We are about to welcome a new Review Editor to the Editorial Team at Functional Ecology, Dr. Liza Holeski! I hope you will all join me in welcoming Dr. Holeski to the team. She has served for several years as an Associate Editor and is going to be great in this new role. I hope that many of you seek out the opportunity to work with her.
To that end, this seems an apropos moment to reflect on the value of review papers and what the editors of Functional Ecology look for in a review paper. Functional Ecology regularly publishes what we call Review Papers. These are slightly different from Perspectives, which appear even more regularly in the journal. Perspectives are smaller in scope, and attempt what the name implies—to provide thoughtful, evidence-based opinion on a particular subject. A review paper, in contrast, attempts a fuller synthesis on the current state of knowledge on a subject and attempts to advance a particular area of research, albeit still in 7500 words or fewer.
So, how does one go about creating a concise review paper? If you haven’t visited it before, check out this webpage where you can find a really handy overview of the purpose of review papers for Functional Ecology, as well as a handy list of some of our more recent review papers. I’ll mention here as an aside, if you are having a hard time navigating the website to find this sort of page, the BES pages are really well indexed. This means if you type something like “Functional Ecology Review Papers” into Google, or your favorite search engine, this page will come right up. It was the second hit when I tried the search myself. Alrighty, so back to the review papers, if you are ever thinking of writing a review, this webpage is the place where you want to start. You can see if your idea is novel, and, if it is novel, you can then get a feel for how other papers have been written so that you start yours off on the right path.
Review papers in Functional Ecology need to hit that sweet spot between a historical overview and synthesis of where a field, or subject within a field, has been, and where it needs to go to stay relevant in the future, with the greater emphasis being on the future direction of research. In fact, the historical aspect need not, and probably should not, be an exhaustive romp through the literature. The historical aspect of the review should synthesize ideas. A quick check that I often suggest to authors is to look at how they are citing papers. If you have written a sentence, then a citation, and another sentence, and another citation, and so on, you likely are not synthesizing. A synthesis takes all of those single sentences and looks for the commonality between them. A synthesis states the overarching advance that has been made, likely with a series of citations in a single set of parentheses after the statement. This synthesis should inform the present and set up what the future potentially holds. A truly informative review paper has goals and aims beyond synthesizing a field of work. Our current Reviews Editor, Dr. Emma Sayer, has written an editorial on the anatomy of a review paper. This is a really great read for setting yourself up for success with a review targeted for Functional Ecology. This is also one of the most downloaded papers in Functional Ecology!
If you are thinking of writing a review paper, I hope you aren’t discouraged thus far. I’ll borrow an excerpt from Dr. Sayer here to hopefully encourage you to forge on; “…a review can establish [you] as an authority in a particular area, and a good review paper can be widely read and highly cited.” Review papers matter. These articles have the potential to set the direction for research for a whole generation of scientists. Furthermore, we certainly value them in Functional Ecology as a means to ensure that we are providing overarching and comprehensive perspectives to our readership.
I’ll close here with a heartfelt thanks to Dr. Emma Sayer for serving as the Reviews Editor for Functional Ecology for nearly five years. Dr. Sayer was the inaugural Reviews Editor and I credit her with the development of Reviews as an integral part of the journal. As she hands the reigns over to Dr. Holeski, Dr. Sayer won’t be going too far, as she will be joining the team as a Senior Editor alongside myself, Dr. Charles Fox, Dr. Katie Field, Dr. Alan Knapp, and Dr. Enrico Rezende. Join me, virtually as it may be, in thanking Dr. Sayer and welcoming Dr. Holeski in her new role.
Senior Executive Editor