebral metabolism; an evaluation; identification of gaps in knowledge; synthesis of findings related to human studies; author evaluation

The reference section provides a list of the references that you cited in the body of your review article. The format will depend on the journal of publication as each journal has their own specific referencing format.

It is important to accurately cite references in research papers to acknowledge your sources and ensure credit is appropriately given to authors of work you have referred to. An accurate and comprehensive reference list also shows your readers that you are well-read in your topic area and are aware of the key papers that provide the context to your research.

It is important to keep track of your resources and to reference them consistently in the format required by the publication in which your work will appear. Most scientists will use reference management software to store details of all of the journal articles (and other sources) they use while writing their review article. This software also automates the process of adding in-text references and creating a reference list. In the review article by Bain et al. (2014) used as an example in this chapter, the reference list contains 106 items, so you can imagine how much help referencing software would be. Chapter 5 shows you how to use EndNote, one example of reference management software.

Click the drop down below to review the terms learned from this chapter.

Copyright note:

  • The quotation from Pautasso, M 2013, ‘Ten simple rules for writing a literature review’, PLoS Computational Biology is use under a CC-BY licence. 
  • Content from the annotated article and tables are based on Schubert, MM, Astorino, TA & Azevedo, JJL 2013, ‘The effects of caffeinated ‘energy shots’ on time trial performance’, Nutrients, vol. 5, no. 6, pp. 2062–2075 (used under a CC-BY 3.0 licence ) and P ing, WC, Keong , CC & Bandyopadhyay, A 2010, ‘Effects of acute supplementation of caffeine on cardiorespiratory responses during endurance running in a hot and humid climate’, Indian Journal of Medical Research, vol. 132, pp. 36–41 (used under a CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence ). 

Bain, A.R., Morrison, S.A., & Ainslie, P.N. (2014). Cerebral oxygenation and hyperthermia. Frontiers in Physiology, 5 , 92.

Pautasso, M. (2013). Ten simple rules for writing a literature review. PLoS Computational Biology, 9 (7), e1003149.

How To Do Science Copyright © 2022 by University of Southern Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Literature review.

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Reviewing the Literature: Why do it?

  • Personal: To familiarize yourself with a new area of research, to get an overview of a topic, so you don't want to miss something important, etc.
  • Required writing for a journal article, thesis or dissertation, grant application, etc.

Literature reviews vary; there are many ways to write a literature review based on discipline, material type, and other factors.


  • Literature Reviews - UNC Writing Center
  • Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students  - What is a literature review? What purpose does it serve in research? What should you expect when writing one? - NCSU Video

Where to get help (there are lots of websites, blogs , articles,  and books on this topic) :

  • The Center for writing and Communicating Ideas (CWCI)
  • (these are non-STEM examples: dissertation guidance , journal guidelines )
  • How to prepare a scientific doctoral dissertation based on research articles (2012)
  • Writing a graduate thesis or dissertation (2016)
  • The good paper : a handbook for writing papers in higher education (2015)
  • Proposals that work : a guide for planning dissertations and grant proposals (2014)
  • Theses and dissertations : a guide to planning, research, and writing (2008)
  • Talk to your professors, advisors, mentors, peers, etc. for advice

READ related material and pay attention to how others write their literature reviews:

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  • 04 December 2020
  • Correction 09 December 2020

How to write a superb literature review

Andy Tay is a freelance writer based in Singapore.

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Literature reviews are important resources for scientists. They provide historical context for a field while offering opinions on its future trajectory. Creating them can provide inspiration for one’s own research, as well as some practice in writing. But few scientists are trained in how to write a review — or in what constitutes an excellent one. Even picking the appropriate software to use can be an involved decision (see ‘Tools and techniques’). So Nature asked editors and working scientists with well-cited reviews for their tips.

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doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-03422-x

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Updates & Corrections

Correction 09 December 2020 : An earlier version of the tables in this article included some incorrect details about the programs Zotero, Endnote and Manubot. These have now been corrected.

Hsing, I.-M., Xu, Y. & Zhao, W. Electroanalysis 19 , 755–768 (2007).

Article   Google Scholar  

Ledesma, H. A. et al. Nature Nanotechnol. 14 , 645–657 (2019).

Article   PubMed   Google Scholar  

Brahlek, M., Koirala, N., Bansal, N. & Oh, S. Solid State Commun. 215–216 , 54–62 (2015).

Choi, Y. & Lee, S. Y. Nature Rev. Chem . https://doi.org/10.1038/s41570-020-00221-w (2020).

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Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.


  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.


  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

How to write a good scientific review article


  • 1 The FEBS Journal Editorial Office, Cambridge, UK.
  • PMID: 35792782
  • DOI: 10.1111/febs.16565

Literature reviews are valuable resources for the scientific community. With research accelerating at an unprecedented speed in recent years and more and more original papers being published, review articles have become increasingly important as a means to keep up to date with developments in a particular area of research. A good review article provides readers with an in-depth understanding of a field and highlights key gaps and challenges to address with future research. Writing a review article also helps to expand the writer's knowledge of their specialist area and to develop their analytical and communication skills, amongst other benefits. Thus, the importance of building review-writing into a scientific career cannot be overstated. In this instalment of The FEBS Journal's Words of Advice series, I provide detailed guidance on planning and writing an informative and engaging literature review.

© 2022 Federation of European Biochemical Societies.

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What is a literature review?

A literature review is an integrated analysis -- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.

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1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.

Your literature review should be guided by your central research question.  The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.  Is it manageable?
  • Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
  • If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor and your class mates.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

  • This may depend on your assignment.  How many sources does the assignment require?

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.

Make a list of the databases you will search. 

Where to find databases:

  • use the tabs on this guide
  • Find other databases in the Nursing Information Resources web page
  • More on the Medical Library web page
  • ... and more on the Yale University Library web page

4. Conduct your searches to find the evidence. Keep track of your searches.

  • Use the key words in your question, as well as synonyms for those words, as terms in your search. Use the database tutorials for help.
  • Save the searches in the databases. This saves time when you want to redo, or modify, the searches. It is also helpful to use as a guide is the searches are not finding any useful results.
  • Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
  • Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
  • Check with your professor, or a subject expert in the field, if you are missing any key works in the field.
  • Ask your librarian for help at any time.
  • Use a citation manager, such as EndNote as the repository for your citations. See the EndNote tutorials for help.

Review the literature

Some questions to help you analyze the research:

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions.
  • Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited? If so, how has it been analyzed?


  • Review the abstracts carefully.  
  • Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.
  • Create a matrix of the studies for easy analysis, and synthesis, across all of the studies.
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Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

Marco pautasso.

1 Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), CNRS, Montpellier, France

2 Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB), FRB, Aix-en-Provence, France

Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications [1] . For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively [2] . Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every single new paper relevant to their interests [3] . Thus, it is both advantageous and necessary to rely on regular summaries of the recent literature. Although recognition for scientists mainly comes from primary research, timely literature reviews can lead to new synthetic insights and are often widely read [4] . For such summaries to be useful, however, they need to be compiled in a professional way [5] .

When starting from scratch, reviewing the literature can require a titanic amount of work. That is why researchers who have spent their career working on a certain research issue are in a perfect position to review that literature. Some graduate schools are now offering courses in reviewing the literature, given that most research students start their project by producing an overview of what has already been done on their research issue [6] . However, it is likely that most scientists have not thought in detail about how to approach and carry out a literature review.

Reviewing the literature requires the ability to juggle multiple tasks, from finding and evaluating relevant material to synthesising information from various sources, from critical thinking to paraphrasing, evaluating, and citation skills [7] . In this contribution, I share ten simple rules I learned working on about 25 literature reviews as a PhD and postdoctoral student. Ideas and insights also come from discussions with coauthors and colleagues, as well as feedback from reviewers and editors.

Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience

How to choose which topic to review? There are so many issues in contemporary science that you could spend a lifetime of attending conferences and reading the literature just pondering what to review. On the one hand, if you take several years to choose, several other people may have had the same idea in the meantime. On the other hand, only a well-considered topic is likely to lead to a brilliant literature review [8] . The topic must at least be:

  • interesting to you (ideally, you should have come across a series of recent papers related to your line of work that call for a critical summary),
  • an important aspect of the field (so that many readers will be interested in the review and there will be enough material to write it), and
  • a well-defined issue (otherwise you could potentially include thousands of publications, which would make the review unhelpful).

Ideas for potential reviews may come from papers providing lists of key research questions to be answered [9] , but also from serendipitous moments during desultory reading and discussions. In addition to choosing your topic, you should also select a target audience. In many cases, the topic (e.g., web services in computational biology) will automatically define an audience (e.g., computational biologists), but that same topic may also be of interest to neighbouring fields (e.g., computer science, biology, etc.).

Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature

After having chosen your topic and audience, start by checking the literature and downloading relevant papers. Five pieces of advice here:

  • keep track of the search items you use (so that your search can be replicated [10] ),
  • keep a list of papers whose pdfs you cannot access immediately (so as to retrieve them later with alternative strategies),
  • use a paper management system (e.g., Mendeley, Papers, Qiqqa, Sente),
  • define early in the process some criteria for exclusion of irrelevant papers (these criteria can then be described in the review to help define its scope), and
  • do not just look for research papers in the area you wish to review, but also seek previous reviews.

The chances are high that someone will already have published a literature review ( Figure 1 ), if not exactly on the issue you are planning to tackle, at least on a related topic. If there are already a few or several reviews of the literature on your issue, my advice is not to give up, but to carry on with your own literature review,

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is pcbi.1003149.g001.jpg

The bottom-right situation (many literature reviews but few research papers) is not just a theoretical situation; it applies, for example, to the study of the impacts of climate change on plant diseases, where there appear to be more literature reviews than research studies [33] .

  • discussing in your review the approaches, limitations, and conclusions of past reviews,
  • trying to find a new angle that has not been covered adequately in the previous reviews, and
  • incorporating new material that has inevitably accumulated since their appearance.

When searching the literature for pertinent papers and reviews, the usual rules apply:

  • be thorough,
  • use different keywords and database sources (e.g., DBLP, Google Scholar, ISI Proceedings, JSTOR Search, Medline, Scopus, Web of Science), and
  • look at who has cited past relevant papers and book chapters.

Rule 3: Take Notes While Reading

If you read the papers first, and only afterwards start writing the review, you will need a very good memory to remember who wrote what, and what your impressions and associations were while reading each single paper. My advice is, while reading, to start writing down interesting pieces of information, insights about how to organize the review, and thoughts on what to write. This way, by the time you have read the literature you selected, you will already have a rough draft of the review.

Of course, this draft will still need much rewriting, restructuring, and rethinking to obtain a text with a coherent argument [11] , but you will have avoided the danger posed by staring at a blank document. Be careful when taking notes to use quotation marks if you are provisionally copying verbatim from the literature. It is advisable then to reformulate such quotes with your own words in the final draft. It is important to be careful in noting the references already at this stage, so as to avoid misattributions. Using referencing software from the very beginning of your endeavour will save you time.

Rule 4: Choose the Type of Review You Wish to Write

After having taken notes while reading the literature, you will have a rough idea of the amount of material available for the review. This is probably a good time to decide whether to go for a mini- or a full review. Some journals are now favouring the publication of rather short reviews focusing on the last few years, with a limit on the number of words and citations. A mini-review is not necessarily a minor review: it may well attract more attention from busy readers, although it will inevitably simplify some issues and leave out some relevant material due to space limitations. A full review will have the advantage of more freedom to cover in detail the complexities of a particular scientific development, but may then be left in the pile of the very important papers “to be read” by readers with little time to spare for major monographs.

There is probably a continuum between mini- and full reviews. The same point applies to the dichotomy of descriptive vs. integrative reviews. While descriptive reviews focus on the methodology, findings, and interpretation of each reviewed study, integrative reviews attempt to find common ideas and concepts from the reviewed material [12] . A similar distinction exists between narrative and systematic reviews: while narrative reviews are qualitative, systematic reviews attempt to test a hypothesis based on the published evidence, which is gathered using a predefined protocol to reduce bias [13] , [14] . When systematic reviews analyse quantitative results in a quantitative way, they become meta-analyses. The choice between different review types will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, depending not just on the nature of the material found and the preferences of the target journal(s), but also on the time available to write the review and the number of coauthors [15] .

Rule 5: Keep the Review Focused, but Make It of Broad Interest

Whether your plan is to write a mini- or a full review, it is good advice to keep it focused 16 , 17 . Including material just for the sake of it can easily lead to reviews that are trying to do too many things at once. The need to keep a review focused can be problematic for interdisciplinary reviews, where the aim is to bridge the gap between fields [18] . If you are writing a review on, for example, how epidemiological approaches are used in modelling the spread of ideas, you may be inclined to include material from both parent fields, epidemiology and the study of cultural diffusion. This may be necessary to some extent, but in this case a focused review would only deal in detail with those studies at the interface between epidemiology and the spread of ideas.

While focus is an important feature of a successful review, this requirement has to be balanced with the need to make the review relevant to a broad audience. This square may be circled by discussing the wider implications of the reviewed topic for other disciplines.

Rule 6: Be Critical and Consistent

Reviewing the literature is not stamp collecting. A good review does not just summarize the literature, but discusses it critically, identifies methodological problems, and points out research gaps [19] . After having read a review of the literature, a reader should have a rough idea of:

  • the major achievements in the reviewed field,
  • the main areas of debate, and
  • the outstanding research questions.

It is challenging to achieve a successful review on all these fronts. A solution can be to involve a set of complementary coauthors: some people are excellent at mapping what has been achieved, some others are very good at identifying dark clouds on the horizon, and some have instead a knack at predicting where solutions are going to come from. If your journal club has exactly this sort of team, then you should definitely write a review of the literature! In addition to critical thinking, a literature review needs consistency, for example in the choice of passive vs. active voice and present vs. past tense.

Rule 7: Find a Logical Structure

Like a well-baked cake, a good review has a number of telling features: it is worth the reader's time, timely, systematic, well written, focused, and critical. It also needs a good structure. With reviews, the usual subdivision of research papers into introduction, methods, results, and discussion does not work or is rarely used. However, a general introduction of the context and, toward the end, a recapitulation of the main points covered and take-home messages make sense also in the case of reviews. For systematic reviews, there is a trend towards including information about how the literature was searched (database, keywords, time limits) [20] .

How can you organize the flow of the main body of the review so that the reader will be drawn into and guided through it? It is generally helpful to draw a conceptual scheme of the review, e.g., with mind-mapping techniques. Such diagrams can help recognize a logical way to order and link the various sections of a review [21] . This is the case not just at the writing stage, but also for readers if the diagram is included in the review as a figure. A careful selection of diagrams and figures relevant to the reviewed topic can be very helpful to structure the text too [22] .

Rule 8: Make Use of Feedback

Reviews of the literature are normally peer-reviewed in the same way as research papers, and rightly so [23] . As a rule, incorporating feedback from reviewers greatly helps improve a review draft. Having read the review with a fresh mind, reviewers may spot inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and ambiguities that had not been noticed by the writers due to rereading the typescript too many times. It is however advisable to reread the draft one more time before submission, as a last-minute correction of typos, leaps, and muddled sentences may enable the reviewers to focus on providing advice on the content rather than the form.

Feedback is vital to writing a good review, and should be sought from a variety of colleagues, so as to obtain a diversity of views on the draft. This may lead in some cases to conflicting views on the merits of the paper, and on how to improve it, but such a situation is better than the absence of feedback. A diversity of feedback perspectives on a literature review can help identify where the consensus view stands in the landscape of the current scientific understanding of an issue [24] .

Rule 9: Include Your Own Relevant Research, but Be Objective

In many cases, reviewers of the literature will have published studies relevant to the review they are writing. This could create a conflict of interest: how can reviewers report objectively on their own work [25] ? Some scientists may be overly enthusiastic about what they have published, and thus risk giving too much importance to their own findings in the review. However, bias could also occur in the other direction: some scientists may be unduly dismissive of their own achievements, so that they will tend to downplay their contribution (if any) to a field when reviewing it.

In general, a review of the literature should neither be a public relations brochure nor an exercise in competitive self-denial. If a reviewer is up to the job of producing a well-organized and methodical review, which flows well and provides a service to the readership, then it should be possible to be objective in reviewing one's own relevant findings. In reviews written by multiple authors, this may be achieved by assigning the review of the results of a coauthor to different coauthors.

Rule 10: Be Up-to-Date, but Do Not Forget Older Studies

Given the progressive acceleration in the publication of scientific papers, today's reviews of the literature need awareness not just of the overall direction and achievements of a field of inquiry, but also of the latest studies, so as not to become out-of-date before they have been published. Ideally, a literature review should not identify as a major research gap an issue that has just been addressed in a series of papers in press (the same applies, of course, to older, overlooked studies (“sleeping beauties” [26] )). This implies that literature reviewers would do well to keep an eye on electronic lists of papers in press, given that it can take months before these appear in scientific databases. Some reviews declare that they have scanned the literature up to a certain point in time, but given that peer review can be a rather lengthy process, a full search for newly appeared literature at the revision stage may be worthwhile. Assessing the contribution of papers that have just appeared is particularly challenging, because there is little perspective with which to gauge their significance and impact on further research and society.

Inevitably, new papers on the reviewed topic (including independently written literature reviews) will appear from all quarters after the review has been published, so that there may soon be the need for an updated review. But this is the nature of science [27] – [32] . I wish everybody good luck with writing a review of the literature.


Many thanks to M. Barbosa, K. Dehnen-Schmutz, T. Döring, D. Fontaneto, M. Garbelotto, O. Holdenrieder, M. Jeger, D. Lonsdale, A. MacLeod, P. Mills, M. Moslonka-Lefebvre, G. Stancanelli, P. Weisberg, and X. Xu for insights and discussions, and to P. Bourne, T. Matoni, and D. Smith for helpful comments on a previous draft.

Funding Statement

This work was funded by the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) through its Centre for Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity data (CESAB), as part of the NETSEED research project. The funders had no role in the preparation of the manuscript.

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How to Make a Literature Review in Research (RRL Example)

review of related literature about science example

What is an RRL in a research paper?

A relevant review of the literature (RRL) is an objective, concise, critical summary of published research literature relevant to a topic being researched in an article. In an RRL, you discuss knowledge and findings from existing literature relevant to your study topic. If there are conflicts or gaps in existing literature, you can also discuss these in your review, as well as how you will confront these missing elements or resolve these issues in your study.

To complete an RRL, you first need to collect relevant literature; this can include online and offline sources. Save all of your applicable resources as you will need to include them in your paper. When looking through these sources, take notes and identify concepts of each source to describe in the review of the literature.

A good RRL does NOT:

A literature review does not simply reference and list all of the material you have cited in your paper.

  • Presenting material that is not directly relevant to your study will distract and frustrate the reader and make them lose sight of the purpose of your study.
  • Starting a literature review with “A number of scholars have studied the relationship between X and Y” and simply listing who has studied the topic and what each scholar concluded is not going to strengthen your paper.

