Guidelines – Reviews

Reviews are articles that distill the most significant current scientific literature on a given topic into a concise report in order to summarize current knowledge of the topic, including gaps in knowledge and future directions. The review should provide a detailed description of previous work, current guidelines or knowledge, the most recent research findings, and implications for practice, policy, and additional research. Reviews can be systematic/meta-analyses, or narrative reviews. Systematic reviews follow a standard, rigorous methodology for data collection and analyses. A detailed explanation of the specific methods used should be described in the manuscript. Narrative reviews do not utilize a standardized methodology but whatever method is used should be clearly explained as well as a clear argument for the review’s significance, critical descriptions of the literature presented, a summary of the current state of knowledge, conclusions, and implications.


Order of Sections

  1. Title Page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methods (required for systematic reviews, but not narrative reviews)
  5. Results (required for systematic reviews, but not narrative reviews)
  6. Discussion or Body of Article
  7. Conclusions
  8. References
  9. Illustrations (Figure/Tables)


Manuscript Limits

  1. Total Length: 3000-4000 words (not including abstract, illustrations, and references)
  2. Abstract Length: 250-300 words
  3. Table/Figure Limits: up to 8 tables/figures
  4. References: up to 100 references


Title Page

The title page should carry the following information:

    • Article Title (concise information about the study, limited to 100 characters)
    • Author Names (Mark D. Smith B.S.1*, Jeremy Michael Howes M.S.2, Jessica P. Masters M.D. Ph. D.1,2)
    • Institutional Affiliations of all authors in order of appearance in author names (1 College of Human Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA. 2 Dept. of Internal Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA)
    • Contact information for corresponding author(s) including address, email, phone, and fax. The corresponding author should indicate clearly whether his or her e-mail address can be published. Corresponding author(s) is indicated with asterisk by name in author listing; the medical students should be corresponding author.
    • Short Title (50 character limit shorter title for headers)
    • Key Phrases – Relevant words or short phrases that aid search engines or indexes in finding your work (use MeSH headings if possible). Use key phrases that are not present in the title. Maximum of 6, e.g. (Pemphigus, Bullous Skin Disorder, Autoimmune, Blistering, Skin Diseases, Monoclonal Antibody)
    • Disclaimers, if any
    • Word Count: Abstract and Body (excluding abstract, illustrations, and references)
    • Table and Figure Count
    • Source(s) of support in the form of grants, equipment, drugs, or all of these
    • Conflict of Interest Statement



Abstracts are the only substantive portion of the article indexed in many electronic databases, and the only portion many readers read. Authors must be careful that they accurately reflect the content of the article in the abstract. This description should include:

  • Context or background for the study
  • Purpose, basic procedures, main findings, and principal conclusions
  • Emphasis on new and important aspects of the study or observations
  • No references, illustrations, or references to illustrations are allowed in the abstract
  • The abstract should be structured with similar headings as in the main article (e.g. introduction, patient profile, interventions, conclusions)


Provide a context or background for the study including the nature of the problem and its significance to medical learners and scientists. State the specific purpose or research objective tested by the study; the research objective is often more sharply focused when stated as a question. Both the main and secondary objectives should be clear, and any pre-specified subgroup analyses should be described. Provide only directly pertinent references, and do not include data or conclusions from the work being reported.



The Methods section should include only information that was available at the time the plan or protocol for the study was being written; all information obtained during the study belongs in the Results section. This section may not be necessary in a narrative review.



Describe statistical methods with enough detail to enable a knowledgeable reader with access to the original data to verify the reported results. Avoid relying solely on statistical hypothesis testing, such as P values, which fail to convey important information about effect size. Define statistical terms, abbreviations, and most symbols. Specify the computer software used. This section may not be necessary in a narrative review.



Results in a systematic review follow a similar pattern to original research, but may not be necessary in a narrative review. Present your results in logical sequence in the text, tables, and illustrations, giving the main or most important findings first. Do not repeat all the data in the tables or illustrations in the text; emphasize or summarize only the most important observations. Extra or supplementary materials and technical detail can be placed in an appendix. Restrict tables and figures to those needed to explain the argument of the paper and to assess supporting data. This section may not be necessary in a narrative review.


Discussion or Body of Article

Emphasize the new and important aspects of the study and the conclusions that follow from them.

If this is a systematic review, this section may take the form of a regular discussion as described below:

It is useful to begin the discussion by summarizing briefly the main findings, then explore possible mechanisms or explanations for these findings, compare and contrast the results with other relevant studies, state the limitations of the study, and explore the implications of the findings for future research and for clinical practice.

If this is a narrative review, this section may take the form of the main body of the article. In which case, it may be divided into sub-sections marked with bold headers.

In either case, discussion of research methods is a valuable learning tool. All manuscripts should include a brief discussion on the adequacy of the research methods to draw a valid conclusion. Authors should comment on changes that would improve the methods of the study or reasons why the methods are able to draw a strong conclusion.



Reviews may possess a great wealth of information. The pertinent points and interpretation may be distilled down into a concluding section if necessary.



Please see the directions for formatting References.


Illustrations (Figures and Tables)

Should follow the same format as mentioned in the General Guidelines.


Copyright Notice

The Medical Student Research Journal is a scholarly journal by medical students supported by Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

Authors grant unrestricted copyright license to MSRJ while retaining full copyright to their works. This means authors may distribute their work at their discretion, but may not alter the final product as published by MSRJ. Permissions for reproduction of final published article are granted by MSRJ, while pre-publication works are distributable at authors’ discretion.

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This page was last updated on 2/15/2014 KCP.