Review Articles at JEB

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. 

What article type does JEB use for reviews?

We pub­lish reviews under one of two art­icle types: Review and Invited Review (formerly called a Tar­get Review). 

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 meta-ana­lyses to ideas papers, to thor­ough and densely-ref­er­enced descrip­tions of a topic).

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, how­ever, 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.

Leave a Reply