A good RRL DOES:

  • Present a brief typology that orders articles and books into groups to help readers focus on unresolved debates, inconsistencies, tensions, and new questions about a research topic.
  • Summarize the most relevant and important aspects of the scientific literature related to your area of research
  • Synthesize what has been done in this area of research and by whom, highlight what previous research indicates about a topic, and identify potential gaps and areas of disagreement in the field
  • Give the reader an understanding of the background of the field and show which studies are important—and highlight errors in previous studies

How long is a review of the literature for a research paper?

The length of a review of the literature depends on its purpose and target readership and can vary significantly in scope and depth. In a dissertation, thesis, or standalone review of literature, it is usually a full chapter of the text (at least 20 pages). Whereas, a standard research article or school assignment literature review section could only be a few paragraphs in the Introduction section .

Building Your Literature Review Bookshelf

One way to conceive of a literature review is to think about writing it as you would build a bookshelf. You don’t need to cut each piece by yourself from scratch. Rather, you can take the pieces that other researchers have cut out and put them together to build a framework on which to hang your own “books”—that is, your own study methods, results, and conclusions.

literature review bookshelf

What Makes a Good Literature Review?

The contents of a literature review (RRL) are determined by many factors, including its precise purpose in the article, the degree of consensus with a given theory or tension between competing theories, the length of the article, the number of previous studies existing in the given field, etc. The following are some of the most important elements that a literature review provides.

Historical background for your research

Analyze what has been written about your field of research to highlight what is new and significant in your study—or how the analysis itself contributes to the understanding of this field, even in a small way. Providing a historical background also demonstrates to other researchers and journal editors your competency in discussing theoretical concepts. You should also make sure to understand how to paraphrase scientific literature to avoid plagiarism in your work.

The current context of your research

Discuss central (or peripheral) questions, issues, and debates in the field. Because a field is constantly being updated by new work, you can show where your research fits into this context and explain developments and trends in research.

A discussion of relevant theories and concepts

Theories and concepts should provide the foundation for your research. For example, if you are researching the relationship between ecological environments and human populations, provide models and theories that focus on specific aspects of this connection to contextualize your study. If your study asks a question concerning sustainability, mention a theory or model that underpins this concept. If it concerns invasive species, choose material that is focused in this direction.

Definitions of relevant terminology

In the natural sciences, the meaning of terms is relatively straightforward and consistent. But if you present a term that is obscure or context-specific, you should define the meaning of the term in the Introduction section (if you are introducing a study) or in the summary of the literature being reviewed.

Description of related relevant research

Include a description of related research that shows how your work expands or challenges earlier studies or fills in gaps in previous work. You can use your literature review as evidence of what works, what doesn’t, and what is missing in the field.

Supporting evidence for a practical problem or issue your research is addressing that demonstrates its importance: Referencing related research establishes your area of research as reputable and shows you are building upon previous work that other researchers have deemed significant.

Types of Literature Reviews

Literature reviews can differ in structure, length, amount, and breadth of content included. They can range from selective (a very narrow area of research or only a single work) to comprehensive (a larger amount or range of works). They can also be part of a larger work or stand on their own.

types of literature reviews

  • A course assignment is an example of a selective, stand-alone work. It focuses on a small segment of the literature on a topic and makes up an entire work on its own.
  • The literature review in a dissertation or thesis is both comprehensive and helps make up a larger work.
  • A majority of journal articles start with a selective literature review to provide context for the research reported in the study; such a literature review is usually included in the Introduction section (but it can also follow the presentation of the results in the Discussion section ).
  • Some literature reviews are both comprehensive and stand as a separate work—in this case, the entire article analyzes the literature on a given topic.

Literature Reviews Found in Academic Journals

The two types of literature reviews commonly found in journals are those introducing research articles (studies and surveys) and stand-alone literature analyses. They can differ in their scope, length, and specific purpose.

Literature reviews introducing research articles

The literature review found at the beginning of a journal article is used to introduce research related to the specific study and is found in the Introduction section, usually near the end. It is shorter than a stand-alone review because it must be limited to very specific studies and theories that are directly relevant to the current study. Its purpose is to set research precedence and provide support for the study’s theory, methods, results, and/or conclusions. Not all research articles contain an explicit review of the literature, but most do, whether it is a discrete section or indistinguishable from the rest of the Introduction.

How to structure a literature review for an article

When writing a literature review as part of an introduction to a study, simply follow the structure of the Introduction and move from the general to the specific—presenting the broadest background information about a topic first and then moving to specific studies that support your rationale , finally leading to your hypothesis statement. Such a literature review is often indistinguishable from the Introduction itself—the literature is INTRODUCING the background and defining the gaps your study aims to fill.

The stand-alone literature review

The literature review published as a stand-alone article presents and analyzes as many of the important publications in an area of study as possible to provide background information and context for a current area of research or a study. Stand-alone reviews are an excellent resource for researchers when they are first searching for the most relevant information on an area of study.

Such literature reviews are generally a bit broader in scope and can extend further back in time. This means that sometimes a scientific literature review can be highly theoretical, in addition to focusing on specific methods and outcomes of previous studies. In addition, all sections of such a “review article” refer to existing literature rather than describing the results of the authors’ own study.

In addition, this type of literature review is usually much longer than the literature review introducing a study. At the end of the review follows a conclusion that once again explicitly ties all of the cited works together to show how this analysis is itself a contribution to the literature. While not absolutely necessary, such articles often include the terms “Literature Review” or “Review of the Literature” in the title. Whether or not that is necessary or appropriate can also depend on the specific author instructions of the target journal. Have a look at this article for more input on how to compile a stand-alone review article that is insightful and helpful for other researchers in your field.

literature review examples

How to Write a Literature Review in 6 Steps

So how do authors turn a network of articles into a coherent review of relevant literature?

Writing a literature review is not usually a linear process—authors often go back and check the literature while reformulating their ideas or making adjustments to their study. Sometimes new findings are published before a study is completed and need to be incorporated into the current work. This also means you will not be writing the literature review at any one time, but constantly working on it before, during, and after your study is complete.

Here are some steps that will help you begin and follow through on your literature review.

Step 1: Choose a topic to write about—focus on and explore this topic.

Choose a topic that you are familiar with and highly interested in analyzing; a topic your intended readers and researchers will find interesting and useful; and a topic that is current, well-established in the field, and about which there has been sufficient research conducted for a review. This will help you find the “sweet spot” for what to focus on.

Step 2: Research and collect all the scholarly information on the topic that might be pertinent to your study.

This includes scholarly articles, books, conventions, conferences, dissertations, and theses—these and any other academic work related to your area of study is called “the literature.”

Step 3: Analyze the network of information that extends or responds to the major works in your area; select the material that is most useful.

Use thought maps and charts to identify intersections in the research and to outline important categories; select the material that will be most useful to your review.

Step 4: Describe and summarize each article—provide the essential information of the article that pertains to your study.

Determine 2-3 important concepts (depending on the length of your article) that are discussed in the literature; take notes about all of the important aspects of this study relevant to the topic being reviewed.

For example, in a given study, perhaps some of the main concepts are X, Y, and Z. Note these concepts and then write a brief summary about how the article incorporates them. In reviews that introduce a study, these can be relatively short. In stand-alone reviews, there may be significantly more texts and more concepts.

Step 5: Demonstrate how these concepts in the literature relate to what you discovered in your study or how the literature connects the concepts or topics being discussed.

In a literature review intro for an article, this information might include a summary of the results or methods of previous studies that correspond to and/or confirm those sections in your own study. For a stand-alone literature review, this may mean highlighting the concepts in each article and showing how they strengthen a hypothesis or show a pattern.

Discuss unaddressed issues in previous studies. These studies that are missing something you address are important to include in your literature review. In addition, those works whose theories and conclusions directly support your findings will be valuable to review here.

Step 6: Identify relationships in the literature and develop and connect your own ideas to them.

This is essentially the same as step 5 but focused on the connections between the literature and the current study or guiding concepts or arguments of the paper, not only on the connections between the works themselves.

Your hypothesis, argument, or guiding concept is the “golden thread” that will ultimately tie the works together and provide readers with specific insights they didn’t have before reading your literature review. Make sure you know where to put the research question , hypothesis, or statement of the problem in your research paper so that you guide your readers logically and naturally from your introduction of earlier work and evidence to the conclusions you want them to draw from the bigger picture.

Your literature review will not only cover publications on your topics but will include your own ideas and contributions. By following these steps you will be telling the specific story that sets the background and shows the significance of your research and you can turn a network of related works into a focused review of the literature.

Literature Review (RRL) Examples

Because creating sample literature reviews would take too long and not properly capture the nuances and detailed information needed for a good review, we have included some links to different types of literature reviews below. You can find links to more literature reviews in these categories by visiting the TUS Library’s website . Sample literature reviews as part of an article, dissertation, or thesis:

  • Critical Thinking and Transferability: A Review of the Literature (Gwendolyn Reece)
  • Building Customer Loyalty: A Customer Experience Based Approach in a Tourism Context (Martina Donnelly)

Sample stand-alone literature reviews

  • Literature Review on Attitudes towards Disability (National Disability Authority)
  • The Effects of Communication Styles on Marital Satisfaction (Hannah Yager)

Additional Literature Review Format Guidelines

In addition to the content guidelines above, authors also need to check which style guidelines to use ( APA , Chicago, MLA, etc.) and what specific rules the target journal might have for how to structure such articles or how many studies to include—such information can usually be found on the journals’ “Guide for Authors” pages. Additionally, use one of the four Wordvice citation generators below, choosing the citation style needed for your paper:

Wordvice Writing and Academic Editing Resources

Finally, after you have finished drafting your literature review, be sure to receive professional proofreading services , including paper editing for your academic work. A competent proofreader who understands academic writing conventions and the specific style guides used by academic journals will ensure that your paper is ready for publication in your target journal.

See our academic resources for further advice on references in your paper , how to write an abstract , how to write a research paper title, how to impress the editor of your target journal with a perfect cover letter , and dozens of other research writing and publication topics.

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A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.

Importance of a Good Literature Review

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
  • Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.

Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
  • Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.

Types of Literature Reviews

It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.

In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.

Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].

Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.

Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.

Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.

Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

NOTE : Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.

Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews."  Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Thinking About Your Literature Review

The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :

  • An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
  • Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
  • An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.

The critical evaluation of each work should consider :

  • Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
  • Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
  • Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
  • Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

II.  Development of the Literature Review

Four Basic Stages of Writing 1.  Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2.  Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3.  Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4.  Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.

Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1.  Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2.  What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3.  Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4.  Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5.  Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.

III.  Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

Chronology of Events If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. By Publication Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point being made. Methodological A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.

Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:

  • Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
  • Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
  • History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
  • Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
  • Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

IV.  Writing Your Literature Review

Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.

Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.

V.  Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.

  • Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
  • You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
  • Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
  • Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
  • Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
  • Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
  • Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.

Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.

Writing Tip

Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!

Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.

Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Just Review for Content!

While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:

  • How are they organizing their ideas?
  • What methods have they used to study the problem?
  • What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
  • What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
  • How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?

When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.

Yet Another Writing Tip

When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?

Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:

  • Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research?  Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
  • Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
  • Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

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Educational resources and simple solutions for your research journey

how to write review of related literature in research

How to write review of related literature (RRL) in research

review of related literature about science example

A review of related literature (a.k.a RRL in research) is a comprehensive review of the existing literature pertaining to a specific topic or research question. An effective review provides the reader with an organized analysis and synthesis of the existing knowledge about a subject. With the increasing amount of new information being disseminated every day, conducting a review of related literature is becoming more difficult and the purpose of review of related literature is clearer than ever.  

All new knowledge is necessarily based on previously known information, and every new scientific study must be conducted and reported in the context of previous studies. This makes a review of related literature essential for research, and although it may be tedious work at times , most researchers will complete many such reviews of varying depths during their career. So, why exactly is a review of related literature important?    

Table of Contents

Why a review of related literature in research is important  

Before thinking how to do reviews of related literature , it is necessary to understand its importance. Although the purpose of a review of related literature varies depending on the discipline and how it will be used, its importance is never in question. Here are some ways in which a review can be crucial.  

  • Identify gaps in the knowledge – This is the primary purpose of a review of related literature (often called RRL in research ). To create new knowledge, you must first determine what knowledge may be missing. This also helps to identify the scope of your study.  
  • Avoid duplication of research efforts – Not only will a review of related literature indicate gaps in the existing research, but it will also lead you away from duplicating research that has already been done and thus save precious resources.  
  • Provide an overview of disparate and interdisciplinary research areas – Researchers cannot possibly know everything related to their disciplines. Therefore, it is very helpful to have access to a review of related literature already written and published.  
  • Highlight researcher’s familiarity with their topic 1  – A strong review of related literature in a study strengthens readers’ confidence in that study and that researcher.

review of related literature about science example

Tips on how to write a review of related literature in research

Given that you will probably need to produce a number of these at some point, here are a few general tips on how to write an effective review of related literature 2 .

  • Define your topic, audience, and purpose: You will be spending a lot of time with this review, so choose a topic that is interesting to you. While deciding what to write in a review of related literature , think about who you expect to read the review – researchers in your discipline, other scientists, the general public – and tailor the language to the audience. Also, think about the purpose of your review of related literature .  
  • Conduct a comprehensive literature search: While writing your review of related literature , emphasize more recent works but don’t forget to include some older publications as well. Cast a wide net, as you may find some interesting and relevant literature in unexpected databases or library corners. Don’t forget to search for recent conference papers.
  • Review the identified articles and take notes: It is a good idea to take notes in a way such that individual items in your notes can be moved around when you organize them. For example, index cards are great tools for this. Write each individual idea on a separate card along with the source. The cards can then be easily grouped and organized.  
  • Determine how to organize your review: A review of related literature should not be merely a listing of descriptions. It should be organized by some criterion, such as chronologically or thematically.  
  • Be critical and objective: Don’t just report the findings of other studies in your review of related literature . Challenge the methodology, find errors in the analysis, question the conclusions. Use what you find to improve your research. However, do not insert your opinions into the review of related literature. Remain objective and open-minded.  
  • Structure your review logically: Guide the reader through the information. The structure will depend on the function of the review of related literature. Creating an outline prior to writing the RRL in research is a good way to ensure the presented information flows well.  

As you read more extensively in your discipline, you will notice that the review of related literature appears in various forms in different places. For example, when you read an article about an experimental study, you will typically see a literature review or a RRL in research , in the introduction that includes brief descriptions of similar studies. In longer research studies and dissertations, especially in the social sciences, the review of related literature will typically be a separate chapter and include more information on methodologies and theory building. In addition, stand-alone review articles will be published that are extremely useful to researchers.  

The review of relevant literature or often abbreviated as, RRL in research , is an important communication tool that can be used in many forms for many purposes. It is a tool that all researchers should befriend.  

  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center. Literature Reviews.  https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/literature-reviews/  [Accessed September 8, 2022]
  • Pautasso M. Ten simple rules for writing a literature review. PLoS Comput Biol. 2013, 9. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003149.

Q:  Is research complete without a review of related literature?

A research project is usually considered incomplete without a proper review of related literature. The review of related literature is a crucial component of any research project as it provides context for the research question, identifies gaps in existing literature, and ensures novelty by avoiding duplication. It also helps inform research design and supports arguments, highlights the significance of a study, and demonstrates your knowledge an expertise.

Q: What is difference between RRL and RRS?

The key difference between an RRL and an RRS lies in their focus and scope. An RRL or review of related literature examines a broad range of literature, including theoretical frameworks, concepts, and empirical studies, to establish the context and significance of the research topic. On the other hand, an RRS or review of research studies specifically focuses on analyzing and summarizing previous research studies within a specific research domain to gain insights into methodologies, findings, and gaps in the existing body of knowledge. While there may be some overlap between the two, they serve distinct purposes and cover different aspects of the research process.

Q: Does review of related literature improve accuracy and validity of research?

Yes, a comprehensive review of related literature (RRL) plays a vital role in improving the accuracy and validity of research. It helps authors gain a deeper understanding and offers different perspectives on the research topic. RRL can help you identify research gaps, dictate the selection of appropriate research methodologies, enhance theoretical frameworks, avoid biases and errors, and even provide support for research design and interpretation. By building upon and critically engaging with existing related literature, researchers can ensure their work is rigorous, reliable, and contributes meaningfully to their field of study.

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15 Literature Review Examples

literature review examples, types, and definition, explained below

Literature reviews are a necessary step in a research process and often required when writing your research proposal . They involve gathering, analyzing, and evaluating existing knowledge about a topic in order to find gaps in the literature where future studies will be needed.

Ideally, once you have completed your literature review, you will be able to identify how your research project can build upon and extend existing knowledge in your area of study.

Generally, for my undergraduate research students, I recommend a narrative review, where themes can be generated in order for the students to develop sufficient understanding of the topic so they can build upon the themes using unique methods or novel research questions.

For more advanced students and scholars, literature reviews like systematic and meta-analyses may be more fitting, especially if the review is not to identify potential areas of research but to present practical and clinical recommendations based directly upon a reading of the literature.

Literature Review Examples

For the following types of literature review, I present an explanation and overview of the type, followed by links to some real-life literature reviews on the topics.

1. Narrative Review Examples

Also known as a traditional literature review, the narrative review provides a broad overview of the studies done on a particular topic.

It often includes both qualitative and quantitative studies and may cover a wide range of years.

The narrative review’s purpose is to identify commonalities, gaps, and contradictions in the literature .

I recommend to my students that they should gather their studies together, take notes on each study, then try to group them by themes that form the basis for the review (see my step-by-step instructions at the end of the article).

Example Study

Title: Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations

Citation: Vermeir, P., Vandijck, D., Degroote, S., Peleman, R., Verhaeghe, R., Mortier, E., … & Vogelaers, D. (2015). Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations. International journal of clinical practice , 69 (11), 1257-1267.

Source: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/ijcp.12686  

Overview: This narrative review analyzed themes emerging from 69 articles about communication in healthcare contexts. Five key themes were found in the literature: poor communication can lead to various negative outcomes, discontinuity of care, compromise of patient safety, patient dissatisfaction, and inefficient use of resources. After presenting the key themes, the authors recommend that practitioners need to approach healthcare communication in a more structured way, such as by ensuring there is a clear understanding of who is in charge of ensuring effective communication in clinical settings.

Other Examples

  • Burnout in United States Healthcare Professionals: A Narrative Review (Reith, 2018) – read here
  • Examining the Presence, Consequences, and Reduction of Implicit Bias in Health Care: A Narrative Review (Zestcott, Blair & Stone, 2016) – read here
  • A Narrative Review of School-Based Physical Activity for Enhancing Cognition and Learning (Mavilidi et al., 2018) – read here
  • A narrative review on burnout experienced by medical students and residents (Dyrbye & Shanafelt, 2015) – read here

2. Systematic Review Examples

This type of literature review is more structured and rigorous than a narrative review. It involves a detailed and comprehensive plan and search strategy derived from a set of specified research questions.

The key way you’d know a systematic review compared to a narrative review is in the methodology: the systematic review will likely have a very clear criteria for how the studies were collected, and clear explanations of exclusion/inclusion criteria. 

The goal is to gather the maximum amount of valid literature on the topic, filter out invalid or low-quality reviews, and minimize bias. Ideally, this will provide more reliable findings, leading to higher-quality conclusions and recommendations for further research.

