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Authoring a review article is a great way to stand out as a key opinion leader in your field. What’s more, it’s an opportunity to flex your scientific writing skills. But writing a non-commissioned review can be a daunting task. In this series of three blog posts, I will take you through IEL’s top tips and tricks to perfecting your pitch to your target journal.


In this first post, I am going to focus on selecting your review topic. It might seem obvious to write about your area of expertise that you have honed over the past few years, but it’s essential that you offer something new and up-to-date to your prospective readership. If similar reviews are already available, you dilute your potential to be cited.


You stand a good chance of finding a novel area to cover if you do not think too broadly. For example, writing about the genetic mechanisms of cancer will likely overlap with hundreds of other reviews. But if you narrow down your mechanistic pathway and cancer type, you might start to find interesting gaps in the review literature.


Once you have narrowed down your list of ideas, you should conduct a thorough scan of the published literature covering the past 3-4 years as a priority. Find what relevant, new primary data have been published. Ask yourself, if new data are lacking, is now the right time for this review article? If, however, the field has taken steps forward over the past few years, then take time to decide which studies you will summarize, interpret and speculate on.


While you won’t be able to cover everything in detail, you should still try to capture the full spectrum of the field and give fair attention to conflicting and contrasting opinions — even if they differ from your own. The list you compile now will start to form your review’s bibliography. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that at least 80% of the cited literature was published within the past five years, with 50% from the previous two years, and that your bibliography predominantly comprises primary sources.

Next up: Pitching for Success