Step-by-step instructions for writing a colloquium essay

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 general topic first and then find a supervisor appropriate for that topic, who knows enough about the topic to be able to advise you on the scientific question you want to address in your colloquium.
  • 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.
  • After a LIC staff member has accepted to be your colloquium supervisor, refine your scientific question and discuss your planning with them. The colloquium supervisor cannot be the main supervisor of the student’s major research project. 
  • A colloquium should provide you with an in-depth understanding in a given subject; It will NOT only broaden your general knowledge. A good colloquium topic should trigger the interest of your colloquium supervisor, jury and fellow students!  Both in your written essay and your final talk you should be able to convince your audience why it is timely and important to address this 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 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 any of your research projects, but it may be chosen in the same field as your 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.


2. Research your topic on a scholarly search engine to find relevant articles and specify your topic further.
  • Common search engines include Web of SciencePubMed and Google Scholar. Web of Science requires log-in via the University. For help with finding scientific literature, tutorials are available on the libary webpages.

  • Review articles are useful to get familiar with your topic and find more literature, but primary research articles should make up most of your bibliography in the finished essay.
  • Get access to subscription journals from home via the University Library Catalogue. At this point, only scan the articles for relevance, do not read them yet. It is probably useful to download PDFs of all papers.
  • Continue to define your research 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 Zotero (open access), 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.
  • Research articles can be detailed and long. Your job is to distil out their main findings and put them in your own words. Write a few sentences per main point of the article and immediately give the reference. Do NOT copy-paste parts that are interesting with the intention to ‘rewrite’ it later.

  • Keep your topic in mind while reading. Read attentively and smartly, highlight sections in the text, analyse the figures and make notes as you go. You can use these questions to ask yourself while reading to help you focus

  • Avoid plagiarism: do not copy text directly from the source. Read more about plagiarism.


4. Order the information in your written text and find a logical structure for your finished text.
  • Find new connections between 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.
  • In an excellent colloquium, the cherry on the cake is to critically analyze the literature. For instance, highlight opposing views of hypotheses between different publications, authors, or theories.

  • Do not just put one article per paragraph, because your text will not flow norfeel natural. Each paragraph should develop a main idea, and multiple articles can be used support that idea
  • 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.
  • 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 research question 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. Make attractive and informative figures
  • You can use already published figures, but everything in the figure in your essay should be relevant and be connected to what you discuss.
  • When you use a figure from the literature, make sure you say in the caption where the figure comes from.
  • Ideally, you should have at least 1-2 completely new, nice-looking figuressummarizing or illustrating what you discuss in the text.
  • Every figure should have a caption with a title, providing details what the figure is showing. See this link for information about writing  good figure captions.
  • Each figure with its caption should be self-explanatory.


7. 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 their captions.
  • More tips for a successful colloquium.


8. 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?


9. 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'. 
  • Use reference management software such as Zotero, EndNote, RefMan or Mendeley to format your bibliography correctly. Check your reference formatting one by one! Make sure the essential information is present (reference number, authors, journal names, year, volume, pages or article numbers for journal articles, editor names, publisher, city, publication year for books). Be careful with articles from journals that use article numbers, rather than page numbers as not all reference management software can deal with this automatically.

  • 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.