You may note from the examples below that the ‘method’ sections in systematic reviews tend to be much more explicit, often noting rigid inclusion/exclusion criteria and exact keywords used in searches.

Title: The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review  

Citation: Roman, S., Sánchez-Siles, L. M., & Siegrist, M. (2017). The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review. Trends in food science & technology , 67 , 44-57.

Source: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092422441730122X  

Overview: This systematic review included 72 studies of food naturalness to explore trends in the literature about its importance for consumers. Keywords used in the data search included: food, naturalness, natural content, and natural ingredients. Studies were included if they examined consumers’ preference for food naturalness and contained empirical data. The authors found that the literature lacks clarity about how naturalness is defined and measured, but also found that food consumption is significantly influenced by perceived naturalness of goods.

  • A systematic review of research on online teaching and learning from 2009 to 2018 (Martin, Sun & Westine, 2020) – read here
  • Where Is Current Research on Blockchain Technology? (Yli-Huumo et al., 2016) – read here
  • Universities—industry collaboration: A systematic review (Ankrah & Al-Tabbaa, 2015) – read here
  • Internet of Things Applications: A Systematic Review (Asghari, Rahmani & Javadi, 2019) – read here

3. Meta-analysis

This is a type of systematic review that uses statistical methods to combine and summarize the results of several studies.

Due to its robust methodology, a meta-analysis is often considered the ‘gold standard’ of secondary research , as it provides a more precise estimate of a treatment effect than any individual study contributing to the pooled analysis.

Furthermore, by aggregating data from a range of studies, a meta-analysis can identify patterns, disagreements, or other interesting relationships that may have been hidden in individual studies.

This helps to enhance the generalizability of findings, making the conclusions drawn from a meta-analysis particularly powerful and informative for policy and practice.

Title: Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s Disease Risk: A Meta-Meta-Analysis

Citation: Sáiz-Vazquez, O., Puente-Martínez, A., Ubillos-Landa, S., Pacheco-Bonrostro, J., & Santabárbara, J. (2020). Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease risk: a meta-meta-analysis. Brain sciences, 10(6), 386.

Source: https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci10060386  

O verview: This study examines the relationship between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Researchers conducted a systematic search of meta-analyses and reviewed several databases, collecting 100 primary studies and five meta-analyses to analyze the connection between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease. They find that the literature compellingly demonstrates that low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels significantly influence the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

  • The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research (Wisniewski, Zierer & Hattie, 2020) – read here
  • How Much Does Education Improve Intelligence? A Meta-Analysis (Ritchie & Tucker-Drob, 2018) – read here
  • A meta-analysis of factors related to recycling (Geiger et al., 2019) – read here
  • Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits (Patterson, Chung & Swan, 2014) – read here

Other Types of Reviews

  • Scoping Review: This type of review is used to map the key concepts underpinning a research area and the main sources and types of evidence available. It can be undertaken as stand-alone projects in their own right, or as a precursor to a systematic review.
  • Rapid Review: This type of review accelerates the systematic review process in order to produce information in a timely manner. This is achieved by simplifying or omitting stages of the systematic review process.
  • Integrative Review: This review method is more inclusive than others, allowing for the simultaneous inclusion of experimental and non-experimental research. The goal is to more comprehensively understand a particular phenomenon.
  • Critical Review: This is similar to a narrative review but requires a robust understanding of both the subject and the existing literature. In a critical review, the reviewer not only summarizes the existing literature, but also evaluates its strengths and weaknesses. This is common in the social sciences and humanities .
  • State-of-the-Art Review: This considers the current level of advancement in a field or topic and makes recommendations for future research directions. This type of review is common in technological and scientific fields but can be applied to any discipline.

How to Write a Narrative Review (Tips for Undergrad Students)

Most undergraduate students conducting a capstone research project will be writing narrative reviews. Below is a five-step process for conducting a simple review of the literature for your project.

  • Search for Relevant Literature: Use scholarly databases related to your field of study, provided by your university library, along with appropriate search terms to identify key scholarly articles that have been published on your topic.
  • Evaluate and Select Sources: Filter the source list by selecting studies that are directly relevant and of sufficient quality, considering factors like credibility , objectivity, accuracy, and validity.
  • Analyze and Synthesize: Review each source and summarize the main arguments  in one paragraph (or more, for postgrad). Keep these summaries in a table.
  • Identify Themes: With all studies summarized, group studies that share common themes, such as studies that have similar findings or methodologies.
  • Write the Review: Write your review based upon the themes or subtopics you have identified. Give a thorough overview of each theme, integrating source data, and conclude with a summary of the current state of knowledge then suggestions for future research based upon your evaluation of what is lacking in the literature.

Literature reviews don’t have to be as scary as they seem. Yes, they are difficult and require a strong degree of comprehension of academic studies. But it can be feasibly done through following a structured approach to data collection and analysis. With my undergraduate research students (who tend to conduct small-scale qualitative studies ), I encourage them to conduct a narrative literature review whereby they can identify key themes in the literature. Within each theme, students can critique key studies and their strengths and limitations , in order to get a lay of the land and come to a point where they can identify ways to contribute new insights to the existing academic conversation on their topic.

Ankrah, S., & Omar, A. T. (2015). Universities–industry collaboration: A systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 31(3), 387-408.

Asghari, P., Rahmani, A. M., & Javadi, H. H. S. (2019). Internet of Things applications: A systematic review. Computer Networks , 148 , 241-261.

Dyrbye, L., & Shanafelt, T. (2016). A narrative review on burnout experienced by medical students and residents. Medical education , 50 (1), 132-149.

Geiger, J. L., Steg, L., Van Der Werff, E., & Ünal, A. B. (2019). A meta-analysis of factors related to recycling. Journal of environmental psychology , 64 , 78-97.

Martin, F., Sun, T., & Westine, C. D. (2020). A systematic review of research on online teaching and learning from 2009 to 2018. Computers & education , 159 , 104009.

Mavilidi, M. F., Ruiter, M., Schmidt, M., Okely, A. D., Loyens, S., Chandler, P., & Paas, F. (2018). A narrative review of school-based physical activity for enhancing cognition and learning: The importance of relevancy and integration. Frontiers in psychology , 2079.

Patterson, G. T., Chung, I. W., & Swan, P. W. (2014). Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits: A meta-analysis. Journal of experimental criminology , 10 , 487-513.

Reith, T. P. (2018). Burnout in United States healthcare professionals: a narrative review. Cureus , 10 (12).

Ritchie, S. J., & Tucker-Drob, E. M. (2018). How much does education improve intelligence? A meta-analysis. Psychological science , 29 (8), 1358-1369.

Roman, S., Sánchez-Siles, L. M., & Siegrist, M. (2017). The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review. Trends in food science & technology , 67 , 44-57.

Sáiz-Vazquez, O., Puente-Martínez, A., Ubillos-Landa, S., Pacheco-Bonrostro, J., & Santabárbara, J. (2020). Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease risk: a meta-meta-analysis. Brain sciences, 10(6), 386.

Vermeir, P., Vandijck, D., Degroote, S., Peleman, R., Verhaeghe, R., Mortier, E., … & Vogelaers, D. (2015). Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations. International journal of clinical practice , 69 (11), 1257-1267.

Wisniewski, B., Zierer, K., & Hattie, J. (2020). The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research. Frontiers in Psychology , 10 , 3087.

Yli-Huumo, J., Ko, D., Choi, S., Park, S., & Smolander, K. (2016). Where is current research on blockchain technology?—a systematic review. PloS one , 11 (10), e0163477.

Zestcott, C. A., Blair, I. V., & Stone, J. (2016). Examining the presence, consequences, and reduction of implicit bias in health care: a narrative review. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations , 19 (4), 528-542


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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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review of related literature about science example

258 Science Research Topics You Will Love

science topics

As an undergraduate or a college student, your professor may have told you to develop science research topics to fulfill your school tasks pre-graduation. Science is a broad field, and you will find different science research paper topics for your project. Your challenge may lie in choosing any of the subjects to write about. Different types of science exist, and while earth science deals with soil science, geoinformatics, environmental Science, geology, and every other science relating to the atmosphere, computer science encompasses the engineering of everyday internet and technological innovations.

  • Chemistry deals with the substances of matter formation and the study of the reactions in creating new substances. It’s generally the study of natural science and its elements. Biology encompasses the assessment of living organisms, including their origin, morphology, physiology, behavior, and other core parts.
  • Other science subjects include Physics which deals with the features and the communication of space, time, matter, and energy; astronomy, the study of space; geology, the study of soil; psychology, the study of human behaviors; zoology, the study of animals; engineering, the study of and adoption of mathematics in the improvement of technology, and many others.

This content will examine most of these types to enable cool science research ideas for your project or essay.

How to Structure a Science Paper?

Writing a research paper for a high grade is a challenge. Before you embark on any research, ensure that the work fits into any existing literature. If it’s pioneering work, ensure that you have enough resources and authority for the analysis. Aside from this, it would help if you structured it thus:

Introduction : This dictates the tone of the paper. It offers core background information about the problem, the implications and relevance, and how it fits into significant future literature on the subject. Additionally, your introduction must have science research questions that will be answered in the research. Materials and Methods: This involves the process of your experiment (that’s if you’ll embark on any for your project). If you aren’t experimenting in a lab, you should document your means of research in this section. Results : When you embark on research, you’re trying to find an answer or solve a problem. Your impact is discussed in different chapters or sections. The results are the leading research and must be detailed. Conclusion : After discussing the research processes, the research subject, the findings, and the results, what’s next is your conclusion. This must be explicit, condensed, and profound. It would be best if you addressed the scientific questions you raised in your introduction, and it must show that your findings answered those questions. Abstract : Although abstract comes first, it is written last. This is because an abstract gives a brief overview of your research. You can only have an abstract when you’ve completed a comprehensive study. This is why the maximum of 300 words abstract always comes last while writing your project, although it must appear before your first chapter. 

Scientific Research Paper Topics

If your teacher wants you to create advanced and captivating topics for your project, you can consider the following:

  • Assess the reasons why some refuse to take the COVID vaccine in America?
  • Document the absolute strategy for effective COVID vaccine distribution worldwide
  • Account for how the lockdown helped reduce the spread of COVID-19
  • Document the connection of COVID-19 with digestive issues
  • Assess the myths of COVID-19 and account for the major causes of the virus
  • Give a detailed assessment of three mixed-breed dogs
  • Examine how genetic abnormalities are passed to descendants
  • Examine the consequences of global warming in an indifferent world?
  • Would you say political leaders give enough publicity to the effect of global warming?
  • Is it okay to explore and transport oil and mineral resources close to wildlife reserves?
  • Choose three endangered species around you and consider what makes them vulnerable
  • Assess the way of life of endangered species in any region of your choice
  • Create a report on the environmental issues in Nordic states
  • Examine the relationship between nutritional diet and longevity
  • Give an overview of how fast food affects mental health
  • Diagnose the consequences of restless work hours
  • Elon Musk once slept for one hour for more than a week: give an overview of how work affects health
  • With comprehensive examples, give an overview of how AIDS can be undetectable
  • Explore how the perspectives of the public have changed towards people living with AIDS
  • Study a team of teenagers and examine how peer group influences drug use
  • With concrete examples, explore the complications of any three medical treatments of your choice
  • Rationalize the role of healthcare in creating affordable medical care for cancer patients
  • Would you say space exploration is significant to humanity?
  • Give a critical overview of Literature that criticize the Big Bang Theory
  • Study five pieces of literature and give details of the Astroid Belt
  • With concrete examples, examine the flight to space and its future
  • Examine the possibility of man’s existence on other planets based on the biological limitations of man
  • What would you say is responsible for the multilateral perspectives of the universe?
  • Account for the failures of any company or country’s first space flight
  • Darwin’s Theory: Account for how it enhanced racism in America
  • Assess the myths about Higgs Boson
  • If the COVID-19 virus was intentional, attempt an overview of its effects if wielded for global tragedy
  • Assess the significance of mathematics in engineering
  • Evaluate the influence of engineering on the study of soil
  • Evaluate the models of electricity generation in the advanced world
  • Assess the connection of green energy to environmental conservation
  • Give an overview of the significance of cryogenics
  • Reviewing six literature, examine the ethics of human cloning
  • With concrete examples, explore how humans react to microchips
  • Using three literature, analyze the long-term risks of consistent abortion

Scientific Research Topics for High School Students

As a college student, your teacher may have requested cool science topics on any science subject things to research. You can consider the following topics:

  • The fundamental effects of deforestation
  • The contemporary strategies of communication
  • The diverse approach to depression in today’s America
  • The connection of depression with anxiety
  • The cause for different eating behaviors in different cultures
  • An Examination of the processes of behavioral patterns
  • A rationalization of insomnia and the dangers
  • Assess the psychological causes of child violence
  • Assess the results of drug abuse
  • Assess the consequences of alcoholism as a coping mechanism
  • Discuss the means to combat emotional distress and work-related stress
  • Give an overview of how nutritional diets facilitate health
  • Examine how kids adopt parent’s behaviors
  • Assess the role of psychology in approaching ethical realities
  • Give an understanding of how social development is vital to human growth
  • What is the psychological function of the agents of socialization
  • Examine the components of a spacecraft
  • Account for the physics involved in the movement of trains
  • Give an overview of AI
  • Explain why a tech invention is your favorite
  • Write your perspective on technology in commerce
  • Write your view on technology in the academic sector
  • Write your philosophy of technology on the media
  • Would you say data privacy is a lie with concrete examples?
  • Determine the effect of sunshine on human skin
  • Examine the prospects of human genetics
  • Assess the evolution of genetics
  • Analyze the connection between biology and Darwinism
  • What are your thoughts on natural selection theory?
  • Give an overview of the importance of plants in human breathing
  • Explain how vital animal is to humanity
  • Account for symbiosis in any four parasites of your choice
  • Give an overview of the Ebola and the COVID-19 virus
  • Would you say the social distancing is effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19?
  • Comment on the online schooling widely adopted during the pandemic
  • Comment on the changes in the way of life during the pandemic
  • Examine the significance of online gaming
  • With examples, how does tech advancement affect the environment?
  • What are the consequences of consistently using earphones and headphones in loud volumes?
  • How does technology improve food security?

Don’t put your grade at risk and get research paper online help . It’s better to ask someone to help you complete your assignment and wait for a winning paper without worries. 

Interesting Science Topics to Write About

You may need to develop captivating and informative research about a native concept. You can create a fun-filled essay or project on cool science topics like:

  • How science helps companies reduce energy consumption
  • How technology contributes to the pharmaceutical industry
  • Examine how nuclear weapons will change modern warfare
  • Examine how Science helps Hollywood
  • What does hibernation in animals mean?
  • Examine the importance of science museums in academics
  • Examine the significance of nanotechnology in medicine
  • Explore the development stages of cancer
  • How is the Ebola virus different from COVID-19?
  • How is the COVID-19 different from other pandemics?
  • Using five pieces of literature, what are your thoughts about genital mutilation in Africa?
  • What are the controversial sexual practices in Asia?
  • Examine the history and future of computers
  • Examine the past and future of cyber security
  • How Sustainable and dangerous do you think the 5G network would be?
  • How dangerous do you think Blockchain technology would be?
  • Account for how Blockchain technology has affected the banking system in any country
  • Give detailed research into what virtual reality is
  • Examine the processes photosynthesis employ in practice
  • How can the human populace present natural resources?
  • Explain how climate change poses a challenge for endangered species
  • Explain how chemical bonds
  • How do bacteria favor man?
  • What is the long-term consequence of reliance on drugs?
  • What are the consequences of waste on the environment?
  • Explain how electricity can be generated today
  • Assess human anatomy
  • What do you understand about the greenhouse effect?
  • Explain the complexities in gravitational law
  • Examine the concept of disruptive technology in any two fields of your choice
  • What are the connections between heat and temperature?
  • Discuss the ways natural resources endanger the environment.

Biology Research Topics

Biology is already known to deal with living organisms: their origin, morphology, physiology, anatomy, and behavior. There are also biology-related science research paper ideas to write about; consider:

  • Examine the reliability of memory for those with memory loss
  • Explain the concept of abortion and why some societies frown at it
  • Discuss the fundamental causes of plant diseases
  • Discuss the basic issues regarding genetic disorders
  • Discuss the possible complications of kidney transplant and how it affects a public interest in donations
  • Study homosexuality in animals and give an overview of how it works
  • Examine the connection between obesity and genetics
  • Express how genetics is connected to skin color
  • What is the symbiotic relationship between hormones and human desires
  • Examine the evolution of mixed-breed plants
  • Give a comparative analysis of the period of gesticulation between humans and animals
  • Rationalize the idea that the Paleo diet is suitable for all
  • Assess the consequences of overpopulation
  • Assess the effects of overpopulation in an increasingly environmentally vulnerable society
  • How is the ecology of the world at risk?
  • Assess the prospects of green energy concerning tech growths
  • How does technology facilitate botany?
  • Examine the significance of fertilizer on plants
  • Examine how human behavior is informed
  • How does the fast food industry affect agricultural means of production?
  • Examine the impact an extinction of rainforest will cause
  • Account for the significant challenges of biodiversity
  • Examine the influence of music on the brain
  • Account for the influence of pornography on the brain
  • Document the factors that promote extinction of species
  • Distinguish between organic and inorganic farming
  • Examine the connection between robotics and neuroscience
  • Examine the factors and consequences of migraine
  • Examine the complexities in the reproductive system
  • Discuss the factors that facilitate digestion in humans and animals
  • Account for the possibility of depression as a result of anxiety
  • Document how genetic disorders contribute to schizophrenia
  • Give an overview of how the brain can self-repair.

Chemistry Research Topics

This deals with the substances in which matter is formed and the study of the reactions in creating new substances. For your chemistry research topics, consider:

  • Examine the atomic structure of electronegativity
  • Account for the DNA molecules in mixed breeds
  • Give an overview of active components in any soap of your choice
  • Give an overview of the chemicals in coke
  • Report for the chemicals used in soap production
  • Evaluate the concentration of heavy metals in chocolate and two candies of your choice
  • Study the phytochemical structure of methanol and give a report
  • Study the antimicrobial agents in methanol and provide a report
  • Study the process involved in making methylated spirit
  • Examine the chemical reaction in iodine
  • Evaluate the concept of hydrogen bonding simulation
  • Examine the conceit of chemical equilibrium
  • Despite the significance of ibuprofen, there are adverse effects: discuss
  • Examine the consequences of isomerism frameworks
  • Give a comparative analysis of three tablets of your choice
  • Give an overview of the chemical components of three energy drinks
  • Explain why energy drinks have negative impacts on the body
  • Urine: are there differences between humans and animals?
  • What are the chemical constituents of two seeds of your choice, and explain why the species are distinct?
  • Examine the chemical constituents of the gas
  • Account for the effect of temperature on a bulb
  • Document the impact of concentrated heat on the water
  • Document the effects of old roofing sheets on water
  • Examine the constituents of intoxicants in waste products
  • Assess the activities of three science laboratories in any US high school
  • Account for the role of scholars in developing science museums in Europe
  • Document the side effects of three drugs of your choice based on their controversial components
  • Examine the molecules in the skeletal representation model
  • Give causes that disallow chemical reaction as invented before the experiment
  • Emphasize how chemical experiments are conducted in a gas laboratory
  • Express how water purification systems may affect health
  • Examine the acid properties of any popular medicine of your choice and explain how they promote medicinal ethics
  • Express the reaction of polyvinyl alcohol in paper coating
  • What are the strategies of paper chromatography in protein?
  • What is the micro patterning process involved in paper-mache?
  • Give an in depth insight into the components of any wood of your choice
  • Account for the properties of wax and any related objects
  • What is the role of chemistry in reshaping the future of pharmaceutical companies?
  • Examine the role of chemistry in biology?
  • Express the significance of chemistry in botany.

