Step-by-step instructions for writing a colloquium essay

The following list explains all the steps you should take in writing your colloquium essay. Of course, you can decide to take a different approach, but this setup should be a useful starting point.

1. Find a topic and a supervisor.
  • The subject of the literature essay and colloquium is chosen within the field of Chemistry or Life Sciences. Ideally, you should find a topic first and then find a supervisor appropriate for that topic.
  • Start from a research article that interests you. An easy way to quickly get the main point of a scientific publication can be a news article about the publication. You can search for news articles for instance on the C&EN website, in C2W or the news section in Nature or Science. Alternatively, you can also start from a research article that was discussed in a lecture series or search keywords on scholarly search engines.
  • It is not allowed to choose a topic directly related to your major research project but it may be chosen in the same field as the research project.
  • It is not allowed to reuse a literature assignment that you previously submitted for another course. This practice would count as self-plagiarism. An exception can be made on individual basis, but you should discuss that with your supervisor and mentor and make sure you get explicit permission. Read more about plagiarism.
  • Ask one of the LIC staff members to be your colloquium supervisor and discuss your planning with them. Your mentor is not allowed to be your colloquium supervisor, but you can ask them for advice about relevant supervisors for your topic or field of interest.


2. Research your topic on a scholarly search engine to find relevant articles and specify your topic further.
  • Common search engines include Web of Science, PubMed and Google Scholar. Web of Science requires log-in via the University.
  • Other review articles are useful get familiar with your topic and find more literature, but primary research articles should make up most of your bibliography in the finished essay.
  • Avoid choosing a topic that is the precise subject of a recently published review, because it will be hard to add anything new and not just repeat that publication.
  • At this point, only scan the articles for relevance, do not read them yet. It is probably useful to download PDFs of all papers.
  • Define your topic; make sure it is narrow enough to discuss the topic in depth with 30-50 references, but also broad enough to find new connections and cover a relevant field. Discuss your refined topic with your supervisor if you are unsure.
  • Work with bibliography software (reference management software) such as EndNote, RefMan or Mendeley from the start.
  • Read more information about search tools and reference managers on the website of the University Library.


3. Carefully read your articles and summarise the information.


4. Order the information in your written text and find a logical structure for your finished text.
  • Find new connections between the articles. Are there contradictions or inconsistencies? Is there a gap in the literature that should be further explored? Can you suggest the next step required to solve the problem? Can you order the research done into groups? Does one application solve the limitations posed in another article?
  • A review is not just a summary of existing research! It is imperative that you add something new or your review will lack depth and be marked down accordingly.
  • Do not just put one article per paragraph, because your text will not flow well and feel natural. Each paragraph should develop a main point, and multiple pieces of research can be used support that point.
  • There are many different strategies for organising your text. Find the strategy that works for you. For instance, you can print your sections and organise them on a big table, do it from memory, build an argumentation structure on paper or on the computer, write up the table of contents, discuss it with your supervisor or a friend, just start writing (type “Well, I think that …” and just keep going), write your subtopics on post-its, …


5. Go back to the literature search.
  • At this point, you will probably need to reorganise your library for this essay and most likely need to go back to literature searching.
  • You may have noticed that you have gaps in your storyline or need specific references to place a discovery in context. Search for specific references that fill that gap. Remember that the citations in your other articles can be a good source for new literature, as well as the ‘cited by’ functionality in Web of Science.
  • Do not be scared to leave out papers that do not seem to correlate to your story. You do not need to include everything you found or read.
  • You probably defined your topic even more precisely since your last search. It can be a good idea to do a new search based on more narrow search terms to check if you missed any relevant papers.


6. Write the body of your colloquium essay.
  • Create paragraphs from the text you wrote and ordered previously by adding transitions between sentences and paragraphs and adding topic sentences. 
  • Add figures and captions, if you are using them.
  • More tips for a successful colloquium.


7. Add a title, abstract and introductory and concluding paragraphs.
  • Your introduction should answer four questions: 'what is the issue?' (or 'why should the world care about this topic?'), 'what is the background?', 'why are you reviewing this topic now?' and 'what is the scope of this review?'. 
  • A conclusion is not the same thing as a summary. Look back at your introduction; did you answer the question you pose or what you claim to discuss? How does your analysis relate to the broader issue?


8. Format the citations, bibliography and text.
  • The final essay should have a cover page containing at least the title, your name, your student number, your colloquium supervisor's name, your mentor's name, jury member names, the word count (excluding the bibliography), 'colloquium essay' and '6 EC'. 
  • You now have a finished first draft of your colloquium essay that you can send to your supervisor for feedback.
  • Also see the example time schedule for a colloquium essay and presentation.