General considations

There are many types of research papers you can write (see the ‘Does the type of paper I aim to publish matter?’ section). Comment pieces are one type of paper that delivers a punchy and topical message in response to a current challenge, trend, theory, finding, or phenomena. These usually aim to open dialogue around a topic and stimulate discussion from multiple perspectives. Controversial or debatable issues provide particularly interesting comment pieces. Therefore, comment pieces can result in a back-and-forth discussion spread across a series of papers published within one journal. As a reader, they provide easily digestible content around a topical issue. As an author, they can present an opportunity to contribute with specific and timely insight into the chosen topic should you be able to contribute to the discussion. In order to maintain a coherent and concise discussion around any one topic, comment pieces are typically invited contributions by the journal or authors would need to write to the journal requesting they contribute. Information on whether any particular journal publishes comment pieces is available in the ‘Instructions for authors’ guidelines for the journal.

Practical example for Life Sciences

Within the life sciences, journals will sometimes publish forum or comment pieces between groups of authors debating a particularly pertinent topic. These papers are usually short response pieces towards a recent paper that have been initially requested by the authors, followed by further response pieces from the original and other invited authors. For example, in 2004, the journal Ecology published a research paper entitled ‘Toward a Metabolic Theory of Ecology’. The paper sparked some intense debate within the metabolic ecology community, with authors criticising its application and novelty and the original authors subsequently defending its rigour. Ecology published the exchange as a series of forum papers, including the original paper, numerous commentaries on the original, and response pieces by the original authors (see Ecology 2004, Volume 85, Issue 7, http://esajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/hub/issue/10.1002/ecy.2004.85.issue-7/).

Invited contributions from journals to authors to comment on a recent paper can provide a ripe opportunity to publish a comment piece 1) on a topic of interest in a journal that is familiar to either you or your advisor or 2) if your work is relevant and similar enough to provide useful commentary on a debatable issue.

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