Computer Science Topics

This is about the programming, and technological innovations experienced today with extension to environmental or political science. For your research, you can consider complex and simple topics like:

  • Would you subscribe to the fact that robots are difficult to control?
  • Would you say that software engineering and programming aren’t enough to create a self-efficient robot?
  • Do a comparative study of the world of biotech, geoinformatics, and medicine
  • The assertion that virtual reality has a profound connection to genuine human existence is false: discuss
  • Big data analysis is significant to maintain human-computer interactions as well the usability of the designed system: discuss
  • Examine the complex nature of computer-aided learning and how it could limit the absolute accumulation of knowledge
  • What would you say are the risks of digital security in a vulnerable world?
  • Account for the evolution of algorithm, programming language, and their connection, if any, to open source software
  • Examine the benefits and consequences of cloud computing
  • Examine the trend of wireless systems and the prospects of 5G technology in the digital world
  • Examine the different OS and express your perspectives about the future of system software
  • What is the significance of a biometric system, and how safe is it in protecting private and customer information in any three mobile devices of your choice?
  • Examine the evolution of Blockchain technology and how it contributes to the trend of digital currency
  • Account for the roles of influencers like Elon Musk in the promotion of digital currency
  • Study three wireless sensor networks and account for their basic features, which affect longevity and broadband
  • Examine the process of robotic manipulation and does it relate to the operation of automated modeling and program verification
  • Assess how computer programming is rebranding the functionality of traditional banks
  • Give an account of the role of Artificial Intelligence and deep learning in the healthcare industry of today
  • Examine the fundamentals of computing and computational science and how invaluable they are to cyber research and security
  • Distinguish between three programming languages and software systems of your choice
  • Examine the challenges that face electronic medicinal science
  • Analyze the issues concerning disaster prevention in the exigencies if computer systems for meteorological activities
  • What do you understand about animation, graphics, and computer vision, and how do you think these can recreate realities for whatever purpose suits the public?
  • Do you think there are dangers in peer to peer privacy in social media applications
  • Examine mobile systems and the worldwide development involved in the computing
  • Analyze the significance of computational biology
  • Account for the interactions of robots with liquid and how specific element of their build is responsible for the reactions detected
  • Attempt a prognosis of the future of robotics engineering based on present circumstances where robots are not entirely independent of functionality
  • Examine how YouTube and Google AI technology works
  • Assess how content-based image retrieval systems work
  • Assess the policy of government accountability and the impact of the Twitter ban on members of the Nigerian Twitter community
  • Examine the influence of information systems on the effectiveness of the e-commerce industry
  • Account for the techniques and consequences of cybercrime in Nigeria as well as the statistics of those involved
  • Examine the significance of information Technology on accounting as well as the challenges raised on functionality
  • Design and develop an app-based software for three purposes of your choice
  • Examine the function of ICT in controlling media information in concert with Government narrative
  • What would you say are the ethics of technology on the moral values of the youth community in a well-connected and immoral world?
  • How would you design and develop an app-based university management system for over 40 thousand students?
  • Would you say that students’ lack of access to eLearning is a form of underutilizing technology or the ignorance of such students?
  • Examine the factors considered in the design of robotic vehicles and obstacle detectors

Earth Science Research Ideas

Earth science is another branch of science that encompasses the atmosphere and relates to fields like geoinformatics, glaciology, environmental science, geology, soil science, and others. If you need earth science topics to write about, consider:

  • Assess the ecological footprint and the prognosis of humankind in a world with so much digital footprint
  • Examine the feature did biodiversity in two rainforests of your choice
  • Rationalize the environmental policies of two countries in Europe
  • Do a comparative analysis of the environmental policies of any country in Asia and Africa
  • Give an account of a climate crisis in any country in Asia
  • Examine the implications and future of feel sea mining in a consistently informed world
  • Examine the limitations and lot of hydroelectricity based on present literature on the study
  • Analyze how ecological footprint affect environmental health
  • What do you understand by the term eco-feminism, and how does it relate to environmental science?
  • Examine the urban systems and how they promote or reduce pollution in big cities
  • Give a comprehensive study of the 2010 Haitian earthquake
  • Give a comprehensive survey of the biblical revelations of the great flood and compare them with Scientific analysis
  • Discuss the fossil fuels in today’s world
  • How can a digital library be used for climate literacy?
  • Examine The History of coal mining in Virginia
  • Give an overview of pipeline safety in Europe
  • Examine how immigration policies in Europe risk overpopulation in any country of your choice
  • Account for the factors leading to the decline of agriculture in America
  • Account for the factors leading to the reduction of agriculture in Nigeria
  • Mechanized farming: examine the challenges and prospects
  • Explain the hydrologic cycle and the channel of water through it
  • Analyze the process of energy loss and gains in water’s three states
  • How significant is the food chain in biogeography?
  • Assess the floral features in a desert and a forest
  • Assess the importance of soil formation based on new Literature
  • Describe the factors leading to the shape of the earth surface
  • Do a comparative analysis of Wegner and plate tectonic theories
  • Engage in an intellectual discussion about events of continental drifts
  • Assess the patterns of earthquakes and volcanoes and their connection to plate tectonics
  • Examine the factors leading to the acknowledgment of plate tectonics
  • Assess the role of UNO in preserving oceans
  • How does Science promote awareness of marine energy?
  • Engage in a comparative analysis of two dam networks.

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80+ Science Research Paper Topics Ideas For Students

Scientist stirring the flask

Essay writing or writing dissertation is an integral part of education at any level, middle school, high school, or college. Some of the most common essays are on science research topics, and they are also quite interesting. However, choosing research paper topics isn’t as straightforward as you’d like. You’ll need to carry out a survey on and draw inspiration from several scientific research topics before finally choosing one. Choosing science topics, especially if they are argumentative essay topics , to write about can be a frustrating task, especially when science is a pretty wide subject. If you need inspiration on interesting science topics, we’ll give you some science research paper ideas. But, first, let’s talk about how to choose the best science research paper topics – it makes things easier.

What Are Some Science Topics You Can Write About?

Interesting science research topics, ideas of science research topics for high school students, science research topics for college students, science research topics for middle school, scientific research question examples, science presentation ideas, cool science topics to research, ideas of scientific topics for research on nanotechnology, fascinating ideas for science research projects, interesting science topics for high school research papers, tips for choosing science research topics.

Being a very broad subject, students often find choosing a science topic for a research paper difficult. However, the secret is knowing what scientific research questions will make for a good paper, and what people will want to read. So, when choosing science topics for papers, here are tips you can follow to make the task easier.

  • Choose cool science topics you’re interested in and that’ll interest your readers.
  • Search online for research question examples science for ideas on what your paper should be about.
  • Avoid choosing too-broad research topics for high school, to ensure your work is well detailed.
  • Consider contemporary scientific research questions concerning recent happenings; they can be fun to write
  • Read your notes and online academic papers for inspiration on good science research paper topics.
  • Choose simple but highly informative research topics for high school students.
  • Choose good science topics you have some knowledge of and can confidently talk about.
  • Learn how to choose science topics for high school to make things easier.
  • Be familiar with the dos and don’ts of choosing scientific research paper topics.
  • Choose a scientific topic for research papers that has enough accessible information.

The Dos and Don’ts of Choosing Science Topics

Knowing the dos and don’ts of choosing a science title helps you select a good topic and ultimately write an outstanding paper. So, when searching for science topics for presentations,

  • Do understand that there are different topics in science you can research on;
  • Do read extensively for science research paper ideas; it helps you know what to write about;
  • Don’t include words like “Research of” or “Study of” in your chosen science topics to research;
  • Don’t choose high school science research paper topics with scanty or inaccessible information available;
  • Do check online for interesting science research ideas on how to write your paper;
  • Feel free to ask your instructor, colleagues, or seniors for scientific research ideas.

When searching for interesting science topics or social media research topics related to science to writing on, you will find different ones on different subjects, which can be confusing. You can follow the tips we listed for choosing science-related topics for a research paper. Meanwhile, here are some science paper topics you can use if none is forthcoming.

  • Is there a move for the Covid-19 vaccine?
  • What “flattening the curve” means
  • Molecular evidence of humans interbreeding with Neanderthals
  • Impact of cardio exercise on heart health
  • The importance of exploring the solar system
  • Can a comet strike the earth?
  • The Hubble Space Telescope
  • Top ten chemistry careers
  • Acid rain effect aquatic plants’ growth
  • Room color and human behavior
  • How can plants grow in pots?
  • Water’s surface tension weight capacity
  • What does the paleo diet mean?
  • Is Pluto still a planet?
  • The future of commercial space flight
  • Do you inherit fingerprint patterns?
  • Ways in which handwashing prevents the spread of the Covid-19 virus
  • Molecular biological research on rare genetic disorders impact on understanding cancer
  • Do men pass on genetic abnormalities to their posterity as they age?
  • How can men’s exercise affect the traits they pass on to their children?
  • Is there really life on Mars; has there ever been?
  • Ways of solving the problem of junk space
  • The importance of Dark Matter
  • Black holes
  • Different ways to keep ice from defrosting
  • Are pet hairs harmful to the human body?
  • Some of the germs you’ve seen in your school
  • The effect of music on your assimilation ability
  • The types of food dogs prefer the best
  • Good hygienic practices for keeping clean
  • Foods that develop molds the fastest
  • How different body parts aid the effective functioning of the system
  • Do worms in the soil really affect plant growth and how?
  • Can light brightness make plants grow well?
  • What kinds of fertilizers work best, chemical or natural?
  • Can mice (or any animal of your choice) learn?
  • How can age affect the human reaction?
  • Why does water boil faster when put in salt?
  • Can food affect the heart, how?
  • Can background noise interfere with learning and assimilation?
  • Can Higgs Boson destroy the universe?
  • Effects of sunspots on man
  • Should humans live in space?
  • The most important technological innovations in medicinal chemistry in recent years
  • The danger of chemicals emitted from pharmaceutical companies
  • The importance of big data and bioinformatics to chemical research
  • The sugar chemistry behind making candy
  • Biomacromolecules
  • Trends in India’s medicinal chemistry research
  • Nuclear fusion
  • Reproduction in mammals
  • How do fish mate?
  • How useful are science museums in teaching science?
  • Why do birds have beautiful feathers?
  • The safety of offshore drilling
  • The importance of climate change legislation
  • Hydraulic fracking’s negative effects
  • Uses of microelectronics
  • Nanotechnology in medicine
  • Nanotechnology for cancer treatment
  • Can nanofibers repair brain injuries?
  • Effect of nanomedicine on human lifespan
  • Nanomaterial
  • How nanotechnology helps in patient diagnosis
  • How to reduce antibiotic use in agriculture
  • The ethics of stem cell research
  • The best leukemia treatment
  • Gene therapy
  • Causes of skin cancer
  • Colonoscopy testing on colon cancer
  • Why eliminating malaria is difficult
  • The possibility of predicting the next pandemic
  • Do childhood vaccines prevent diseases?
  • How cells shield the body against diseases
  • Should wild animals interact with humans?
  • Are self-driving cars good?
  • Regulating sugar use
  • Different types of headaches
  • Can migraine cause death?
  • The ideal weight for living long

Feel free to choose from this scientific research topics list for your science research paper. There are many things to research where science is concerned, including stem research topics , among others. There is no shortage of scientific topics to research and choosing the best one gets easy when you know how to. If you’ve chosen a topic and you need help writing on them, you can contact our professional writing service. We have a team of experts who can write on any science topic and ensure you meet your deadline.

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521 Research Questions & Titles about Science

Do you enjoy revealing the mysteries of nature? There are as many secrets in space as there are deep in the ocean. You may be the one who solves the next puzzle!

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Natural science focuses on our environment. We try to understand how and why everything around us works. Living organisms, natural phenomena, rocks, and even the stars, are under scientists’ observation. Research in this area is a continuous process. Sometimes when it seems like we found out the answer, it just creates more questions! There are also plenty of weird things that can’t be explained.

Want to learn more about the scientific puzzles to be solved? Take a look at the collection of science research questions that Custom-writing.org experts have prepared. Find your perfect idea in the list below!

🔝 Top 10 Natural Science Topics for Research Papers

  • 💡 Choosing a Research Topic

⭐ Scientific Research Topics List: Top 10

  • 💫 Astronomy Topics
  • 🐈 Biology Topics
  • ⚛️ Chemistry Topics
  • ☁️ Environmental Topics
  • 🔷 Geology Topics
  • 🌈 Physics Topics
  • 🔝 20 Research Questions

🔎 References

  • How to prevent bacterial diseases
  • What is the origin of immunity?
  • Main concepts in biolinguistics
  • How can you improve gut microbiota?
  • Climate change’s effect on bumblebees?
  • How did dry climate affect human evolution?
  • The importance of bacteria in aquatic ecosystems
  • How does the neuron structure change during sleep?
  • What’s the link between stem cell divisions and cancer?
  • Smoking’s contribution to the mosaic loss of Y chromosome

💡 Choosing an Interesting Science Research Topic

There are plenty of scientific research papers topics to choose from. You can pick an area that you prefer: astronomy, biology, chemistry, nature, geology, and physics. And we prepared a list of at least 35 cool research titles about science in each of them!

However, you should put some effort into choosing a good and interesting topic. There are several aspects you need to consider. The first thing to look into is how easy or hard the future research may be. Evaluate the resources and the skills you have. Are they enough to understand if it is enough to resolve a scientific issue you chose?

Next, you should also foresee the benefits of the research. Proper scientific research can increase knowledge in a specific area. Of course, if you are a college student, you shouldn’t feel any obligation to solve unimaginable problems. However, even a small discovery could be a huge step in understanding an issue.

Therefore, the key concept is to find a topic that would be easy and fruitful at the same time. Don’t rush! Usually, picking the first idea that comes to your mind doesn’t end successfully…

Also, don’t forget to listen to your inner voice. If it feels like the topic is not for you, cross it out. You shouldn’t waste your time working on research that doesn’t satisfy you. It also needs to reflect your point of view.

How To Choose A Research Topic?

Last but not least, think about the approach of your research since it can also affect the topic. Decide whether you want to start quantitative or qualitative research . Then you might want to check out our collection of 501 good research topics for science!

  • How hibernation of animals works
  • Virtual reality vs. augmented reality
  • Can false memories be implanted?
  • The role of cryogenics in rocket science
  • How can we reduce the gender gap in STEM?
  • Cloud computing’s impact on data storage
  • Microscopic techniques used in microbiology
  • The importance of stem cells in medical science
  • Types of genetic programming in machine learning
  • The ways industries can conserve energy consumption

🚀 Space Research Topics

Have you ever had a dream of going into outer space as a kid? If yes, then these space research topics are for you!

Space research studies the observable universe that starts just outside the Earth’s surface. You don’t necessarily need to go in outer space to study it, though. Astronomy is where it all begins. Planets, galaxies, and different phenomena can all be studied from the ground. But note that most current projects also require some knowledge in physics, math, and computer science.

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If you feel like it’s for you, then check out the list of the trending astronomy research topics below.

💫 58 Astronomy Research Topics

  • Tools used to identify different variable stars : an overview 
  • Astrophysics: compact binary star systems & broadband variability 
  • Stellar evolution: young stellar objects with circumstellar material 
  • Evolved objects: circumstellar material and mass-loss episodes 
  • What telescopes are used for studying stellar evolution with a multispectral approach? 
  • The theory of the Universe  
  • How is interferometry used to observe the circumstellar environment? 
  • The approaches to building a cool stellar photosphere model 
  • Mars in comparison to Earth  
  • How to improve the accuracy of the Infrared Space Observatory? 

Spaceport base night with rocket.

  • The theory of infrared spectroscopy and cool standard stars 
  • The Milky Way and the expanding universe  
  • How are stellar candles helpful in determining the extragalactic distance scale? 
  • The evolution of intermediate-mass single stars 
  • International Space Station  
  • How to understand the physical processes of the low-mass single starts evolution? 
  • Infrared spectroscopy to study the final stellar evolution 
  • Solar system: geology, climate, and composition  
  • The impact of studying post-AGB stars on stellar evolution theory 
  • The diversity of the post-AGB stars’ nucleosynthetic yields 
  • India space mission  
  • Interferometry and the study of the post-AGB stars 
  • Solar system: the weather on other planets  
  • The connection between the matter and the interstellar medium 
  • Why is the interstellar medium important for understanding galaxy evolution? 
  • Space Exploration: UAE and INDIA Space Cooperation  
  • Supernova explosion: heavy metals and the interstellar medium 
  • How to investigate the chemical components of the diffuse interstellar clouds? 
  • The interaction between the ambient medium and stellar winds 
  • How are stellar wind properties measured? 
  • The approaches to learning the physics of exoplanets 
  • How are the chemical models of exoplanets built? 
  • The development of terrestrial planets’ atmosphere 
  • Hot Jupiter: the effect of circulation winds 
  • Exoplanets: surface and atmosphere connection 
  • Temperature and its effect on the habitability of exoplanets 
  • How are carbon-rich planets found? 
  • The evolution of binary stars vs. single stars 
  • What do binary stars interact with each other? 
  • How does the change in tidal forces affect the pulsations? 
  • What are the aspects of the seismic analysis of the binary stars? 
  • Asteroseismology: the analysis of the stars’ pulsation 
  • How are stellar pulsation modes identified in asteroseismology? 
  • The efficiency of iron in blocking the photons: the case of the Sun 
  • How does echography help understand the age of the young star? 
  • Why does the core of old stars spin faster than their surface? 
  • Gravitational-wave astronomy: the approaches to discover gravitational radiation 
  • The sensitivity of pulsar timing: studying supermassive black holes 
  • Radio observing as a way of finding new pulsars 
  • Is there a way to find out the cause of the accelerating expansion of the universe? 
  • How are planets formed in the accretion disks? 
  • The nature of the collimated outflows as the part of accretion disks 
  • Periodic pulses: looking for pulsars in binary systems 
  • Supermassive black holes: collecting data on gravitational waves  
  • Why does the precise distance to a neutron star matter? 
  • Analyzing the dusty components of the galaxies to understand their evolution 
  • How do telescopes help to study protoplanetary disks? 
  • What software is used to study the formation of planetary systems? 

🌿 Plants & Animals: Biological Research

Studying living organisms makes it to the top of the most interesting science research topics! No complicated physics, no political debates, just the peaceful science of life. If that is what you were looking for, then this list of biology research topics is for you!

