By ScienceDocs Editor Dr. Horvath
Most often, review articles are written in response to a request by a journal that requires a review of a specific topic by an established expert in the field and are known as invited reviews. Invited reviews are also typically associated with a specific angle or perspective that the editor wishes to present for a certain issue of the journal. However, many authors also seek to write reviews for various other reasons, such as building a publication record in respected journals, establishing themselves as experts in the field and highlighting their work, or conveying a novel opinion regarding a current research direction. These types of reviews are not invited, and are known as unsolicited reviews.
While an invited review is virtually always accepted for publication following peer review and revisions, many authors find it much more difficult to publish an unsolicited review. Although an unsolicited review is not unpublishable, there are a few extra steps required prior to submission to increase the likelihood of publication. The following steps outlined below can help authors select an appropriate journal and avoid common mistakes to ensure that their unsolicited review is ready for submission and the peer review process:
Select an appropriate journal
When looking to submit an unsolicited review, it is recommended that even before the review is written, the authors carefully consider the candidate journals that they intend to submit the manuscript. There are several aspects that should be considered:
General vs. highly specific audience
The type of audience that the journal targets is an extremely important consideration, as this will dictate how the document should be written and the scope of the review. For example, a review written for a journal with a general audience will need to take this into account and a high level of technical detail may be beyond the scope. Moreover, a longer introduction with additional background information is often required. In contrast, a highly specialized journal will not require such detailed introductory information, but it will be more difficult to offer a review that contains novel content and fits with the theme of upcoming issues. In light of these differences, who will be interested in this review should be the focus when considering the type of journal to submit the review.
Are there any requirements from the authors’ institution?
It is quite common that an institution or other guidelines (e.g., funding support) will require that the authors publish in a journal that meets specific requirements. The most common is the requirement for publication in SCI indexed journals. This means that when selecting a journal for which to submit their review, the authors must select from journals listed in this database (A list of the SCI indexed journals can be found at: http://ip-science.thomsonreuters.com/cgi-bin/jrnlst/jlresults.cgi?PC=K). Another common requirement is a minimum impact factor. While these are careful considerations, authors should be aware that their choices become more limited with such restrictions. In addition, some journals that may be an excellent fit for the authors’ work may not meet such stringent criteria.
Does the journal accept unsolicited reviews?
During the process of selecting journals that meet the authors’ various criteria, it is a critical step to determine whether the journal of interest even accepts unsolicited reviews. This information is typically found under the “scope” or “guidelines for authors” sections located on the journal homepage. If such information is unclear or not stated, it is recommended that the authors submit an inquiry to ascertain whether submission is even possible. It is extremely disheartening to discover after the review has been written and is ready for submission that the target journal is not a candidate.
Another consideration when selecting a journal is the type. The type of journal refers to whether the journal is open-access, only publishes reviews, the frequency of publication, and the impact factor. These are important considerations, and should be thoroughly investigated to ensure that they are compatible with the authors’ goals. Aspects such as the frequency of publication and journals that only publish reviews will impact the likelihood that an unsolicited review is well received by the editor of the journal.
After reviewing these criteria for the submission of an unsolicited review, it is recommended that the top five candidate journals should be selected. Ensure that the journals are listed in the order that meets your priorities, but are also realistic based on the scope and impact factor of the journal.
Ensure there is a need
Before submitting to a target journal, do some homework to ensure that there is a need for a review on that subject. This can be achieved by simply searching in a journal database (e.g., PubMed) for similar reviews published within the past three to five years. If the topic has been well-reviewed within the most recent literature, it may be a sign that another review on the topic is not warranted. Alternatively, even if a topic has been thoroughly reviewed, a unique niche that has not been previously published may be an acceptable route. For example, if the goal is to write a review on the recent advances in tuberculosis vaccine development but there are several recent reviews describing the latest vaccine platforms, perhaps a review on the specific immune response generated to each vaccine platform (e.g., viral-vector, live-attenuated, etc.) in relation to the prevailing theory on protective immunity against TB is a better option.
Write to the audience
Once you have selected a journal, one of the most important considerations is writing to the specific target audience of that journal. To do this, consider both the scope and readership of the journal. Therefore, when submitting to a journal with a general audience, greater background information will need to be provided, compared to that with a more specific scope. For example, a review on a respiratory mucosal vaccine against tuberculosis will need to present a more thorough background of the disease and vaccine platform to a journal with general medical or biological scope compared to those specifically involving the respiratory tract or tuberculosis. This is important as a general readership will become quickly lost or disinterested in a review if such details are not initially presented.
One of the most common issues that is encountered with reviews is the use of vague statements that are not substantiated with evidence from the literature. As a rule of thumb, it is recommended that each section of the review begin with a broad statement that is then supported by evidence from the literature. Any evidence contrary to such statements can also be presented; however, specific details should always be provided.
Stay on track and maintain flow throughout the document
Another common mistake many authors make when composing a review is deviation from the central theme of the paper. Typically, the theme of the review will become derailed by describing non-relevant literature or introducing a topic that does not fit with the overarching message of the article. To ensure that the document maintains adequate flow and cohesion,
for each statement that is written, ask:
Present an effective conclusion
Surprisingly, the conclusions of a review are often overlooked or not mentioned at all. The conclusions are one of the most crucial sections of the review as it is the message that the reader will walk away with. Therefore, it is extremely important that the following are mentioned in the conclusions of the review:
- A summary (1 to 2 statements) of the current literature.
- The significance of the main findings.
- The implications of these findings.
- The limitations and areas of future research.
While these are just some of the areas to consider when considering the submission of an unsolicited review, they are extremely important for maximizing the likelihood that the manuscript will advance to the peer review stage.