How to write a better Survey Paper in 06 easy steps?

survey paper


A Researcher begins his research journey by first writing a survey paper in the domain of his research. Writing a survey paper helps a researcher to

i) Understand his domain of research thoroughly

ii) Identify the existing research gaps,

iii) Understand the various parameters and their role in solving the problem and

iv) Infrastructure and Data set requirements for research.

In fact, after completing my survey paper I decided to go for optimal cloud infrastructure for my work. This helped me a lot in cutting the total cost of my research.

A survey paper is also a service to the scientific community. You are doing research for young research scholars. Instead of reading a vast amount of papers to understand what a scientific topic is about,  a researcher just needs to read your paper and can start his research at the earliest with a clear direction in mind.  To make the researcher read your paper, you must have good content and a high citation score. Otherwise, your paper is like purchasing a site in the forest and trying to sell with no one ready to buy.

What is expected in a survey paper?

A survey paper is a research paper which lists and analyses the latest research works in a particular research domain of interest. The survey paper derives some conclusions from the work carried out so far and provides new avenues for future research.

A good survey paper provides a concise but broad review of a domain that is accessible to a wide range of readers who are naive and willing to carry out research in the domain presented. This introduces two primary challenges for writing such a  survey paper.

The first challenge is to pick representative papers from within the research area and summarize them. There can be a vast amount of research papers available and survey paper has limited space to capture the critical work in the field.

The author needs to go through abstracts and conclusions for a relatively large number of papers and select a subset that covers the selected topic area for detailed reading and presentation in the survey. Identifying the papers having higher citations and which are published in conferences and journals of high reputation will have to be given higher priority for selection.

The second challenge is to make the reader comfortable in reading and comprehending the analysis done for the various research papers. The author has to go through each paper considered for the survey at least two-three times before deriving any conclusion.

A survey paper should

  • Pick at least  10-20  papers on a specific topic from the collected paper list.
  • The papers selected should be a mix of papers including the base paper in the selected domain to the most recently published paper.
  • Should have an analysis of the significance of the approach and the results presented in each paper
  • Give a critical assessment of the work that has been done.
  • Include a discussion on future research directions
  • Give precise  details of the experimental setup used for carrying out research in each paper
  • Compare only those works which have a common experimental platform or data set. Otherwise, you have to recreate a common platform or use a common data set and test the methodologies used in various platforms.

A typical structure of a  survey paper includes the following 06 Sections as discussed below:

1. Eye-Catching “Title” for the Survey Paper

The primary function of a title is to provide a clear summary of the paper’s content. So keep the title brief and clear. Use active verbs instead of complex noun-based phrases, and avoid unnecessary details.   Moreover, a good title for a research paper is typically around 10 to 12 words long. A lengthy title may seem unfocused and take the readers’ attention away from an important point.  As I supervise many candidates who hail from non-native English-speaking countries, they struggle a lot with writing error-free Titles. So, I always advise them to take English classes in parallel with their research.

A good research paper title should contain keywords used in the manuscript and should define the nature of the study. Think about terms people would use to search for your study and include them in your title.  Do not use abbreviations in the title.  Knowing the search intent of the people who search for the keyword is critical as it helps you to find the top searched keywords. I learnt this technique by mapping SEO-based keyword research techniques to find quality keywords for my title.

Usually, a Title for a survey paper starts with ” A Survey on …..”,   “Recent trends in ….”, “Advances in…..”. Some survey papers end with “…….: A Survey”. For example ” A Survey on leaf image analysis for bacterial disease detection”; ” Advances in leaf image analysis for bacterial disease detection”; or “Leaf image analysis for bacterial disease detection: A Survey”.

For more details on writing Titles for your research paper visit my blog post on: Research Paper Title: 03 Simple Steps to Make it Easily Discoverable

2. Giving an overview of the Survey paper through the “Abstract” Section

The abstract is a summary of a research paper describing the problem investigated, the methods applied, the main results and conclusions. Abstracts are a good way to summarise the key contents of a paper, from the research it uses to the ideas you want to share with the reader.