Biology may not be the most popular choice for those writing a paper, but it doesn’t make it less exciting. Just think about the life-changing ideas of Charles Darwin! No need to worry, there are quite enough issues to be solved in animal biology since it is such a wide area.

Look through the whole list of 164 plants and animals research topics to find the best one for you.

🐈 164 Biology Research Topics

  • What are the benefits of using whole-genome sequencing? 
  • Whole-genome sequencing for identifying chemotherapy resistance 
  • How are molecular and organismal biology related to each other? 
  • Pathobiology: the importance of studying the mammalian skull 
  • The influence of the circadian rhythm of metabolism 
  • The animal kingdom in Antarctica: adapting to subzero temperatures 
  • Understanding the migration of cells in tumors to treat cancer 

Aristotle quote.

  • Moral grounds of the cloning  
  • What affects the survival rates of tumor cells? 
  • The ways to detect and fight chemoresistant tumor cell 
  • How are cytoskeleton microtubules and brain formation connected? 
  • Studying the cell’s response to infectious agents to understand the diseases  
  • Human development and the regeneration of heart tissues 
  • The approaches to study induced pluripotent stem cells 
  • How does the circadian cycle affect the human body temperature? 
  • Microorganisms in soil and their influence on the plant 
  • Why are some animals so smart?  
  • Geotropism: what is the purpose behind responding to the change of gravity direction? 
  • The relationship between the Earth’s magnetic field and animals 
  • Bonobos and common shimps: compare and contrast  
  • How do migratory birds navigate in the desert? 
  • The connection between the hens’ diet and the size of eggs 
  • How do nutrients circulate through the aquatic ecosystems? 
  • Bacterial pathogenesis  
  • The difference between the energy flow in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems 
  • India’s solar installations  
  • Understanding interactions between species for ecological sustainability 
  • Entomology: the introduction to the mechanism of transmitting diseases 
  • What are the host plant’s defense mechanisms against herbivores? 
  • The most effective approaches to save the endangered insects species 
  • The classification of the disease-transmitting insects 
  • The Chernobyl disaster: causes and effects  
  • Epidemiological modeling: how does knowing the origins of the disease help fighting it? 
  • Population biology: genomic approaches to understand the spread of pathogens  
  • Gas price increasing and alternative energy sources  
  • The science of growing the animal cell in the lab 
  • How can we predict the evolutionary changes in species with the help of evolutionary biology? 
  • The evolution of genomes and its effect on the organismal function 
  • What are the newest technologies used in evolutionary biology? 
  • Genomics: using transcriptome analysis to detect drug-resistant genes 
  • Whole-genome sequencing and natural variation 
  • Infectious diseases: cellular determinants and host response 
  • How do microbes change the immune system after infecting it? 
  • Neuroscience : olfaction and processes on a molecular level 
  • Neurobiology: the newest ways to study the human brain 
  • What is the connection between antibiotics and bacterial enzymes? 
  • The branches of biology that study DNA reparation 
  • Breast cancer after surgeries: the ways to stop metastatic relapse 
  • What are the effects of immune cell variations on malaria ? 
  • Immunology: can an autoimmune disease be a root cause of glaucoma ? 
  • Pancreatic cancer : what are the reasons for the drug resistance? 
  • Ketone bodies and their effect on stem cells regeneration in the intestine 
  • Studying planarians to investigate regeneration laws 
  • Can DNA repair enzymes also tie to RNA? 
  • Gene expression regulation and the flow of genetic information 
  • How do RNAs influence the development of the diseases? 
  • The ways to predict the effect of microRNAs on gene expression 
  • The most recent developments in transplantation research 
  • The approaches to fighting the biofouling problem 
  • What are the root causes of algae blooms? 
  • Bioluminescence: how can luciferase be helpful in medical diagnostics? 
  • What causes a decrease in monarch butterfly migration? 
  • Camouflage: how can squid deception skills help develop new materials? 
  • Using 3-D printing to improve the health of coral reef population 
  • Third mass bleaching: the potential of crossbreeding 
  • Will the process of de-extinction be possible in the near future? 
  • What could be the negative effects of the de-extinction? 
  • How to protect the Great Dismal Swamp from climate change? 
  • The physics behind the V-formation of birds flying 
  • What is the humans’ contribution to the spread of invasive species? 
  • The ways to slow down the current sixth mass extinction 
  • How do plants and animals look after their microbiome? 
  • Diet vs. environment: what influences microbiome more? 
  • Evolution: the secret of butterflies from different locations evolving the same pattern 
  • Wallflowers and mutagenesis studying: the next-gen cancer treatment 
  • The influence of oil spills on the food crops 
  • The best natural pesticides for organic farming  
  • The negative effects of organic farming on the environment 
  • How does conservation help save tropical rainforests? 
  • How do red tides algae affect fish and mammals? 
  • The most recent approaches to the wetland restoration 
  • White polar bear : why is the low energy level dangerous for them? 
  • Human biology: how does the effect of afterimage work? 
  • How could food coloring change the taste of the product? 
  • The secrets of human taste buds: why some people can’t taste sour? 
  • The memory of the human immune system fighting common illnesses 
  • The correlation between the age and the lung capacity 
  • Human eye: the evolution of the peripheral vision 
  • Lateralisation of brain function in dogs: tail-wagging 
  • What is the purpose of homosexuality in the animal kingdom? 
  • How does diet affect sex hormones flow in women? 
  • The microbial factories as the pharmaceutical solution 
  • Can the cloning technology that was tested on the sheep be used on humans? 
  • How and why is the human gestation period different from other mammals? 
  • What amount of ultraviolet is deadly for different bacteria? 
  • The connection between the level of dilution of disinfectant and bacterial resistance 
  • The concentration of the preservative in food and microbial growth 
  • Red tides: how does overgrazing become even more harmful? 
  • How fast are bacteria spreading in the thawing meat? 
  • The role of heavy metal resistance in the adaptation of the plants to different environments 
  • Plant growth: nitrogen-fixing bacteria vs. nitrogen fertilizers 
  • The best plants for preventing soil erosion  
  • Using duckweed to test the level of water contamination  
  • The deadly fungi : preventive measures of trees extinction 
  • Can human urine be used as a cheaper alternative for fertilizers? 
  • What affects the number of seeds in different fruits? 
  • What is happening to the honey bees  
  • Hydroponics as the most sustainable farming of the future 
  • How do forests self-regulate the population density ? 
  • What is the relation between gravitropism and hydrotropism? 
  • How much can we control our genetics, at what point do we cease to be human?  
  • The impact of studying phototropism on solar energy research 
  • Planaria and its regeneration skills: magnetic field effect 
  • Is cloning “playing God”?  
  • How does caffeine affect plants and animals? 
  • Wild animals of the United States of America  
  • Aquaculture : the most recent trends in aquafarming 

Human evolution from monkey.

  • How does fish egg predation affect the fish population? 
  • The importance of the number of trace metals in marine invertebrates 
  • Marine biology : the importance of CO2 levels and glacial cycles 
  • The connection between GABA receptors and central nervous system 
  • The pathogenic mechanisms of Dengue viruses 
  • Using microwave for components extraction from medical plants 
  • Rhizobacteria as a way to promote the growth of the plants 
  • The most effective methods to prevent pathology in plants 
  • Modern technologies and controlling plant diseases 
  • How does climate change influence the evolution of animals? 
  • Human vs. non-human part in the extinction of species : compare and contrast 
  • The root causes and preventive measures of obesity in pets 
  • The significance of male pregnancy in the animal kingdom 
  • Why shouldn’t we feed cats and hedgehogs with milk? 
  • Similarities and differences between cats and dogs  
  • Marine biology: the negative effects of whale hunting 
  • The reason why wild animals should also be protected 
  • The brain wiring or vocal anatomy: why primates don’t talk? 
  • Are homosexuality psychological phenomena or genetic? 
  • The cloning of a DNA fragment, and a Southern blot  
  • Human body: is there any hormone that we don’t need? 
  • How can adaptogens influence the human endocrine system? 
  • The effects of long-term use of synthetic hormones on the female endocrine system 
  • Stressful and dangerous situation: why cortisol level stays high longer than adrenaline 
  • Compare and contrast the main functions of cortisol and adrenaline 
  • Bipolar disorder : biological point of view 
  • What is the role of oxytocin in treating psychopathic disorders? 
  • Bacteria: the influence of your gut health on anxiety and depression 
  • The genetics behind the development of schizophrenia  
  • Is there a connection between rain forests and fast food? 
  • Biological point of view on the importance of ecotourism  
  • Does climate change slow down the appearance of new species? 
  • The connection between aneuploidy and female fertility 
  • What is the relationship between sickle cell anemia and red cell antigens? 
  • How to prevent the depletion of groundwater resources? 
  • The development of natural selection theory 
  • The causes of feline leukemia virus in wild cats 
  • How do newborn mice regrow heart muscle tissue? 
  • The development of implantable robots for regrowing tissue 
  • Feeding inhibition in tadpoles: the nature of a mechanism 
  • How do macrophages guide branching neurons? 
  • The development of a stem cell and the influence of water level on it 
  • The process of creating an embryo from stem cells  
  • How does sequencing help study the development of the cells? 
  • Right and left hemispheres: are they connected before the birth? 
  • The connection between gut health and asthma in babies 

🔬 Research in Chemistry

You may not realize it, but everything happening around is chemistry. Even such simple actions as breathing and eating are chemical reactions! How cool is that? Chemistry makes it to the top fun science research topics.

Just 13.00 10.40/page , and you can get an custom-written academic paper according to your instructions

The thing is that everything is made of chemicals. Yes, even your body and your food! So claiming that you “don’t want to eat those chemicals in the food” would be fundamentally wrong. However, trying to avoid harmful additives is a healthy practice.

Everything happening around is chemistry.

Are you excited already? Then you might want to look through the list of chemistry research topics we prepared for you. The level of difficulty varies, so there are plenty of chemistry research paper topics for graduates as well as high school students.

⚛️ 72 Chemistry Research Topics

  • The connection between catalytic resonance theory and heterogeneous catalysts 
  • How are heterogeneous catalysts used in chemical manufacturing? 
  • Nanoparticles: what type of heterogeneous catalysts is used the most? 
  • Surface science: where noble metal aerogels are used? 
  • Fire in terms of chemistry and thermodynamics  
  • What affects electro catalytic phenomena in noble metal aerogels? 
  • How is the efficiency of electro catalytic reactions measured? 
  • Surface science: the phenomena of catalysis 
  • How can analyzing a platinum nanoparticle help understand the phenomena of catalysis? 
  • The most popular modern separation techniques 
  • The effects of chlorine exposure in the human body  
  • Analytical approach: how to understand which separation process you need? 
  • What might be the separation techniques of the future? 
  • Analytical chemistry: polymer dynamics and its characterization 
  • The connection between polymer dynamics and dynamic microstructure studies 
  • How is crystal growth studied in supramolecular solids? 
  • Designing models of chemical reactions of molecules at equilibrium positions 
  • Chemical biology: the synthesis of anti-cancer compounds 
  • What are the most recent methods of synthesizing natural products? 
  • Chemical biology: the methods of synthesizing small proteins 
  • How efficient is copying metalloprotein active sites? 
  • What are the significant differences between inorganic and synthetic organic chemistry? 
  • An overview of the newest approaches to conduction organelle analysis 
  • Studying enzymes : redox features and their applications 
  • What are the future bioactive nanomaterials, and do we have enough knowledge to create them? 
  • Neurochemistry: discoveries in brains via in situ hybridization 
  • How is fluorescence spectroscopy used to analyze membrane-bound proteins? 
  • The newest therapeutic agents found via in vitro selection 
  • What are the most effective techniques of proteomic analysis? 
  • Researching the proteins’ structure with the help of nuclear magnetic resonance 
  • How is DNA damaged, and how is it repaired? 
  • What is super-resolution microscopy mainly used for? 
  • The unsolved issues with electronic structure theory 
  • The ways to improve the accuracy of the Monte Carlo methods 
  • What are bio molecular modeling and simulations used for? 
  • How does temperature affect the chemical reactivity of matter? 
  • Electric solid propellants: a thermochemistry point of view 
  • The latest trends in the area of aquatic photochemistry 
  • Renewable feed stocks as the future of green chemistry  
  • Physical chemistry: where is scanning probe microscopy used? 
  • Where can biological machinery be applied? 
  • Chemical equation: how experiences do you need to be to conduct an experiment? 
  • Chemistry in agriculture: how are innovations helping to avoid pesticides? 
  • Solar energy and chemistry: how are nanoparticles synthesized and used? 
  • Energy and catalysis: organometallic compounds of mixed metals 
  • The process of creation of complexes similar to biological enzymes 
  • How is the molecular dynamics of carbon capture modeled? 
  • The process of the binding of polymer drugs 
  • The usage of the soft materials that were nanostructured  
  • How do biological systems influence polymers and toxicity? 
  • What are the main transport properties of polymer membranes? 
  • Polymer membranes: studying structure with the help of scattering 
  • Organic chemistry and natural products: is total synthesis better than partial? 
  • The latest trends in synthetic methods: an overview 
  • Studying the metabolic pathways of biosynthesis 
  • Solid-state chemistry: the approaches to analyze organic reactions 
  • Physical chemistry: the ions in the gas phase 
  • What are the main computer programs used in theoretical organic chemistry? 
  • Organic photochemistry and the ways it can be useful in everyday life 
  • What is the role of chemistry in the study of molecular electronics? 
  • The main differences between homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis 
  • Green chemistry: how can CO2 be recycled into fuel? 
  • The art of molecular design in chemical synthesis 
  • How is the reactivity of natural nanoparticles studied? 
  • What is the reaction between acid and base during the neutralization reaction? 
  • What are the main approaches to study molecular polarity? 
  • The examples of chemical kinetics in real life 
  • How does substance abuse interfere with natural chemical processes in the human body? 
  • The importance of amino acids side chain 
  • What can change the outcome of the planned chemical reaction? 
  • Polypeptide field: the importance of amid bonds 
  • The unsolved secrets of the hydrophobic effect 

🌎 Ecological Research: Environment & Climate Change

It is a special scientific research topic list. This one is for the lovers of our planet and for those who see their purpose in improving the environment. The carefully selected environmental science research topics can help you do that.

The ecological and environmental science research unites all the studies about the interconnection between living organisms and their environment. You might find many ecology research topics, as well as multiple climate change research topics.

The term ecology.

However, since a lot of processes in the ecosystems can be quite slow, you should choose the field considering the time limits you have. But don’t worry, there are plenty of interesting environmental research paper topics for any kind of research you want to conduct!

☁️ 71 Environmental Science Research Topics

  • How to differentiate arid from semi-arid land? 
  • What are the approaches for converting arid lands into fertile lands? 
  • Is the climate adaptation approach better than fighting climate change? 
  • Renewable energy usage: advantages and disadvantages  
  • How does the growing demand of consumption amongst humans affect the environment? 
  • Climate adaptation: the methods that can be applied by megacities 
  • Environmental pollution: effects on health  
  • Forest management from the environmental sustainability perspective 
  • Shark finning: causes, impact, and solutions  
  • The species that conservation biology managed to save 
  • Managing energy demand in Abu Dhabi: toward sustainable city  
  • Why don’t conservation biology methods work sometimes? 
  • Recycling materials & waste disposal  
  • The application of AI in evaluating the conservation programs outcomes 
  • Causes and effects of water pollution  
  • The biggest struggles in the watershed management area 
  • The environmental impact of bottled water  
  • Eco hydrology and water management : a case study of Mojave Desert 
  • Global climate change: causes and effects  
  • The influence of the environmental changes in a small area on the plant’s ecosystem 
  • The methods of predicting global environmental changes  
  • Environmental studies of global warming: cause and mitigation  
  • How does the human population affect the Canadian ecosystem? 
  • The most recent developments in the area of environmental sustainability  
  • The gifts of the ecosystem services: a case study of West Africa 
  • Global environment communities  
  • Fire ecology: should the wildlife fires be stopped or prevented? 
  • What are the main benefits of wildlife fire for the environment? 
  • Fisheries ecology: how is fish health managed? 
  • Protection of the environment in the U.S. and the state of Hawaii  
  • The best fisheries management ideas for tracking the age of fish 
  • Geospatial science: what software is used for geospatial mapping? 
  • The Amazon rainforest as an integral component of the environment  
  • Geographic information systems and its benefits for geospatial science 
  • What are molecular ecology methods used to study fungal diversity? 
  • Mining as a cause of environmental disaster  
  • Molecular ecology: a case study of multiple mating in ant colonies 
  • Floods: stages, types, effects, and prevention  
  • Global change management from the perspective of Environmental Science 
  • Where do the invasive alien species come from? 
  • Plastics recycling and recovery  
  • Climate change and invasive species: a case study of mussels in Antarctica 
  • Marine pollution in Australia  
  • What are the most effective methods to control invasive species? 
  • Oil drilling in the Arctic National Refuge  
  • The future of the discovery of natural products  
  • Soil ecology: what soil organisms affect plants directly? 
  • Tree planting and climate change  
  • Plant ecology: how do fungi help forests recover from fires? 
  • Alternative energy sources  
  • Population ecology: what is the purpose of insects which die after reproducing?
  • Population ecology: how does the environment affect the type of species distribution? 
  • What are the main approaches in rangeland restoration? 
  • Why is the rangeland restoration so important for the future? 
  • Remote sensing: the usage of data collected via infrared sensors 
  • Geographic information system and remote sensing : compare and contrast 
  • Can restoration ecology help save endangered species of animals? 
  • Restoration ecology: the irreversible cases in the US 
  • Where do natural resource management and social studies interconnect? 
  • Natural resource management: is there a sustainable way to use fossils? 
  • Wildlife ecology: why should the wildlife population be managed? 
  • Wildlife ecology: the species that cause the most damage to humans 
  • Why is the latest Great Barrier Reef bleaching worse than the previous ones? 
  • The effects of stream pollution from mining on the aquatic life 
  • Some species of insects can become extinct : is it a bad thing? 
  • The threat to a local ecosystem that non native bees are carrying 
  • Bacteria and fungi as the main future helpers in agriculture 
  • Conventional vs. hydroponic farming  
  • How does climate change affect the size of the fish? 
  • The progressive spread of the drylands caused by climate change 

⛰️ Research in Geology

Contrary to popular belief, geology can be fun! You might ask yourself how fun an earth science can be… But this area actually includes much more than just studying the rocks.

Geologists are responsible for answering science research questions about mineral sources, earthquakes, volcanos, and even energy and climate change. They basically take care of society’s biggest natural problems.

Facts About The Earth.

In the area of geology, you can usually find quite easy scientific research topics. However, keep in mind that you might have to go out to the field and get muddy while doing most of your research.

We prepared an excellent list of geology research topics that can be useful for students with a major in geology who are working on their thesis.

