Dr. Luke Holman, Commissioning Editor at JEB and Lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University.
What is a review article?
Broadly, we at JEB define a review article as one that does not present new primary data, meaning that reviews lack results obtained from new experiments or analyses of public raw data, mathematical or computational work, questionnaires, etc. Instead, review articles seek to advance knowledge by doing one or more of the following: providing a critical review and synthesis of key hypotheses and primary data, outlining new or under-appreciated ideas and evaluating the evidence for them, identifying unsolved problems and suggesting directions for future research, or clarifying key terminology. We also classify meta-analyses and systematic reviews as review articles. Occasionally, articles fall into a grey area (such as having many of the features of a review while also containing primary data), prompting discussion between editors and authors of the most suitable article type.
Reviews vs Invited Reviews
We publish reviews under one of two article types: Review and Invited Review (formerly called a Target Review).
A Review is what it says on the tin, simply a paper that fits our definition of a review article. Reviews have a generous word limit, and the article structure is flexible to accommodate the diversity of review articles we publish (which range from thorough and densely referenced syntheses of a topic to meta-analyses to ideas papers).
An Invited Review is similar but is typically a more opinion-heavy review article focused on an area of broad current interest or controversy. Most importantly, an Invited Review is accompanied by Invited Commentary articles, which discuss the content of the Invited Review. Commentaries are written by other experts on the topic, who provide discussion, supplementary information or perspectives, and critiques of the Invited Review. The authors of the Invited Review may respond to these commentaries with their own Invited Commentary. The number of commentaries is not fixed, though 4–6 is common.
It is worth noting that you do not need to wait to be “invited” in the traditional sense to contribute an Invited Review. If you are interested in publishing either article type, please feel free to contact us to discuss it.
Why would you want to write a review?
Reviews can serve as valuable guides to the research community, for example by collating and clearly describing the key ideas and references; this can facilitate research progress by making a topic more accessible to newcomers. Reviews can also shape other researchers’ thinking, for example by illustrating the extent to which a particular research question is (or is not yet) ‘solved’ via a systematic review, by presenting arguments for and against competing hypotheses, and by proposing a plan for future research.
There are also benefits to individual researchers. Writing a review can be an excellent way to clarify your thoughts on a topic and give yourself additional motivation to invest time diving deep into its literature. Many reviews are influential and highly cited, which can help when applying for grants, jobs, promotion, or tenure. Reviews are often written by multiple authors, giving one the chance to create or maintain collaborative links. Many people find themselves writing the beginnings of a review article while preparing a PhD thesis or grant application, and developing this work into a complete article can bring it to a wider audience.
What makes a good review article?
Personally, I think a review article should provide comprehensive and unbiased coverage of the relevant literature, should be clearly written, and should usually have more ambitious goals than a simple summary of the literature. These goals could be synthesis, critique, evaluation of evidence, or proposing new research directions. The choice of topic is also important: the subject matter should be of interest to many other researchers (especially evolutionary biologists, JEB’s main readership), and there should be a gap in the literature for the review (it is difficult to find a well-studied topic that has not already been reviewed in some way). Many excellent review papers contain cleverly designed figures and/or tables, which summarise the key ideas or data: a picture is worth a thousand words, especially when synthesising complex ideas or guiding the reader through a large body of literature. The review should be neither too long nor too short.
Think a review is right for you?
Great! I wish you the very best preparing your article. You are always welcome to contact us for feedback if you are considering submitting a Review or an Invited Review to JEB, even at the early stages of planning. Information about our various article types and their formats can be found in the Author Guidelines section of our website.
If you would like to submit a Review article, please do so via our online submission portal: https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/jeb
If you would like to propose an Invited Review and associated commentaries please send the following as a single pdf file to the editorial office (email@example.com) for our consideration:
- Name and email address of corresponding author of the Invited Review
- A provisional title
- A short summary of the topic and its background (250 words max.)
- A statement in support of why an Invited Review (and commentaries) on this topic is timely and how it would advance knowledge (max. 1 A4 page)
- A list of any authors who could or have expressed interest in contributing an Invited Commentary in response to your Invited Review