The state of the scientific art

Most ideas do not materialize out of thin air. They build on theories, methods and findings found or developed in previous work. It is advisable to carry out a scientific state of the art once you have determined the problem.

produce a scientific state of the art

Here is the famous quote used by Google Scholar:

“We are like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants (the Ancients), so that we can see more and more distant than the latter saw. And this, not because our sight would be powerful or our size advantageous, but because we are carried and heightened by the tall stature of the giants.

XIIth, Bernard of Chartres

Why make a state of the art?

A literature review is a selection and analysis of existing research that is relevant to your topic. It shows how your work relates to previous research.

You demonstrate the ability to understand and critically analyze background research and to select and find information necessary to develop context for your work.

Concretely: Am I the first to have this idea? Which aspect of my discovery is new and which is not? Has anyone else had a similar idea? What are the results and conclusions any other similar ideas? Etc.

Only a bibliographic study allows you to convince people of the contribution of your new idea / discovery / theory / method in the field. For example. solve a previously unsolved problem, fill a gap, generalize an existing theory

How to structure your state of the art

A literature review is not just a summary of everything you have read on the subject. This is also not a description chronological what has been discovered in your field. A common way to approach a literature review is to start broad and then get more specific.

To handle a large number of related works, group similar works according to, for example, commonly used theories, methods, system properties, etc.

This will help to compare and contrast their approaches and facilitate the discussion with literature in view of your new idea. Be careful and specific in dismissing related works when promoting your idea.

A common way to approach a literature review is to start broad and then get more specific.

  1. First, briefly explain the major issues related to your work. You don't need to write much about it, just show that you are aware of the scope of your topic
  2. Next, focus on items that overlap your search
  3. Finally, focus on research that is closely related to your specific job. Proportionally, you spend the most time discussing these documents

Before starting the state of the art

Before starting to rush into the literature review, you have to ask yourself the right questions:

  1. Identify what you need to know:
    1. What research has already been done on my topic?
    2. What are the relevant subdomains of my topic?
    3. What are the key articles on my topic?
    4. What are the key issues, types of research questions and common approaches?
    5. What other research (perhaps not directly on the topic) or other research communities might be relevant?
  2. Moreover
    1. Which research community is relevant to my topic?
    2. What are the relevant publishing venues (top conferences and journals) in this community?
    3. Who are the important authors?

Where to find the documents ?

There are many sites for carrying out scientific bibliographic research. Here are the best known.

  • Google Scholar, Microsoft Academics, CiteSeer, OpenEdition
  • With subscription from your university: Web of Science, ACM Digital Library, IEEE Digital Library
  • Beware of illegal sites like Sci-Hub (researchers can send you their paper on request, don't hesitate to send them emails)!

Tutorial to make a good state of the art

If you don't know where to start, follow the following algorithm:

  1. Access a university search engine
  2. Find well-chosen keywords to find five recent articles in the field (“seed” articles)
    1. Select all five articles based on abstract and keyword matching
    2. Prefer journal articles, then conference papers. Skip the manuals
    3. As you read the summaries and titles, refine your keywords and reiterate
  3. Read the related work section of each article
    1. You will find a summary of recent work in your area
    2. If you're lucky, you'll find pointers to a recent "survey" type article
  4. Find quotes shared, repeated author names and places of publication in bibliographies
    1. These are probably the important articles, authors and places in this field
    2. Maintain statistics of their occurrences
    3. Download these papers and set them aside
  5. Go to key researchers' website or Google Scholar profile and see what they've published recently and where they've published it
    1. This will help you identify the best journals and conferences in this field, as the best researchers generally publish in the best places.
    2. It will also give you more recent high quality related works
    3. Download and set aside the most relevant articles
  6. Go to the websites of these journals and conferences and browse their recent issues/procedures
    1. This will give you more recent high quality related work
    2. Download and set aside the most relevant articles
  7. Use an academic search engine to find recent articles that cite the important articles found in step 4 (click on the number of citations)
    1. Download and set aside the most relevant articles
  8. All the papers you have set aside constitute the first version of your investigation
  9. Go to step 3, repeat if necessary
    1. A good criterion for stopping is when the statistics for important author names, places of publication and articles have roughly converged.

Here is an image of the algorithm:

The state of the art in science state of the art

Choosing the right papers to read

When conducting a literature review, the number of citations to an article or author is a good heuristic to find important articles and authors


  • Very recent articles have not had time to accumulate many citations
  • Young (but promising) scholars rarely have many citations
  • Sometimes a great article is not cited because it is ahead of its time, offers an uncommon idea against the current mainstream, or other reasons of human error

When you choose a paper, it must be able to answer one of the following questions:

  • What is the research question addressed in the article?
  • Why is this issue important?
  • What are the innovative ideas and key concepts proposed by the authors?
  • What is the relationship between paper and other papers?
  • What is the main contribution of the article?
  • Are there any concepts or methods in the document that are unclear?
  • What are the flaws or limitations of this article?
  • How would you extend this work?
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