The perfect pitch – a tutorial

At Nature Reviews Bioengineering, we commission most of our content. However, we are always open for Review ideas. Do you think now is the perfect time to write a Review about a specific bioengineering area? Then, here is how to pitch this idea to us.

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SYNOPSIS

The foundation of every good Review is an excellent synopsis, in which you outline the scope and angle of the article. The synopsis ‒ a short document of about two pages ‒ should contain a tentative title and abstract, the rational for the article, and an overview of the main sections and subsections. In addition, you can suggest display items (figures, boxes, tables) and key recent references. These references should be from the past two years. If it turns out to be difficult to come up with at least 20-30 recent references, the time may not be right for an article on this topic.

TITLE

The title is one of the most important, if not THE most important sentence of the article. It should follow the ABCDEF formula: Accurate, Brief, Clear, Declarative, Engaging and Focused. Think of the main keywords of your work and use them to make an engaging title that draws the reader in. The title should be broad, yet to-the-point. For example:

Good title: Engineering organoids

Too many (unnecessary words): Bioengineering methods to improve organoid technology OR Organoid technology: insights from a bioengineering perspective

Note: The title should not have punctuation (including question marks). Why? Because punctuation usually only makes the title unnecessarily long, and trickier to find on search engines.

INITIAL PARAGRAPH

The synopsis should start with a short paragraph (~200 words) that sets out the rationale, scope and structure of the article. Why would bioengineers want to read it now, rather than at any other time? Why will the article appeal to a broad readership? How do you propose to organize the topics into a clearly structured article? Please include references (10-15) in this short paragraph to illustrate the timeliness of the article. You could think of this paragraph as a brief summary of your cover letter. The references should be as recent as possible, preferably from the past 2-3 years.

SECTIONS

After this initial paragraph, it is helpful to set out a series of main headings that list the topics to be covered. Of course, each Review/Perspective is structured differently, ordered either chronologically, by method, or application. Whichever, under each heading, please write two or three sentences, outlining the key discussion points. The main sections should be further divided into subheadings to give the editor a clear understanding of the flow of the discussion (and because they help to guide non-specialist readers through an unfamiliar subject). Please include as many key references as possible in the synopsis (at least 20-30).  This will give the editor an idea of the breadth of the subject matter under discussion.

The Introduction section of a Review should provide broad background information and give an outline of the rationale, purpose and organization of the article. If the field is mature, you could consider including a historical timeline, outlining major milestones and advances while comparing, for example, current applications versus existing demands. This could be either in the form of a Box or a Figure.

Being an interdisciplinary journal with readers from a wide range of disciplines, it is of utmost importance that the introduction lays the basis for further discussion, keeping an eye on a non-expert audience. Background information can be either implemented in the text, or in the form of a Box element. These are incredibly useful; you can use them either to spell out basic principles that those in the field don't need to read about, or to explain a particular aspect in more detail that would otherwise detract from the flow of the text. For example, for an article about wearable photonic devices, you might want to consider including an introductory BOX element on the basics of optogenetics, or for an article describing manufacturing aspects of CAR-T cell production, a BOX briefly introducing the biology behind CAR-T cell technology could be extremely helpful. Regardless of whether a section focuses on a particular method, analysis or property, the general aim should be for ~1 display item (in particular figures) to illustrate each main section.

At Nature Reviews Bioengineering, we feel that the Outlook section is particularly important. The Outlook section should be around 800 words to make sure it gives a clear picture of future challenges and perspectives, ideally leaving the reader with plenty of ideas for new research projects. Content-wise, the Outlook should briefly summarize the main points of the article and comment on the implications of the most recent work and on future research directions. What are the key future milestones? What are the open questions? Where is the field going from here?

Depending on the nature of the topic, we usually recommend authors to include one or more of the following single-standing BOX elements to the Outlook section:

Low-resource considerations

In a BOX (300-400 words), the key challenges and opportunities are discussed, unique to the deployment of the tool, technology, material, system or device in low-resource settings, highlighting engineering strategies and approaches, as well as considering responsible and sustainable device design and frugal innovation to support the application of the technology and/or approach in low-resource settings. For example, lack of cold chain, limited healthcare professionals, limited equipment, limited reagents or drugs, specific environmental conditions.

Translational considerations

You can include this BOX if you discuss preclinical bioengineering research. Here, you can investigate the issues to be solved for clinical translation (for example, scale-up, models, regulatory considerations, limitations, outstanding research questions, comparison to gold standard).

Technology transfer considerations

This BOX can be added for articles discussing non-clinical bioengineering research. Here, you can outline the issues to be solved for successful technology transfer and real-world applications (for example, product development, current market, outstanding issues in terms of scale-up, fabrication and manufacturing; outstanding research questions to enable transfer).

DISPLAY ELEMENTS

Figures

Figures are meant to summarize and graphically illustrate the key points covered in the Review following the order of discussion in the main text. They can also be included to facilitate the understanding of complex scientific concepts. As these are meant to be accessible to a wide audience, they should be as simple and as informative as possible.

Here are some aspects to keep in mind for figures:         

  • We prefer original figures and schematics, rather than reproducing previously published images. Please think of the ‘dream figures’ for your article, which will explain and illustrate the science and underlying mechanisms, and we will work with our art editor to make these figures reality. In case you want to include graphs: rather than reproducing previously published graphs, you could think of plotting and comparing the key metrics in a new graph to illustrate the main scientific point.       
  • Focus on explanatory graphics, that is, a basic, scene-setting graphic for those outside the field, introducing non-specialist readers to the topic.
  • Include additional detailed graphics, focusing more specifically on particular methods, analysis, properties or data to show performance in applications. Aim for ~1 display item to illustrate each main section.

You can find more information about figure in this editorial from one of our sister journals.

Tables

Tables are particularly useful if you want to list and compare different methods, techniques, tools, materials or applications; for example, past/undergoing/future clinical trials for a particular treatment, or technology-related products on the market. You could list different properties, applications, advantages, disadvantages, limitations, with the associated key references. This will allow the reader to get a concise overview of the different systems, applications or techniques.

Boxes

Boxes are meant to explain key/basic concepts to a non-expert audience which would otherwise detract from the flow of the text, but are still necessary to fully understand the presented concepts. Ideally, a box should be a lone-standing piece, accompanied by a small graphical illustration if necessary, which readers can refer to anytime without going through the whole manuscript.

SUBMIT 

Your perfect pitch is ready? We would love to see it! Please go ahead and submit the synopsis as a proposal in our manuscript tracking system. We look forward to reading your Review ideas!

Christine Horejs

Chief Editor, Nature Reviews Bioengineering