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In my previous post, I outlined how to identify a novel review topic. Now you have your great idea for a review article ready, you might think that this is the time to start writing. While this strategy can pay off for some, it is a risky and often time-consuming approach. The fact is that some journals do not accept unsolicited reviews, while others do but with varying frequency. This doesn’t mean that you can’t write a review if you haven’t been asked to do so; but, reaching out to the journal at an early stage can save you time if the journal is not interested, already has plans to cover your topic, or might like to modify your ideas to suit their needs.

Before we talk about how to approach the journal, let’s think about why reaching out during the planning stage of the review is a good idea. Most reviews in top journals are commissioned by journal editors because review articles typically bring in the bulk of a journal’s annual citations. If a journal misreads their audience (or their competitors) and chooses the “wrong topic” to review, they can potentially reduce their next year’s impact factor. So, journal editors take great care when thinking about the next review they publish. This means that your pre-submission enquiry needs to be sensitive to these issues: you need to explain the novelty of your review, how it will align with the journal’s scope and readership’s interests, and why having a review written by you is going to attract citations for their journal.

Next, we need to think about where to reach out to. Statistically, it is unlikely that the first journal you pitch your idea to is going to be the one that wants to roll with it. So it’s a good idea to start by generating a list of potential target journals and to work through it by sending out pre-submission enquiries. To produce this all important list, you could establish where most of the cited primary research papers you identified in your literature search have been published: do any of these journals publish reviews and consider unsolicited requests? If so, then note them down and take a look at their website for other useful information and to make sure that your proposed piece fits well with their published scope. You might also look at journals where you have successfully published your research in recent years and so have an “exsiting relationship”, as they will already know the quality of your work and writing. The good news is that, unlike the submission of the article itself, there is nothing to stop you sending enquiries to several different journals at once, so set aside an afternoon and get emailing!

When you contact your target journals, what do you need to tell them? The basics of a pre-submission enquiry should ideally include the following:

  • Your proposed title and author list
  • An outline of your expertise to write an authoritative review
  • Your top 10-15 selected references from the bibliography
  • A draft of your figures and tables
  • An outline of the key points – perhaps your section headings and figure titles

Also in the covering letter you should state clearly why you think that their journal is a great match for the work, for example how it will appeal to different sectors of their readership, and how you anticipate it will generate interest and/or new research ideas across the field. If it is an opinionated review, are you suporting a new or controversial viewpoint that will get people talking? Is your review particularly timely, coming off the back of a new and exciting discovery, or quesitoning an established dogma? These are all things that will help attract readers, and so will help generate editorial interest in your proposal.

By approaching several journals at this stage, before you’ve written the full text, you avoid both the risk of investing a lot of time in a draft that a journal might then request major changes to, and the stress of having a finalised document and struggling to find someone to publish it. Moreover, most journal editors will appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with you on your review article so that the content is likely to attract as many of their readers as possible. It’s a win win!