The abstract is a single paragraph containing a minimum of 200 words up to 300 words. An abstract offers a preview that highlights key points and helps the audience decide whether to view the entire work.

Example: Extraction of meaningful leaf disease features by applying image processing techniques is a problem that has been studied by the image processing community for decades.  Image processing research for leaf disease identification has matured significantly throughout the years and many advances in image processing techniques continue to be made, allowing new techniques to be applied to new and more demanding pathological problems.

In this paper, we review recent advances in diseased part extraction of leaf images affected by pathogens, focusing primarily on three important Soft computing techniques namely: Neural networks, Fuzzy logic and  Genetic algorithms. Throughout, we present tables that summarize and draw distinctions among key ideas and approaches. Where available, we provide comparative analyses, and we make suggestions for analyses yet to be done.

For more details on how to write an Abstract for your research paper, you can visit my blog                   post on : Research Paper Abstract: 10 Simple Steps to Make a Big Difference

3. Highlighting “Key Terms” of the Survey Paper

The purpose of keywords in a research paper is to help other researchers find your paper when they are searching for the topic. Keywords define the field, subfield, topic, research issue, etc. that are covered by the article.

Most electronic search engines, databases, or journal websites use keywords to decide whether and when to display your paper to interested readers. Keywords make your paper searchable and ensure that you get more citations. Thus, it is important to include the most relevant keywords that will help other authors find your paper.

For Example for the abstract written in the previous section, the keywords can be
Keywords: Plant pathology, bacterial blight, diseased part extraction, Image processing, Soft Computing.

For more details on  identifying most prominent keywords for your research paper, you can visit my blog post on: Top 10 Rules to Identify Keywords for your Research Paper

4. Building a strong “Introduction” section of the Survey paper

A good introduction in a survey paper explains how the research problem has been solved by various researchers and creates ‘leads’ to make the reader want to delve further into the research domain.  Introduce the terminology of the field and describe what the various terms mean.

The introduction does not have a strict word limit, unlike the abstract, but it should be as concise as possible. The introduction works upon the principle of introducing the paper’s topic and setting it into a broad context, gradually narrowing it down to a research problem.

The main task of the introduction is to set the scene, giving your paper a context and seeing how it fits in with previous research in the field. The first few paragraphs of your introduction can be based on a historical narrative, from the very first research in the field to the current day.

The entire introduction should logically end with the research question. The reader, by the end of the introduction, should know exactly what research issue you are trying to survey with your paper.

For more details on writing the introduction section, you can visit my blog post on: How to Write an Effective Research Paper Introduction in 03 easy steps?

5. The “Literature Review” of the Survey Paper

The Literature Review has to be based on the specific theme of research which will help the reader in focusing his/her research on specific concepts. Some possible  themes can be:

1. Complexity of the problem:

There can be various types of solutions for a  given problem domain and the author has to organize them in the increasing level of complexity or scale.

For example in Image Processing scene analysis is one of the core problems. It can start from a simple grayscale image scene consisting of one or two objects of the same shape with a constant background to a complex image scene consisting of objects of various shapes with varying background colours.

2. Static vs. Dynamic:

Many fields can be organized by static techniques, dynamic techniques, and even hybrid. For example Static or Dynamic Routing in Computer Networking.

3. Segregating the Design Space:

 Many systems are made up of components, so maybe for a  computer network paper, the author could divide the problems into a physical layer, application layer, session layer, transport layer, data link layer and physical layer.

4. Major approaches in a specific domain:

 Every domain usually has two to three major classes on which all the issues in that domain are addressed or the advancements in that domain are identified.

  For example,

i) In   Software Testing: Black box or White box testing

ii) In Networking:  Wired or Wireless  Networking and

iii) In Image processing Spatial or Temporal based Image Processing etc.

iv) In Telcom it is 2G, 3G,4G and 5G etc.

5.  History of Development:

Some research domains like  Cloud Computing, Big Data Management, Mobile Technology, Television technology etc. are linear. Such developments can be explained in chronological order.

