On writing reviews

Jan 16 2013 Published by under Careers

Today on the twits someone asked why people take the time to write reviews. Some replied that they found them extremely useful, particularly when trying to learn something about a new field/sub-field. This led to someone positing that maybe people write them as a service.

I doubt it. Reviews take a lot of time and effort. I submit that people only do it if there's something in it for them.

Personally, I think the main reason to write a review is to increase your name recognition in your field. Stake out your territory. Pee on the relevant fire hydrants.

Service to the field? Secondary at best. Maybe even tertiary after garnering the increased citations reviews tend to get.

What say you?

12 responses so far

  • Dr Becca says:

    I'd say you're spot on in your ranking. I'm currently writing a review, which I'm taking as an opportunity to pee on a fire hydrant. Tied for second would be citations, and filling the new lab publication gap.

    Service to the field? Who's got time for altruism with paylines what they are?

  • DrugMonkey says:


  • whizbang says:

    It's also a relatively easy publication, since it's generally the background section of your last grant with a few revisions. Also, a lot a pubs want them because they increase IF of a journal because they get cited more than actual research papers.

  • biochembelle says:

    Another possible tertiary/ternary objective - one of your grad students needs to write an intro for a thesis anyway...

  • qaz says:

    A good review is a reinterpretation, providing synthesis of divergent results and literatures. As such it is an important part of the scientific process.

    • odyssey says:

      Absolutely. I have nothing against good reviews. I use them quite liberally. The question is what is the motivation to write one? My thesis is simply that there has to be something in it for the author(s).

      • qaz says:

        If it's actually a reinterpretation, then it's a contribution to the theory side of the scientific realm. (And, in truth, is more than a "review".)

        Theory papers are just as important as experimental papers.

        • drugmonkey says:

          not really, no.

          • qaz says:

            Ahhh. The arrogance of experimental biologists, who feel that the data is so obvious that they can work it out without any separate integration process. Of course, if you actually look at the history of biology (including neuroscience), that's not even close to true. (I love that experimental biologists [and experimental neuroscientists are the worst] feel their field is so much easier than physics and chemistry that they don't need any separate theory because the implications of the data are just sooooo obvious.)

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    I've written two reviews.

    The motivation for one was internal. I thought there was a narrative in the literature nobody had pieced it together, and I wanted to tell it. I was also hoping to spark some other people in thinking about new projects.

    The motivation for the other was external. I was asked. And I don't think I necessarily discovered a narrative in that one, but it usefully pulled together a very disparate literature.

    Creating name recognition was not a consideration.

  • odyssey says:

    Having a bad day qaz?

    I've never met an experimental biologist who fits your description.

    • qaz says:

      🙂 Just frustrated at another crack at theoretical neuroscience.

      In practice, I agree. Most neuroscientists understand the importance of theoretical analysis. But I do find that, while the experimental neuroscientists that I interact with use theoretical papers to understand their data and plan their experiments as much or more than they do experimental papers, they often don't think that theory "adds anything new" (which I have actually heard) or that they are "just review papers" (which was my first comment, saying that a real "review" paper is much more than just "reviewing" the literature, and, as such, is really a contribution in its own right - thus is no more a "service to the field" than an experimental paper. [Aren't all papers a service to the field?])

      PS. Interesting point about whether biology has this problem in general or if its just neuroscience. I suppose I don't know enough about current biology to know if this is a problem in biology. (Given that it was DrugMonkey poking at me, I responded from a neuroscience perspective. I know DM is a neuroscientist, as am I.)