🔷 45 Geology Research Topics

  • How can analyzing seismic waves help understand the nature of earthquakes? 
  • The main differences in studies in geology and astrogeology 
  • What are the biggest challenges of applying geology principles to astrogeology? 
  • How can the compression of wet sand be helpful in the construction field? 
  • Glaciers melting and geological misconceptions  
  • Environmental geology: the main methods of identifying the location of volcanic hazards 
  • How did people adapt to living in geologically hazardous locations? 
  • Formation and weathering of rocks  
  • Weathering and erosion geology: when rocks turn into dust  
  • What is the relationship between natural hazards and marine geology? 
  • Marine geology: the importance of investigating the seafloor spreading 
  • Coastal geology: hydraulic action and the influence of the types of rock on it 
  • Landscape and the changes that it goes through  
  • The dynamics of the Earth’s surface: the landscape-changing power of glaciers  
  • Woodbury unique geological features  
  • What forces below the surface make the Earth’s crust tilted? 
  • The most stable building designs to survive earthquakes in Japan  
  • Earthquakes: history and studies  
  • The main methods to prevent the soil liquefaction 
  • Avalanches, their nature and safety precautions  
  • Saturated soil: what influences the transfer of force? 
  • What role does the soil type play in conserving cast fossils? 
  • Pros and cons of fluorite as a gemstone  
  • The specifics of the conditions under which fossils are created 
  • The correlation between the geological features and the location of coal reserves 
  • The methods of mapping Earth’s magnetic fields patterns 
  • How does water flow affect the environment? 
  • What is the role of soil in the Earth’s nitrogen biogeochemical cycle? 
  • How does the pH level of water react to alkaline soil? 
  • The latest technologies in measuring the speed of seismic waves 
  • The process of radioisotope dating to find out the age of rocks 
  • The development of the seismograph 
  • The stages of the process of the geodes creation? 
  • What geophysical conditions affect the growth of geodes? 
  • The most effective methods of predicting landslides 
  • What purposes is lichenometry dating used for? 
  • The role of structural geology in gold mines development 
  • Darcy’s Law and its relationship with the underwater flows 
  • The forces that influence sedimentation: electromagnetism 
  • Hematite matter and mineral  
  • The soil structure and type vs. earthquakes: a comparative analysis 
  • What are the main tools used in sedimentology nowadays? 
  • Mountains: what forces can cause a change in the shape? 
  • The methods of sustainable coal mining: geological perception 

🤓 Physics Research

Once again – a scientific subject that studies how our world works. However, just like other branches, it has its own specifics. Even though physics usually seems complicated, we gathered only simple science research topics for you!

Physics research might require a profound knowledge of the four fundamental concepts of physics. However, the good news is that this is the area where it is easy to find many qualitative and quantitative research topics about science.

Richard Dawkins quote.

Also, research is mostly based on conducting experiments, but most physics research topics in our list concern theoretical issues. Any of the ideas here can be used for your paper, so hurry up and look through all of them!

🌈 73 Physics Research Topics

  • The unexpected uses of a magnifying glass in everyday life 
  • Why do different colors absorb radiant energy differently? 
  • How is balloon buoyancy used to launch satellites? 
  • How does the spinning affect the trajectory of the baseball ball? 
  • Frequency response : the usage of the 3dB bandwidth 
  • How is the frequency response of the speakers measured? 
  • The physics behind the retro-reflective strips 
  • The most effective material used for the retro-reflective strips 
  • Fluorescent yellow clothing vs. retro-reflective strips: what is safer to wear in the night? 
  • Magnetic levitation train: advantages and disadvantages 
  • The comparative analysis of the safety of the Japanese magnetic levitation train 
  • Why can’t the gauss rifle be used as a real firearm? 
  • Technologies inspired by the water strider that use surface tension 
  • What is the connection between the vacuum and sound intensity? 
  • Friction physics: the secret behind the inseparable interleaved books 
  • The important role of centripetal force that keeps tornado going 
  • The physics of the balance: how to find a balance point? 
  • Will it be possible to use a radiometer to produce electricity in the future? 
  • Radiometer: the power of light intensity that affects the speed 
  • Animals that use the acceleration of gravity for their benefit 
  • Falling object acceleration: the correlation between distance and time 
  • What is the role of gravity in the speed of the rolling object? 
  • How important is the hang time of the ball in soccer? 
  • The physics that help forensic science analyze blood patterns 
  • Acoustic absorption: what types of foam are the most effective? 
  • The acoustic foam and different sound frequency 
  • Magnetic induction and the future of wireless charging  
  • The physics behind the yo-yo sleep time: string length matters 
  • How does the temperature influence a magnet? 
  • Projectile motion and basketball: dunk explained 
  • Granular materials and why they flow like liquids 
  • Why does the conversion between potential energy and kinetic energy work both ways? 
  • Augmented reality glasses and refractive index 
  • Tumbling: where is it used for separating granular materials? 
  • How did we come up with hula-hoop, and how does it work? 
  • The conditions that affect the rebound height 
  • Why is it not possible to predict radioactive decay? 
  • The light effect that helps understand the atomic composition of stars 
  • Ice skating : how does temperature affect the friction? 
  • Variations in the motor: how to boost the rocket’s performance? 
  • What is the interaction between magnetic and ferromagnetic materials? 
  • What type of stealth technology is more effective? 
  • Stealth technology: the shape that interferes the radar signals 
  • Finding the optimal number of magnetic breaks for a magnetic levitation train 
  • How can the phenomenon of supercooling be used for storing transplant organs? 
  • James Webb Space Telescope: the important role of solar shields 
  • How does temperature affect the level of the background radiation? 
  • Plasma physics: can controlled fusion be a source of electricity? 
  • Quantum theory and atomic clocks: the secret of precision 
  • The current trends of engineering physics: photovoltaics  
  • Econophysics: where economic problems are solved by physics 
  • Where can the nanoscale materials be applied? 
  • The properties of condensed-matter: a qualitative analysis 
  • Isaac Newton: scientific contributions  
  • Optical sensors: the benefits of the superconducting quantum devices 
  • Thermoelectric: the future of sustainable sources of energy 
  • Teleportation: physics of the impossible  
  • What are the best materials for photovoltaics? 
  • Biophysics: what tools are used to study macromolecules? 
  • The Paradoxical effects of time travel  
  • How is the study of microfluidics applied in agriculture? 
  • The newest fluid control techniques in micro fluid devices 
  • The application of the properties of the particles of light 
  • What do we lack to build a space elevator? 
  • How effective is laser cleaning from the perspective of archeology? 
  • Astrophysics: the biggest issues with moving quasars 
  • Can remote sensing be used to warn people with asthmatic problems? 
  • Where can electron beam welding be applied? 
  • How can physics help develop methods to close the ozone hole ? 
  • Solar cells: silicon for the increased efficiency 
  • What parts of the universe are not on the electromagnetic spectrum? 
  • What are the causes of the heat death of the universe? 
  • The connection between elusive particles and antiparticles 

🔝 Top 20 Big Science Research Questions

  • What are other possible ways of using our Sun as the source of energy ? It is definitely not an easy one, but among all science research ideas, it is the most promising. For instance, a nuclear fusion machine might be able to produce enough energy for everybody!
  • Can we get rid of all the carbon dioxide? Since we were releasing it by burning fuels, we need to think about how to hide it back as well. And we have to solve this issue before climate change causes catastrophic damage.
  • Is there a possibility of the other universes’ existence? Of course, our universe is unique, but it seems like scientists are getting more and more excited about the idea of a “ multiverse .”
  • Why are there uneven parts of matter and antimatter? A mind-blowing question which should not belong to the list of simple science research topics, just as we shouldn’t belong here! But why are we still here when there is antimatter?
  • What role does dreaming play? It might be a great question to create your own theory for a biology or psychology project. Most people had wondered why they were dreaming. What if dreams are essential for normal brain development?
  • How can the nature of consciousness be explained? No one even knows what consciousness is in the first place… But we do know that computers have not become conscious… yet.
  • How do we prove that we are humans? Only 1% of the genome is what makes us different from a chimpanzee. So what qualities make us rule this world?
  • Are there other life forms in the universe? Some qualitative research topics about science may be leading to the answer. Now scientists have the tools to find habitable planets.
  • What caused the creation of life? Some chemicals in the primordial soup made love and created the first life on our planet. But how did it happen?
  • What is the composition of the universe? So, lets’ see… We only know 5% percent of what everything is made of. Dark energy was only discovered 22 years ago!
  • Will people be able to time travel ? Astronauts are real time-travelers since the time on the International Space Station is slower. We’ll see if we can actually travel thousands of years in the future one day.
  • How can we manage the growing population needs ? The population of people is growing each year, and our demands are growing too. However, it might not be as easy as we think. Countries might have to join their forces to battle this issue!
  • Can we stop aging ? We grow old and die, but the Vedas, Indian religious texts, say that we don’t have to. The state of perfect health may be maintained indefinitely. However, science has little to comment on it.
  • Where is the lowest point of the black hole? Unfortunately, scientists don’t even have the proper tools to check it. Therefore, the answer is only different theories on paper.
  • What is on the ocean floor? The bottom of the ocean is as unknown as outer space. 95% about it is unveiled. For now, we can only send drones to the deepest parts, but it’s not nearly enough to understand everything…
  • When will robots be available as servants? Robots can already do many tasks, like serving drinks and even milking cows. The only question is when they will be functional enough to be personal assistants?
  • Will it be possible to cure cancer ? One day it may be possible but not in the foreseeable future for sure… Is it easier to change our lifestyles and prevent cancer than treat it later?
  • How fast can computers become? We have been witnessing the continuous development of computers. But how much faster can they become in the future?
  • What are the ways to kill bacteria? Drug-resistant bacteria are a big threat, and the common antibiotic is not enough. Scientists are working on discovering new antibiotics.
  • How to solve the mystery of the prime numbers? Prime numbers are widely used for encryption , thanks to their weirdness. But don’t rush to solve this mystery, we don’t know if the internet will remain safe after that!

Learn more on this topic:

  • 280 Good Nursing Research Topics & Questions
  • 226 Research Topics on Criminal Justice & Criminology
  • 204 Research Topics on Technology & Computer Science
  • 178 Best Research Titles about Cookery & Food
  • 497 Interesting History Topics to Research
  • 180 Best Education Research Topics & Ideas
  • 110+ Micro- & Macroeconomics Research Topics
  • 417 Business Research Topics for ABM Students
  • 190+ Research Topics on Psychology & Communication
  • 512 Research Topics on HumSS
  • 281 Best Health & Medical Research Topics
  • A List of Research Topics for Students. Unique and Interesting
  • Good Research Topics, Titles and Ideas for Your Paper
  • Databases for Research & Education: Gale
  • Research Topics: Cornell Engineering
  • Research Topics: School of Natural Resources & Environment, University of Arizona
  • Research Areas: Stanford Chemistry
  • Areas of research: Department of Chemistry, University of Minnesota
  • Areas of Research: Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame
  • Areas of Research: MIT Biology
  • CCAPS Research Areas: Cornell
  • Research Topics: Institute of Astronomy, KU LEUVEN
  • List of Science Fair Project Ideas: Science Buddies
  • Short Chemistry Topics: Science
  • Choosing a research topic: Murdoch University
  • Choosing a Topic: Purdue OWL
  • How do I choose a research topic? UW Madison Libraries
  • Space Science and Astrobiology Division: NASA
  • Center fos Space Research: The University of Texas at Austin
  • Biology Research Areas: Duke
  • Research Areas: Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University
  • Research areas: Department of Biology, University of Waterloo
  • 2019’s Most Important Chemistry Research Topics: ASC Axial
  • Description of Research Areas: Department of Chemistry, University of Washington
  • Research Areas: Yale Department of Chemistry
  • Ecology: Nature
  • Ecology Research News: ScienceDaily
  • Environmental Research: Elsevier
  • Articles on Geology: The Conversation
  • Geology: Academia
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Impact of aging-related consumption trend on carbon emission efficiency in China: mediation effect model based on industrial structure adjustment

  • Research Article
  • Open access
  • Published: 19 October 2023
  • volume  30 ,  pages 114001–114016 ( 2023 )

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  • Zhangchi Wang 1 &

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With the deepening of China’s aging process, changes in the age structure of the population affect the industrial structure and consumption structure in different ways and have a knock-on effect on the whole economic system. Therefore, aging is one of the objective factors affecting future carbon emissions in China. This study analyzes the impact mechanism of aging-related consumption trend on carbon emission efficiency (CEE) based on panel data of 30 Chinese provinces from 2000 to 2019. The results show that the aging-related consumption trend is conducive to the improvement of regional CEE, and the mediation transmission mechanism of industrial structure adjustment is obvious, with a coefficient of 0.1496. The core industry closely linked to the demand for aging-related consumption is consumer services. The promotion of the consumption demand of the aging in the eastern region on the CEE and the transmission stimulation of the industrial structure adjustment are the most obvious. The mediation effect in the central and western regions is relatively weak, and the aging-related consumption demand has not formed a positive interaction with the aging industry. Therefore, improving the market construction of products and services for the aging is beneficial to achieve a virtuous cycle of aging-related consumption upgrading and carbon emission efficiency. This research can provide insights for China to promote industrial structure transformation within the aging trend and also help China meet its carbon neutrality target on schedule.

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Global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions is considered to be an unconventional security threat, and it has become a consensus that sustainable development must be based on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (Böhringer et al. 2012 ; Liu et al. 2015 ). In China, carbon dioxide emission accounts for about 83% of greenhouse gases, and reducing CO 2 emission is the key to controlling the quality of the atmospheric environment. The intensity of carbon emission is closely related to the characteristics of industrial structure, among which the tertiary industry has the lowest carbon emission intensity (Cheng et al. 2018 ; Wang et al. 2021 ). So the adjustment and upgrading of industrial structure and the optimization of factor resource allocation are necessary ways to balance China’s economic development and carbon emission reduction targets (Li and Wang 2019 ; Zhang et al. 2018a , b , 2023a ). The current population age structure in China is facing profound changes and has a chain reaction in the economic system. The aging of the population is causing the “demographic dividend” of economic growth to fade, but meanwhile, the shift in consumption patterns brought by the growth of the elderly population is an opportunity to drive the evolution of an advanced industrial structure. The rise in the proportion of elderly population will drive the growth of service-oriented consumption (Mao and Xu 2014 ), thus forcing the upgrading of industrial structure. It will determine the process of China’s carbon emission control in the mid- and long-term (Guo et al. 2023 ). Therefore, it is essential to consider the dynamic impact of aging trend when formulating low-carbon industrial policies.

Population aging is an important objective factor affecting industrial structure adjustment. On the one hand, population aging reduces the number of the working-age population and labor productivity and restricts the adjustment of industrial structure (Chen and Wang 2023 ; Feyrer 2007 ). On the other hand, the aging population effectively forces China to upgrade its industrial structure through the accumulation of human capital and the expansion of demand (Guo et al. 2023 ; Shen et al. 2022 ; Liu and Peng 2016 ). Compared to the supply-side factors, the demand-side factors are the endogenous driving force of the aging population to affect the industrial structure. The irreversible physiological and psychological changes caused by human senescence determine the rigidity of the demand for aging products and services (Vrhovec and Tajnikar 2016 ).

China’s aging population trend has coexisted with rapid economic growth for a long time (Cai 2021 ). The level of consumption corresponding to population aging in each stage of economic development varies (Sungja et al. 2021 ). The habitual characteristics and the differences in the living space and social changes experienced by elderly in different birth cohorts lead to differences in the consumption patterns of older populations in each age group (Mao and Xu 2014 ). At current stage, China’s oldest seniors belong to the pre-1945 birth cohort. They have experienced the war turmoil and national reconstruction, and the lack of material life in their middle and young adulthood, thus forming habits of hardship and frugality (Seoseonyoung et al. 2021 ). Those born in the 1945–1955 cohort are middle-aged seniors, growing up in a period of tortuous advancement and economic broader reform in China, whose middle and old age have benefited from the dividends of reform and opening up. Their consumption habits are similar to those of the previous period, with basic physiological demands as the guide for consumption (Wang et al. 2022a , b ). The elderly born after 1955 belong to the younger seniors, who participated in the wave of reform and opening up during their youth, and experienced the rapid development of Internet technology during their middle age (Wang and Yu 2020 ). They have accumulated rich assets in their old age and have a modern consumption concept with the sense of pursuing personalized consumption (Sungja et al. 2021 ).

With the deepening of the aging process, the change of generations makes the consumption demand of the elderly tend to diversify (Kuhn and Prettner 2018 ). In order to meet the decline of physiological functions in the elderly, the demand for service products increases (Yang et al. 2021 ). Simultaneously, economic development drives up the spiritual consumption demand (Erlandsen and Nymoen 2008 ), transforming the social consumption structure. It will directly promote the development of silver-haired industries, such as technology-intensive industries and consumer services (Liu and Peng 2016 ), and will have a long-term impact on China’s low-carbon economy development. In this context, it is necessary to analyze whether the transformation of consumption demand caused by population aging can force the industrial restructuring and ultimately affect China’s carbon emission efficiency. That is of great importance to achieve the “peak carbon” and “carbon neutral” goals as scheduled.

This study will adopt industrial structure adjustment as the mediation variable to analyze the mechanism of aging-related consumption trend on carbon emission efficiency. The aims and main contribution of this research are to (1) quantify aging-related consumption trend and analyze the mechanism of its impact on regional carbon emission efficiency; (2) verify the mediation effect of industrial structure adjustment and further consider two specific types of aging-related industries to explain the endogenous driving force of aging-related consumption trend on industrial structure adjustment; and (3) investigate the regional heterogeneity of aging-related consumption trend and mediation effects to identify the carbon emission reduction potential in specific regions. The results of this study can provide scientific guidance for China to formulate low-carbon industrial development policies in the context of population aging.

Literature review

Besides the primary energy structure (Fan et al. 2023 ), economic scale (Sheldon 2019 ), foreign trade (Li and Wei 2021 ), and industrial structure (Sun et al. 2020 ), the age structure of the population is also an important factor influencing carbon emission intensity (Dalton et al. 2008 ; Menz and Welsch 2012 ; Wang and Wang 2021 ). This section will clarify how the aging-related consumption demand trend affects carbon emission by changing the industrial structure in the context of population aging based on existing literature.

The transformation of consumption demand structure in the context of aging

Compared with developed countries, China has entered an aging population in an old before getting rich cases. Due to the deep-rooted frugal lifestyle habits of the current generation of elderly, it was widely believed that the aging trend of the population has depressed social consumption expenditure in China (Seoseonyoung et al. 2021 ; Wang and Yu 2020 ). But as the quality of China’s economic development continues to improve, this phenomenon has changed (Kuhn and Prettner 2018 ). The precautionary saving that comes with increased life expectancy may partially hinder the spending power of the elderly (Hu 2015 ; Wang and Ai 2015 ). However, as the elderly reach a significantly higher level of education and income, they will have a greater propensity and ability to consume at an older age (Qi and Liu 2020 ).