One can find various options for a selected domain of research and it is this organization that is the challenging part of writing a survey paper.

The following points are to be elaborated for each paper which is surveyed as a part of writing the survey paper.

–  What are you going to tell about the paper under consideration?
–  Research direction of the paper
– Methods, mathematical modeling and approach or algorithms used to solve the problem: eg.  Fuzzy logic, Gaussian process, neural network etc.

– Whether the paper considers theoretical issues of the concept or solves any application using the concept?

– Is the paper considered the continuation of another work? is it an improvement on another work?

– How validation of work is done i)through theoretical proofs?  ii) simulation? iii)hardware test bed? or iv) real-life deployment?

– How is the work compared with other methods? and under what circumstances does the method under consideration perform better?

-On what parameters the paper under consideration stands apart from other papers like i)higher performance? ii) higher robustness? iii) lower computational complexity?

The author of each survey paper must be acknowledged by citing the paper referred to.  In your survey do indicate the author names as well: Graham and Bell [3] have identified the importance of training, Patric [3] developed a simple methodology etc.

There are two reasons for this. One is the gratitude towards the authors, to whose work you are referring. Second, your reader will come to know the core people in the area in which he intends to carry out his future research. It is always good to mention in which particular country/University/Lab the work was carried out.

6. The “Conclusion” section of the Survey Paper

The conclusion must answer the queries presented by your survey goals and objectives. The conclusion must be written in an interesting yet academic manner.  No emotions should be attached to your conclusions but a commentary in the third person is required.  Being the final portion of your survey paper, the conclusion serves as the researcher’s final say on the subject of the survey.

The conclusion must be a synthesis of the survey results with

i) an interpretation of each result

ii) the proposal of a course of action based on the result and

iii) a solution to the issues that emerged from the survey.

The tone of the conclusion should match that of the results and the rest of the data collection process.  The conclusion should be able to wrap up the entire survey from the formulation of survey goals up to the satisfaction of such objectives.

Example : After    roughly  two  decades  of research on  leaf image analysis for pathological issues,  many elements of pathological issues associated with leaf are well understood. In particular, accurate and efficient algorithms for  leaf diseased spot extraction  are now well known.

As a result, during the past few years, we have seen the focus turn from the fundamentals of  disease spot extraction to to more difficult problems  such as,   type of the  leaf disease and the stage of the leaf disease.  Few algorithms in this context are available. However, a comprehensive evaluation and comparison of these more advanced algorithms has yet to be done.

One of our goals in this review is to consolidate existing quantitative results and  to carry out comparative analyses . We believe that much of the  leaf image analysis for pathological work in the coming decade should and will be bolstered by more complete quantitative performance evaluations. The recent article by Wimar [10] is a promising first step.

Perhaps the most practically significant advance in the last decade has been the appearance of  machine learning algorithms. However  current implementation of Machine learning algorithms are still relatively simplistic. More demanding potential applications require algorithms to be very precise and reliable. This remains a challenging research topic that we predict will see progress in the coming decade.

For further details on writing the conclusion section, you can visit my blog post on : Art of Writing Conclusion Section to your Research Paper

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q1. How many references do I need for 2000 words survey paper?

A:  At least 10 quality publications need to be referred for a 2000-word survey paper.

Q2.  Whether survey papers are counted for the Ph.D. submission?

A. No. Survey papers are not counted for Ph.D. thesis submission.

Q3. Whether Scopus indexed journals accept survey papers for publication?

A: Yes. Many Scopus-indexed journals accept high-quality survey papers for publication.

Q4. What is the difference between Survey Paper and  Literature Review Paper?

A: A literature review paper is an attempt to analyse the research work; a survey paper piece essentially summarizes all the research work.

How to Write a Better Survey Paper

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Dr. Vijay Rajpurohit
Author: Dr. Vijay Rajpurohit
Dr. Vijay Rajpurohit is a researcher in Computer Science. He loves to educate researchers and research scholars on Research Paper Writing, Thesis Writing, Research Grants, Patenting Research Work and the latest Research-related issues. You can reach him @ [email protected]