The primary criteria for good scientific writing are accuracy and clarity. If your manuscript is written with style and flair, great. But this is a subsidiary virtue. First, strive for accuracy and clarity.

The first step toward clarity is to write simply and directly. A review tells a straightforward tale of a circumscribed question in want of an answer. It is not a novel with subplots and flashbacks but a short story with a single, linear narrative line. Let this line stand out in bold relief. Clear any underbrush that entangles your prose by obeying Strunk and White’s (1979) famous dictum, “omit needless words,” and by extending it to needless concepts, topics, anecdotes, asides, and footnotes.

If a point seems tangential to your basic argument, remove it. If you can’t bring yourself to do this, put it in a footnote. Then when you revise your manuscript, remove the footnote. In short, don’t make your voice struggle to be heard above the ambient noise of cluttered writing. Let your 90th-percentile verbal aptitude nourish your prose, not glut it. Write simply and directly.

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A corollary of this directive is not to confuse Bulletin reviews with the literature reviews found in doctoral dissertations (even though some Bulletin reviews derive therefrom). Typically, these are novels with subplots and flashbacks, designed to assure dissertation committees that the candidate has covered any and all literature conceivably related to the topic. If a dissertation proposes that love relationships in human adults recapitulate infant attachment styles, the biopsychologist on the committee will want to see a review of imprinting and its mating consequences in zebra finches. Bulletin readers will not. Omit needless literature.

Organization. The second step toward clarity is to organize the manuscript so that it tells a coherent story. A review is more difficult to organize than an empirical report (for which there is a standardized APA format). Unfortunately, the guidance given by the Publication Manual (APA, 1994) is not very helpful: “The components of review articles, unlike the sections of reports of empirical studies, are arranged by relationship rather than by chronology” (p. 5). The vague generality of this guidance reflects that a coherent review emerges only from a coherent conceptual structuring of the topic itself. For most reviews, this requires a guiding theory, a set of competing models, or a point of view about the phenomenon under discussion.

An example of a review organized around competing models is provided by a Bulletin article on the emergence of sex differences in depression during adolescence (Nolen-Hoeksema & Girgus, 1994). The relevant literature consists primarily of studies examining specific variables correlated with depression, a hodgepodge of findings that less creative authors might have been tempted to organize chronologically or alphabetically. These authors, however, organized the studies in terms of whether they supported one of three developmental models:

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(a) The causes of depression are the same for the two sexes, but these causes become more prevalent in girls than in boys in early adolescence;

(b) the causes of depression are different for the two sexes, and the causes of girls’ depression become more prevalent in early adolescence; or

(c) girls are more likely than boys to carry risk factors for depression before early adolescence, but these lead to depression only in the face of challenges that increase in prevalence in early adolescence. With this guiding structure, the findings fell into a recognizable pattern supporting the last model.

An example of a review organized around a point of view is provided by any of several Bulletin articles designed to convince readers to accept–or at least to seriously entertain–a novel or controversial conclusion. In these, tactics of persuasive communication structure the review. First, the commonly accepted conclusion is stated along with the putative reasons for its current acceptance.

Next, the supporting and nonsupporting data for the author’s view are presented in order of descending probative weight, and counterarguments to that view are acknowledged and rebutted at the point where they would be likely to occur spontaneously to neutral or skeptical readers. Finally, the reasons for favoring the author’s conclusion are summarized.

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