The consumption of the elderly is significantly different from that of other age groups. Aging-related consumption demands tend to be health-oriented and hedonistic due to the decline of physical functions and the pursuit of spiritual satisfaction (Tian et al. 2015 ). The rise in the number of older adults will significantly drive up healthcare consumption expenditure (Yang et al. 2021 ; Zhang et al. 2017 ; Zhang et al. 2018a , b ), and the consumption behavior of the elderly focus on the comfort and convenience of life (Wang and Li 2021 ), promoting the expansion of the corresponding industries and services in society (Mao and Xu 2014 ; Qi and Liu 2020 ). In addition, changes in the lifestyle of the elderly will also affect consumption. With the elderly spending more time at home, residential consumption rises, leading to increased household energy consumption (Yagita and Iwafune 2021 ; Zhu and Lin 2022 ) and more carbon emissions (Yu et al. 2023a , b ; Zheng et al. 2022 ), which is also positively correlated with the age of homebound older adults (O’Neill and Chen 2002 ).

To summarize, the rise in the proportion of the elderly in the total population will obviously stimulate the growth of the development of enjoyment-oriented consumption and, to a certain extent, drive the household energy consumption.

Aging-related consumption trend and industrial structure adjustment

Domestic demand is an endogenous driver of the industrial economic growth. Aging-related consumption demand requires society to provide more aging products and supporting services (Lee and Mason 2010 ; Lu et al. 2018 ). Due to the physiological characteristics of the elderly, they have a high preference for medical services (Yang et al. 2021 ). The aging leads to an increase in the demand for health care, which brings a shift in the labor force from other labor production sectors to the health care sector (Hashimoto and Tabata 2010 ). Beyond the basic health needs, because of the richness of life experience and the growth of demand hierarchy brought by age, aging will also drive the development of household services, senior education, senior tourism, and other consumer services (Wang et al. 2022a , b ; Yenilmez and Meltem 2015 ). And with the deepening of population aging, the aging industry can receive more government industrial policy support (Lee and Mason 2010 ). It is beneficial to the transition from the secondary to the tertiary sector, thus helping to upgrade the industrial structure.

Aging-related consumption trend is one aspect of the impact of aging on the industrial structure, and its impact on the supply side is reflected in that it changes the labor allocation. Population aging reduces the proportion of younger workers, decreases labor productivity in society (Dostie 2011 ; Hernæs et al. 2023 ), and will increase the financial burden (Hock and Weil 2012 ). The aging affects the allocation of labor resources and thus has a negative impact on labor-intensive industries, but it also has the effect of forcing human capital accumulation and promoting the development of technology-intensive industries (Annabi et al. 2009 ; Kim and Song Lee 2023 ).

Nonetheless, compared to labor supply, population aging still has a more direct impact on industrial adjustment on the demand side, which is reflected in the rise of the proportion of the elderly changing the social consumption structure (Erlandsen and Nymoen 2008 ), leading to a shift in the direction of industrial development (Wakabayashi and Hewings 2007 ; Chu et al. 2017a , b ). Based on this, we propose research hypothesis 1: Aging-related consumption trend will drive the growth of consumer services, thus contributing to the industrial structure upgrading.

The impact of industrial structure upgrading on carbon emission

The growth of the service sectors driven by aging-related consumption trend is consistent with the direction of industrial structural upgrading. Advanced industrial structure manifests in the proportion of the tertiary sector in the national economy will continue to rise with the increase in the level of economic development. Although the economic activities of all three industries depend on energy consumption (Chunmei et al. 2011 ), the secondary industry has the highest energy intensity and pollution emissions (Panayotou 1997 ). The carbon emission intensity of the tertiary industry is significantly lower than that of the secondary industry (Wu et al. 2021 ; Zhang et al. 2019 ). Among the tertiary sectors, the energy consumption of consumer services is lower than that of the transportation sector (Fourcroy et al. 2012 ). Therefore, expanding the scale of tertiary services in the economic structure and upgrading the industrial structure is a crucial way to reduce the total carbon emissions and improve energy use efficiency (Tian et al. 2014 ).

So we propose research hypothesis 2: Aging-related consumption trends can contribute to the improvement of carbon emission efficiency by driving industrial structure upgrading.

Existing research mainly considered the impact of population aging on production or consumption, or directly explored the influence of aging or industrial structure on carbon emissions. But these studies fail to establish an effective linkage of the mechanism path of “aging-related consumption trend–—industrial structure adjustment—carbon emission efficiency.” There is a lack of quantification of aging-related consumption trends. And there is also a gap in analyzing whether aging-related consumption trend changes carbon emission efficiency by driving adjustment of specific industrial structure. The impact of population aging on industrial structure adjustment is an important intermediate mechanism affecting carbon emission intensity. By driving the transformation of consumption structure, population aging can promote the development of silver-haired industries, which are mainly tertiary sectors. Thus, the increase of aging-related consumption demand theoretically helps to promote the upgrading of industrial structure and then improves the carbon emission efficiency in the process of economic development. This study will conduct an empirical test on this mechanism.


Super-sbm-dea model based on undesired output.

This study uses the super-slacks-based model data envelopment analysis (Super-SBM-DEA) the SBM model based on undesirable output to measure the carbon emission efficiency of 30 provinces in China (except Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and Tibet) from 2000 to 2019. The SBM model introduces slack and residual variables into the linear programming equation model, compensating for the neglect of the input–output slack problem in traditional data envelopment analysis (DEA) models (Tran et al. 2019 ). The efficiency values obtained from the SBM model are in the range of [0, 1], but in most situations, there may be multiple efficient decision-making units (DMUs) with efficiency values equal to 1. Therefore, this study uses the Super-SBM-DEA model to estimate carbon emission efficiency, which can have an efficiency evaluation value of 1 or more, and thus can effectively rank the DMUs with efficiency values higher than 1.

Assuming that there are n decision units in the carbon efficiency assessment ( j  = 1,2,⋯, n ), each with m input indicators x i ( i  = 1,2,⋯, m ), q 1 desirable outputs y r ( r  = 1,2,⋯, q1 ), and q 2 undesirable outputs b t  = ( t  = 1,2,⋯, q 2 ). The model is as follows:

In Eq. ( 2 ), ρ is the carbon efficiency of the DMU. \({S}_{i}^{-}\) . \({S}_{r}^{+}\) . \({S}_{t}^{b-}\) are slack variables for the input indicator, desirable output, and undesirable output, respectively; λ is the weight. A DMU’s efficiency value for the year is efficient if the efficiency value ρ  ≥ 1.

In an undesirable output-based SBM model, each decision unit includes several input variables and output variables. In this study, the input variables are labor force, fixed capital, and energy consumption. The desirable output is the gross regional product, and the undesirable output is the CO 2 emission. The description of input and output variables is shown in Table 1 .

CO 2 emission from energy consumption (except heat and electricity) is estimated using the methodology recommended by the IPCC:

In Eq. ( 3 ), CO 2 j is the CO 2 emission of the j energy; E j is the consumption of the j energy (including raw coal, coke, gasoline, diesel oil, kerosene, fuel oil, and natural gas); G j is the net calorific value of the j energy; A j is the CO 2 emission coefficient; and B j is the carbon oxidation factor. Footnote 1

Electricity and heat are different from their traditional fossil counterparts. The annual carbon emission factors for electricity and heat depend on the type and proportion of energy consumed in the energy conversion process. In this paper, the carbon emission factors for electricity and heat are calculated using the following equation:

Among them, \({COE}_{h}^{t}\) and \({COE}_{e}^{t}\) are the carbon emission coefficients of heat and electricity in year t respectively; \({CH}_{i}^{t}\) and \({CE}_{i}^{t}\) are the carbon emissions generated by the i energy consumed of heat and electricity production in year t respectively; \({\mathrm{Heat}}^{t}\) and \({Ele}^{t}\) are the total consumption of heat and electricity in year t in China.

Mediation effects model

This paper uses a mediation effects model to quantify the impact of the rising demand for aging-related consumption on carbon emission efficiency. First, the Tobit model is adopted as a benchmark model to analyze the impact of population aging and consumption structure on carbon emissions efficiency. The Tobit model is a limited dependent variable regression model that describes the association between a non-negative dependent variable and the independent variables when data are censored or truncated. Since the relative efficiency scores obtained from the Super-SBM-DEA model are a series of discrete variables that are censored from the left-hand side of 0 (Li and Zeng 2020 ). The Tobit model can effectively avoid the biased parameter estimation of the ordinary least squares method due to the truncation of the efficiency score and can mitigate the interference of heteroskedasticity (Li and Zeng 2020 ). So in this study, the Tobit model is chosen to analyze the factors influencing carbon emission efficiency, and the form is as follows:

where CEE is carbon emission efficiency; age represents the dependency ratio of the elderly population: and cons is the consumption structure. Since population aging promotes the upgrading of consumption structure related to the demand of the elderly, there is a synergistic effect between aging and consumption structure when considering its effect on carbon emission efficiency, so this study constructs an interaction term of age*cons and uses it to reflect the aging-related consumption trend. X represents a series of control variables, including regional economic development level ( pgdp ), foreign direct investment ( fdi ), technological innovation ( tech ), energy structure ( es ), urbanization level ( urz ), and human capital ( hc ).

Logically, the aging-related consumption trend should affect the carbon emission efficiency through the transmission mechanism of adjusting the industrial structure. In order to identify whether this transmission mechanism exists, this study constructs the following mediation effect model:

where M it is the mediation variable, including the industrial structure adjustment ( ind ), the proportion of high-tech industries ( ahti ), and the per capita output value of the health and resident services industry of the elderly population ( hrs ). When the estimated results of λ 3 and η are significant, the mediation effect is valid. If at least one of λ 3 and η is not significant, the existence of the mediation effect needs to be determined by Sobel’s test.

Variable description

Explained variables, carbon emission efficiency (cee).

The calculation results of the Super-SBM-DEA model based on undesirable output are shown in Fig.  1 . The provinces with the highest CEE are Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong, corresponding to the three most economically developed regions in China. For the regional heterogeneity, the CEE of provinces in the eastern region is significantly higher than those in the central and western regions. The CEE of the western region is generally lower than the national average. It confirms the existence of a certain positive correlation between carbon emission efficiency and the level of regional economic development. Hebei, Shanxi, and Henan are heavy industrial regions with a high proportion of secondary industries, and their economic development is overly dependent on local natural resource exploitation and energy consumption, resulting in the CEE remaining at a low level.

figure 1

Box line plot of carbon emissions efficiency for 30 Chinese provinces, 2000–2019

Core explanatory variables

Population aging ( age ).

The elderly dependency ratio is chosen to measure the degree of aging in a region, expressed as the share of the population aged 65 and over in the working age (15–64) population (Lu et al. 2018 ).

Consumption structure ( cons )

This paper aims to measure the structure of aging-related consumption. The rise in the elderly will help to promote the development of enjoyment-based consumption to increase (Mao and Xu 2014 ; Qi and Liu 2020 ). In addition, as the elderly spend more time at home, household energy consumption will also rise (Yagita and Iwafune 2021 ). Therefore, this paper selects four types of consumption, namely health care expenditure, cultural, educational and recreational consumption, household equipment supplies and services consumption, and housing consumption, as consumption expenditure is closely related to the elderly population, and calculates their proportion of the overall expenditure to characterize the consumption structure.

Aging-related consumption trend ( age*cons )

This study characterizes the aging-related consumption trend by constructing an interaction term between population aging ( age ) and consumption structure ( cons ). As shown in Fig.  2 , the correlation analysis of the 30 provinces shows that the elderly dependency ratio is significant positively correlated with the consumption structure. It means that there is a synergistic effects between population aging and consumption structure, so a rise in the value of age*cons represents an upgrading of aging-related consumption demand, indicating a deepening of aging-related consumption trend.

figure 2

Correlation analysis between population aging and consumption structure

Mediation variables

Industrial structure adjustment ( ind ).

The supply-side transmission mechanism of the aging-related consumption trend is mainly reflected in the expansion of the tertiary services sector (Yu et al. 2023a , b ). This study uses the industrial structure upgrading index, i.e., the ratio of the tertiary sector to the secondary sector, to indicate the industrial structure adjustment.

The proportion of high-tech industries ( ahti )

The rise in the proportion of technology-intensive industries is the main feature of the upgrading of the low-carbon structure within the secondary industry (Zhang et al. 2023a , b ). Thus, the ratio of the main operating revenue of pharmaceutical and medical equipment manufacturing to the overall manufacturing output value is used to measure the proportion of aging-related high-tech industries according to the physiological demand characteristics of the elderly.

Per capita silver-haired services output for the elderly ( hrs )

Two major service industries closely related to the aging demands, the health and residential service sectors (Sungja et al. 2021 ), are chosen to measure the silver-haired services. Due to data limitation, we use the product of the number of urban employees in these sectors and the output value per person employed in the tertiary sector to approximate the annual output value of the silver-haired services.

Control variables

Gross regional product per capita (pgdp).

The actual GDP of each region is divided by the total population. Per capita GDP reflects the level of economic development of a region, which is closely related to carbon emission efficiency (Zheng et al. 2020a , b ).

Foreign direct investment (fdi)

The total import and export of goods by foreign-invested enterprises is selected as a proxy variable for FDI. According to the “pollution halo” (Tian et al. 2023 ) and “pollution paradise” (Jiang et al. 2022 ) hypotheses, there are two-sided effects of FDI on local environmental quality.

Technological innovation (tech)

Measured by the number of annual patent applications granted locally. Technological innovation is a direct and effective way to reduce carbon emissions per unit of output (Jin et al. 2022 ).

Energy structure (cs)

The proportion of coal consumption is used to measure the energy structure.

Urbanization rate (urz)

This is measured using the proportion of urban population in the total population. An increasing level of urbanization is closely linked to the transformation of the local industrial structure (Yao et al. 2023 ).

Human capital (hc)

This is measured by the years of education per capita in a region. Human capital is necessary to drive technological progress (Wu and Liu 2021 ), and its role in the restructuring of local industries and the improvement of carbon intensity cannot be ignored (Yu et al. 2023a , b ).

The raw data for all variables are obtained from China Statistical Yearbook, China Regional Economic Statistics Yearbook, China Energy Statistical Yearbook, China Labor Statistics Yearbook, and the statistical yearbooks of each province published in previous years. The descriptive analysis of the main variables is shown in Table 2 .

Results and discussion

Benchmark results.

As shown in Table 3 , the coefficient of age is significantly negative, indicating that the process of population aging reduces carbon emission efficiency, which is closely related to the characteristics of the scale of labor-intensive industries in China. However, the coefficient of the interaction term age*cons are significantly positive, and the value in the Tobit model (model (2) in Table 3 ) is 7.4123, indicating that the upgrading of the aging-related consumption demand is a key factor in improving the efficiency of carbon emission. The net effect of cons on carbon efficiency is negative. It is related to that the consumption structure measured in this paper includes consumption of household equipment and daily necessities and housing energy consumption. When considering the impact of consumption structure on carbon efficiency, the scale of residents’ consumption of industrial manufacturing products and household energy is larger than that of products in the tertiary sector.

Aging leads to a rise in the average age of the labor force, which is an important factor affecting the physical state and skill level of workers (Feyrer 2007 ). The older labor force will cause a decrease in unit labor productivity. In addition, aging leads to an increase in the difficulty and cost of learning new knowledge for workers (Börsch-Supan and Weiss 2016 ), making it difficult for them to adapt to the development requirements of high-technology sectors. The average quality of the workforce decreases, which is not conducive to productivity.

But on the demand side, aging-related consumption trend is directly related to the increase of the income level and consumption ability of the elderly (Addessi 2018 ). With the upgrading of the consumption structure, the market demand for aging products and services expands, which leads to the adjustment of industries (Hock and Weil 2012 ). The industrial sectors closely related to the demand of the elderly are mainly tertiary industries, whose energy consumption per unit of product production is lower compared to other industries, thus contributing to the improvement of carbon emission efficiency.

According to model (2) in Table 3 , the coefficients of pgdp , fdi , tech , and hc are significantly positive, implying that each of these control variables has a positive effect on the regional carbon emission efficiency improvement.

Regional economic development is conducive to the improvement of carbon emission efficiency. This is due to China’s transition from a “crude” economic growth model to an “intensive” sustainable development model (Gu et al. 2021 ; Yang et al. 2022 ), which has enabled the development of developed regions to gradually break away from their dependence on energy inputs (Zheng et al. 2020a , b ). As incomes rise, residents have the will and ability to consume products from the service sector, thus promoting the development of the tertiary sector.

The purpose of technological innovation activities by enterprises is to reduce marginal production costs, which are exogenously motivated by government policies on environmental regulation (Song et al. 2019 ). Thus enterprises’ R&D investments in science and technology are focused on improving cleaner production efficiency (Chen et al. 2022 ), bringing a reduction in the intensity of energy consumption in industrial economic activities.

Human capital accumulation can significantly promote a low-carbon economy. The reason is that highly educated workers have comprehensive and integrated skills (Sánchez-Romero et al. 2016 ), thus facilitating the development of technology and knowledge-intensive industries (Wu and Liu 2021 ).

This study also supports the “pollution halo” hypothesis, suggesting that foreign investment has a technology spillover effect (Tian et al. 2023 ). By opening up the market, foreign investment can bring advanced green production technologies to local enterprises (Wang and Luo 2020 ), thus leading to cleaner production efficiency in the local industry.

Mediation effects of industrial structure adjustment

The benchmark results verify that aging affects carbon efficiency on both the supply and demand sides. We further incorporate aging-induced industrial structure upgrading as a mediation variable in the analysis. As shown in Table 4 , the coefficient of age is significantly negative (model (2) in Table 4 ), while the coefficient of age*cons is significantly positive, indicating that the upgrading of the consumption demand due to population aging is an important way for it to promote the advanced adjustment of industrial structure. After controlling for the demand-side effects, the supply-side factors such as the rise in the average age of the workforce and the decline in labor productivity will hinder the upgrading of the industrial structure (Chen and Wang 2023 ; Feyrer 2007 ).

As shown in model (4) in Table 4 , the coefficient of the core explanatory variables did not change significantly after the addition of the mediation variable. The coefficient of the mediation variable ( ind ) is significantly positive, indicating that there is a significant mediation effect. The expansion of the scale of the tertiary sector contributes to the improvement of carbon emission efficiency in production by gradually replacing the excess capacity of the secondary sector. Therefore, the research hypothesis 2 is proved to be correct.

With the addition of the mediation variable, the value of age*cons decreases from 7.4123 to 4.8387, proving that the aging-related consumption trend is contributing to the improvement of the regional carbon emission efficiency level by promoting the advanced industrial structure. In the context of an aging population, the growing demand for aging-related consumption will lead to a rapid increase in products and services in the silver-haired sectors due to the transmission mechanism between the supply and demand structure (Shen et al. 2022 ; Wang and Yu 2020 ). Most of the silver-haired industries are oriented towards technological and professional skill inputs and are tertiary industries (Xu and Liu 2023 ). This means that regional economic growth is much less dependent on energy inputs, which is conducive to reducing energy consumption per unit of output and correspondingly improving the regional carbon emission efficiency.

Robustness tests

To test the robustness of the estimation results of the baseline regression, this section chooses to replace the measure of population aging by using the ratio of the population aged 65 years or older to the total population at the end of the year in each province. The results are shown in Table 5 . The estimated results and significance of the main explanatory variables remain largely consistent with those in Tables 3 and 4 , where age still has a significant negative effect on CEE , and the coefficient of age*cons remaining significantly positive. In the model (3), the effect of ind on CEE is still significantly positive, which are consistent with the previous results, indicating that aging-related consumption trend does contribute to the improvement of carbon emission efficiency by promoting the upgrading of industrial structure. Therefore, the robustness test confirms that the results of the baseline regression and mediation effects model are reliable.

Refined analysis of industrial structure adjustment based on specific aging-related industries

Considering the demand characteristics of the elderly, the scope of the silver-haired industry does not include all tertiary sectors, but rather focuses on the consumer services sector (Sungja et al. 2021 ), while also involving some technology-intensive manufacturing. Therefore, it is necessary to refine the discussion of the impact of population aging and the change in consumption structure on the development of these specific industries, and examine whether they have a mediation transmission mechanism of aging-related consumption trend affecting carbon emission efficiency. The results are shown in Table 6 .

First, the proportion of age-related high-tech industries ( ahti ) was used as a mediation variable to analyze the transmission mechanism between the aging-related consumption trend and carbon emission efficiency within the secondary sector. As shown in models (1) and (2) in Table 6 , although ahti is positively correlated with CEE , the effect of age*cons on ahti is insignificant, indicating that the deepening of aging does not significantly promote the development of high-technology industries. For Sobel test, the Z value is 1.3480 and P  = 0.1777, meaning the mediation effect is not significant.

Aging-related consumption trend did not significantly stimulate the growth of the medical-related high-tech industry. This is related to the fact that China’s medical high-tech industry is still dominated by national policies and government investment (Chu et al. 2017a , b ), and the market-oriented construction of related industries is still imperfect (Wang et al. 2015 ). The supply of pharmaceutical and medical products and services for specific elderly groups is relatively scarce, resulting in the inability to form effective feedback on the specific needs of the elderly.

Secondly, in order to verify the specific transmission mechanism of the aging-related consumption trend at the tertiary industry level, the per capita silver-haired services output for the elderly ( hrs ) is used as the mediation variable. The results of the empirical analysis are shown in models (3) and (4) in Table 6 . When hrs is used as the explanatory variable, the coefficient of age*cons is significantly positive, and hrs is significantly positively correlated with CEE , confirming that the mediation effect stands. The growth of the silver-haired service sectors helps to accelerate the low-carbon development of the industry.

The upgrading of the consumption structure due to population aging in the tertiary sector significantly contributes to the expansion of the output value of health and residential services and other services related to the demand of the elderly. With the deepening of China’s aging population, targeted silver-haired services are developing rapidly to meet the growing material and health needs of the elderly (Seoseonyoung et al. 2021 ), while positively influencing the upgrading of the industrial structure. It also reflects the initial effectiveness of the development of China’s silver hair industry (Sungja et al. 2021 ), which can meet the service needs of the elderly to a certain extent.

In model (4) in Table 6 , the coefficient of age*cons is significantly positive, with a decrease in absolute value compared to the baseline model (6.0412 < 7.4123), indicating that the growth of the healthcare sector and residential services, which are most closely linked to the elderly in the context of population aging, is the core transmission mechanism through which aging-related consumption trend contributes to the improvement of regional carbon efficiency. It can be concluded that the positive impact of aging-related consumption trend on industrial structure upgrading is mainly reflected in the growth and expansion of the health care and residential services (Liu and Peng 2016 ). The above results verify that research hypothesis 1 is valid.

Regional heterogeneity in aging-related consumption trend and mediation effects

Due to the imbalance in China’s regional economic development, there are significant disparities among the development levels of the three industries in different regions. There may be heterogeneity in the socio-economic impacts of population aging in regions with different levels of development. Therefore, this paper classifies the research sample into three sub-samples: eastern, central, and western region Footnote 2 for discussion.

As shown in models (1) and (2) in Table 7 , the results of the analysis of the core variables in the eastern region are basically consistent with the full sample. The coefficients of age*cons and ind are significant positive. There is a strong mediation effect of industrial structure adjustment. Models (3) and (4) in Table 7 show that the effects of age*cons on ind , as well as CEE in the central region, are not significant. Whether the mediation mechanism of ind holds needs to be determined using the Sobel test. The Z value of the Sobel test is 0.3883 and P  = 0.6978, which cannot reject the original hypothesis, so the mediation effect is not significant. The aging-related consumption trend in the western region has a positive impact on industrial structure upgrading (see in model (5) in Table 7 ), and the mediation transmission effect is stands (see in model (6) in Table 7 ).

For the eastern region, aging-related consumption trend can help promote the transformation of the local secondary industry to the tertiary industry, achieve the upgrading of the industrial structure, and, thus, significantly improve local carbon emission efficiency. It is closely related to the high standard of living in the eastern region with a well-developed social welfare guarantee system (Zhang 2017 ). Above the basic health needs, the elderly has the ability and conditions to pursue cultural and entertainment consumption on a spiritual level (Wang and Li 2021 ). Due to the solid economic base in the eastern region, the construction of the silver-haired industry is ahead of the country (Sungja et al. 2021 ), which can effectively support the aging-related consumption demand. Therefore, the consumption demand of the elderly can actually be translated into consumption behavior, driving the scale growth of related industries and promoting the low-carbon development of the economy.

There is no mediation effect of aging-related consumption trend and industrial structure adjustment in the central region. The main reason is related to the fact that the current dominant industries in the central region are still dominated by industrial raw material processing and equipment manufacturing (Zheng et al. 2020a , b ). In comparison, the silver-haired industry has not yet formed a certain market scale (Xu and Liu 2023 ). Due to the supply of products and services lagging behind the demand of the elderly, consumption demands of the elderly beyond health needs are hardly fulfilled (Sungja et al. 2021 ). The constraints on both the supply and demand sides make the transformation of aging-related consumption trend in the central region lack a positive interaction with sustainable economic development.

For the western region, although aging-related consumption trend has contributed to the upgrading of the industrial structure, the mediation transmission effect on the improvement of carbon emission efficiency is weak. The possible reason is the time period of this study coincides with that of the implementation of the Western Development Plan, and the results of the upgrading of the local industrial structure are more influenced by these national policies. The western region is rich in natural resources and has an important strategic ecological position (Dai et al. 2022 ); thus, the scale of secondary industry in the western region is less than in the central region (Zheng et al. 2020a , b ). And relying on a series of policy support and geographical advantages and reserves of scientific and educational resources, the aerospace, equipment manufacturing, and high-tech industries in the west have grown rapidly and become an important part of the tertiary industry (Wang et al. 2019 ). As for the elderly itself, the plight of the western and central regions is similar, that is the imbalance between the supply and demand of aging products (Xu and Liu 2023 ), and therefore the lack of diversity in aging consumer demand, which translates into very limited contribution to the development of a low-carbon economy.

In addition, the impact coefficient of ind in the eastern region is significantly higher than that of the central and western regions, reflecting that the advanced level of industry in the developed eastern region is substantially ahead of other less developed regions (Wu and Liu 2021 ). Environmental regulations in China have become increasingly rigorous in recent years, but there are obvious differences among regions (Mi et al. 2018 ). The environmental regulations in economically developed regions are more stringent (Peng 2020 ). The market access threshold for highly polluting and energy-consuming industries has been raised, making it impossible for new highly polluting enterprises to settle in the region (Lian et al. 2016 ). Meanwhile, developed regions are more able to attract high-level advanced talents (Long et al. 2022 ), forming a cluster of high-tech industries and tertiary services. Coupled with strong support for these industries in the eastern region, the secondary and tertiary industrial structure in the east is more inclined to cleanliness and technology (Zhang et al. 2022 ), and the marginal contribution of industrial restructuring is relatively greater.

The impact of ind in the central region on CEE is negative, and the absolute value of ind in the western region is smaller. On the one hand, the central and western regions are rich in energy endowments (Wang et al. 2022a , b ), such as natural gas and coal. Resource curse makes the economic growth of the central and western regions depend on energy input (Yang and Song 2019 ), which limits the development of local high-tech industries. On the other hand, the production technology advantage of the central and western regions is lacking (Chen et al. 2010 ). Due to the characteristics of resource distribution, local governments prefer to introduce resource-intensive industries (Wang and Chen 2020 ), resulting in the advanced upgrading of local industries being hindered, which is not conducive to the low-carbon transformation of economic growth.

Conclusion and implications

Based on panel data from 30 Chinese provinces from 2000 to 2019, this study empirically investigates the impact of aging-related consumption trend on regional carbon emission efficiency and tests the transmission mechanism of industrial structure adjustment in this context. The main findings are as follows:

(1) the impact of aging-related consumption trend is conducive to promoting the carbon emission efficiency. (2) There is a mediation effect mechanism of industrial structure adjustment. The transformation of China’s aging-related consumption demand has significantly contributed to the adjustment of the advanced industrial structure, thus improving carbon emission efficiency. (3) The core industry closely linked to the demand for aging-related consumption is consumer services, which are mainly health and medical care and residential services. (4) The mediation effect of the industrial structure adjustment on the improvement of carbon emission efficiency in the eastern region is obvious, but that in the central and western regions is relatively weak. The aging demand in the central and western regions fails to form a positive interaction with the low-carbon development of the local economy.

Policy implications

The upgrading of consumption structure due to aging-related consumption trend can contribute to low-carbon economic growth by promoting the advanced industrial structure and improving the efficiency of regional carbon emissions. As China’s aging process continues to deepen, the government needs to ensure investment in the aging careers and build a sound system of social welfare guarantee to maintain the financial resources of the retired elderly. Chinese government should learn from the multi-level pension system models of developed countries, improving the legally mandatory public pension scheme to provide fundamental guarantee for the elderly in their twilight years. At the same time, enterprises should be urged to pay occupational pensions for their employees, and preferential policies should be introduced to encourage individuals to participate in personal pension savings plans. By broadening individual sources of income in their twilight years, elderly populations can be assured of a consumption capacity that matches their multiple demands.

On the supply side, it is necessary to continuously promote the construction of markets for the silver-haired industries and increase capital investment in corresponding industries such as healthcare and residential services, elderly service facilities, elderly living goods, elderly real estate, elderly tourism, and elderly education, and these industries are clean tertiary industries. The development of these industries will not only stimulate the consumption desire of the elderly but also enhance the level of industrial structure and contribute to sustainable economic development. However, the supply of aging services solely relying on the state’s financial resources is not sufficient, the development of aging-related industries requires diversified sources of funding, and the involvement of social capital can effectively fill the gap. By enriching the investment corpus, the competitive behavior of the market can be utilized to make the allocation of resources in the aging-related service sectors more reasonable.

More importantly, the aging health and service industries require knowledge in a variety of fields, such as medicine, pharmacy, nursing, and psychology. There is a need to accelerate the training of talents and promote the specialization of practitioners in aging-related industries. Government departments can cultivate a group of high-level integrated talents for aging health services by cooperating with universities in discipline construction. They can also fully mobilize the enthusiasm and creativity of professional and technical personnel through a sound talent evaluation and incentive mechanism. For irregularities in the aging market, the relevant departments still need to strengthen the legalization of aging-related industries and regulate the market order, such as improving the social insurance law and establishing a universal long-term care insurance system, using laws and regulations to provide support for the benign development of the silver-haired industries.

In addition, the eastern region is developing ahead of the central and western regions, so it is urgent to learn from the eastern experience to promote the industrial upgrading driving effect of the aging-related consumption trend in the central and western regions. Population aging is an irreversible trend; the central and western regions should focus on fostering the vitality of the silver-haired market while developing locally advantageous industries. Local governments should target the development of aging services and focus on the training of professionals, tax breaks, and subsidies for home purchase and residence are needed to enhance the willingness of professional talents to reside locally, following the example of the eastern region to accumulate capital for the development of the technical services through the retention of talents.

Limitations and prospects

While this study provides valuable insights, it is important to acknowledge its limitations and propose future research directions. Firstly, this study fails to discuss the effect of different levels of aging because of data missing. Significant differences in cognition and habits between older and younger seniors can lead to specific consumption tendencies, which have uncertain effects on industrial structure adjustment. Further quantification of elderly population number in different age groups is needed to clarify their impact on industrial low-carbon development. Secondly, due to data limitations, some specific service industries closely related to aging demands, such as the long-term care industry, were not considered in this study. But from a long-term perspective, the health care industry is a crucial growth point for the future development of the silver-haired services. Therefore, expanding the dataset to identify synergies between the growth of the elderly population and the development of the long-term care industry and its contribution to low-carbon economy is an important direction for future research.

Net energy heating value G j data from Appendix 4 of the China Energy Statistics Yearbook, carbon emission factor A j from IPCC, carbon oxidation factor B j from the National Climate Change Coordination Group Working Group III.

Eastern Region: Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Liaoning, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Shandong, Guangdong, Hainan. Central region: Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Anhui, Jiangxi, Henan, Hubei, Hunan. Western region: Guangxi, Chongqing, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Shaanxi, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia, Xinjiang.

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This research was funded by the National Key R&D Plan NQI “Research on Key Technologies for Sustainable Management and Improvement of Industrial Enterprises”, 2018YFF0215802.

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Yu, R., Wang, Z. & Li, Y. Impact of aging-related consumption trend on carbon emission efficiency in China: mediation effect model based on industrial structure adjustment. Environ Sci Pollut Res 30 , 114001–114016 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-023-30400-3

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DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-023-30400-3

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Explained: Generative AI

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A quick scan of the headlines makes it seem like generative artificial intelligence is everywhere these days. In fact, some of those headlines may actually have been written by generative AI, like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a chatbot that has demonstrated an uncanny ability to produce text that seems to have been written by a human.

But what do people really mean when they say “generative AI?”

Before the generative AI boom of the past few years, when people talked about AI, typically they were talking about machine-learning models that can learn to make a prediction based on data. For instance, such models are trained, using millions of examples, to predict whether a certain X-ray shows signs of a tumor or if a particular borrower is likely to default on a loan.

Generative AI can be thought of as a machine-learning model that is trained to create new data, rather than making a prediction about a specific dataset. A generative AI system is one that learns to generate more objects that look like the data it was trained on.

“When it comes to the actual machinery underlying generative AI and other types of AI, the distinctions can be a little bit blurry. Oftentimes, the same algorithms can be used for both,” says Phillip Isola, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, and a member of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

And despite the hype that came with the release of ChatGPT and its counterparts, the technology itself isn’t brand new. These powerful machine-learning models draw on research and computational advances that go back more than 50 years.

An increase in complexity

An early example of generative AI is a much simpler model known as a Markov chain. The technique is named for Andrey Markov, a Russian mathematician who in 1906 introduced this statistical method to model the behavior of random processes. In machine learning, Markov models have long been used for next-word prediction tasks, like the autocomplete function in an email program.

In text prediction, a Markov model generates the next word in a sentence by looking at the previous word or a few previous words. But because these simple models can only look back that far, they aren’t good at generating plausible text, says Tommi Jaakkola, the Thomas Siebel Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, who is also a member of CSAIL and the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS).

“We were generating things way before the last decade, but the major distinction here is in terms of the complexity of objects we can generate and the scale at which we can train these models,” he explains.

Just a few years ago, researchers tended to focus on finding a machine-learning algorithm that makes the best use of a specific dataset. But that focus has shifted a bit, and many researchers are now using larger datasets, perhaps with hundreds of millions or even billions of data points, to train models that can achieve impressive results.

The base models underlying ChatGPT and similar systems work in much the same way as a Markov model. But one big difference is that ChatGPT is far larger and more complex, with billions of parameters. And it has been trained on an enormous amount of data — in this case, much of the publicly available text on the internet.

In this huge corpus of text, words and sentences appear in sequences with certain dependencies. This recurrence helps the model understand how to cut text into statistical chunks that have some predictability. It learns the patterns of these blocks of text and uses this knowledge to propose what might come next.

More powerful architectures

While bigger datasets are one catalyst that led to the generative AI boom, a variety of major research advances also led to more complex deep-learning architectures.

In 2014, a machine-learning architecture known as a generative adversarial network (GAN) was proposed by researchers at the University of Montreal. GANs use two models that work in tandem: One learns to generate a target output (like an image) and the other learns to discriminate true data from the generator’s output. The generator tries to fool the discriminator, and in the process learns to make more realistic outputs. The image generator StyleGAN is based on these types of models.  

Diffusion models were introduced a year later by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. By iteratively refining their output, these models learn to generate new data samples that resemble samples in a training dataset, and have been used to create realistic-looking images. A diffusion model is at the heart of the text-to-image generation system Stable Diffusion.

In 2017, researchers at Google introduced the transformer architecture, which has been used to develop large language models, like those that power ChatGPT. In natural language processing, a transformer encodes each word in a corpus of text as a token and then generates an attention map, which captures each token’s relationships with all other tokens. This attention map helps the transformer understand context when it generates new text.

These are only a few of many approaches that can be used for generative AI.

A range of applications

What all of these approaches have in common is that they convert inputs into a set of tokens, which are numerical representations of chunks of data. As long as your data can be converted into this standard, token format, then in theory, you could apply these methods to generate new data that look similar.

“Your mileage might vary, depending on how noisy your data are and how difficult the signal is to extract, but it is really getting closer to the way a general-purpose CPU can take in any kind of data and start processing it in a unified way,” Isola says.

This opens up a huge array of applications for generative AI.

For instance, Isola’s group is using generative AI to create synthetic image data that could be used to train another intelligent system, such as by teaching a computer vision model how to recognize objects.

Jaakkola’s group is using generative AI to design novel protein structures or valid crystal structures that specify new materials. The same way a generative model learns the dependencies of language, if it’s shown crystal structures instead, it can learn the relationships that make structures stable and realizable, he explains.

But while generative models can achieve incredible results, they aren’t the best choice for all types of data. For tasks that involve making predictions on structured data, like the tabular data in a spreadsheet, generative AI models tend to be outperformed by traditional machine-learning methods, says Devavrat Shah, the Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a member of IDSS and of the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems.

“The highest value they have, in my mind, is to become this terrific interface to machines that are human friendly. Previously, humans had to talk to machines in the language of machines to make things happen. Now, this interface has figured out how to talk to both humans and machines,” says Shah.

Raising red flags

Generative AI chatbots are now being used in call centers to field questions from human customers, but this application underscores one potential red flag of implementing these models — worker displacement.

In addition, generative AI can inherit and proliferate biases that exist in training data, or amplify hate speech and false statements. The models have the capacity to plagiarize, and can generate content that looks like it was produced by a specific human creator, raising potential copyright issues.

On the other side, Shah proposes that generative AI could empower artists, who could use generative tools to help them make creative content they might not otherwise have the means to produce.

In the future, he sees generative AI changing the economics in many disciplines.

One promising future direction Isola sees for generative AI is its use for fabrication. Instead of having a model make an image of a chair, perhaps it could generate a plan for a chair that could be produced.

He also sees future uses for generative AI systems in developing more generally intelligent AI agents.

“There are differences in how these models work and how we think the human brain works, but I think there are also similarities. We have the ability to think and dream in our heads, to come up with interesting ideas or plans, and I think generative AI is one of the tools that will empower agents to do that, as well,” Isola says.

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