eLife Magazine: 300 Feature Articles and counting

Feature Articles in eLife cover research culture, diversity and inclusion, and a wide range of other topics related to science and research.

By Peter Rodgers, Chief Magazine Editor, eLife

When eLife was launched back in 2012, it published just four types of articles – Research Articles, Editorials, Insights and Feature Articles. Recently we published our 300th Feature Article – but what is a Features Article, and what do we look for in such articles? In this Inside eLife post we answer these questions and highlight some of the notable Feature Articles we have published over the years. In a future post we will mark the recent publication of our 1000th Insight in a similar fashion.

The Feature Article section of eLife was established to publish articles that did not fit into any of the other three sections of the journal. The articles we had in mind would, to quote our website, “offer fresh insights into topics of broad interest to readers working in the life and biomedical sciences”.

The Research Articles in eLife are currently classified into 18 major subject areas, such as cell biology, genetics and genomics, medicine and neuroscience, to help readers find the articles that are potentially of interest to them. The ideal Feature Article, on the other hand, should appeal to readers working in most if not all of these areas, and early articles covered topics as diverse as making science count in government, how careers in science can depend on luck or chance, and the challenges faced by senior women faculty working in a male-dominated environment.

Popular themes over the years have included research culture (which was not a widely-used term when eLife was launched), early-career researchers, meta-research, reproducibility, and equity, diversity and inclusion. We have also published collections of articles with a specific focus such as mental health in academia, the philosophy of biology, scientists and parents, and the natural history of model organisms.

Some of these articles have proved to be very popular with readers, and the most-viewed article on the whole eLife website is a Feature Article by Joshua Sanes of Harvard University that gives advice on writing a scientific paper (over 800,000 views at the time of writing).

Some articles have also been highly cited: a Feature Article setting out the goals of a project called the Human Cell Atlas has received more than 1200 citations since it was published in 2017. Table 1 lists the Feature Articles with the most views and the most citations.

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Table 1: Five most-viewed and five most-cited Feature Articles

Most-viewed articles

Most-cited articles

Note: data collected 11 March 2024. The author thanks Fred Atherden for help with data collection.

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In addition to covering a wide range of subjects (from the perils of persuasive communication devices to the positive aspects of being a PhD student), Feature Articles can also be very different in terms of length (from less than 1000 words to more than 10,000), and also in terms of approach – from the deeply personal stories in the Sparks of Change series to the calls for action in articles about the climate crisis and the biospheric emergency.

While some of the Feature Articles we have published were commissioned, most were submitted on spec via our editorial system. Some submissions are formally peer reviewed, but most are not: the articles most likely to be reviewed are those that contain substantial amounts of data (such as articles based on surveys and meta-research papers). Moreover, all articles are edited in the interests of clarity and readability, with some being edited quite heavily to maintain the interest of the reader and to ensure that the message of the article comes across clearly.

We encourage anyone with an article that they feel will be of widespread interest to researchers working in the life and biomedical sciences to submit it via our editorial system, and the annex below gives guidelines on writing a Feature Article for eLife. However, please be aware that more than half of submissions are declined, usually because they are unlikely to best of interest to a wide range of readers. We are also happy to respond to queries sent to features@elifesciences.org about potential articles, but we need to see the full article before we can reach any decision about it.

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ANNEX: Feature Articles in eLife: Writing Guidelines

To be accepted for publication as a Feature Article in eLife a manuscript needs to:

- offer fresh insights into a topic that is of broad interest to readers in the life and biomedical sciences

- be written in a way that can be readily understood by most readers in the life and biomedical sciences

Please note that Feature Articles are often edited, sometimes heavily.

Also, please note that all articles in eLife are published under a CCBY license. This means that figures should be original: please do not use images or photographs found on the web. If a figure has been published before, it can only be republished in eLife if it was originally published under a CCBY license.

When writing a Feature Article, please use an active/engaging style, rather than the passive/formal style used for most research papers. The best way to do this is to avoid long sentences (ie, keep below 30 words per sentence if possible) and to use verbs rather than nouns. Also, if writing about a particular area of science, please try to make the article understandable by readers (including undergraduate students) in other areas of science.

Please avoid lengthy introductions, and please avoid covering the same material in the several sections.

If the article is largely about problems or shortcomings in the world of science, please suggest solutions to these problems. And if the article is about issues in one country, please try to make the article of interest to readers in other countries.

If the article is the output of a meeting, please focus on the subject itself (ie, on the issues discussed, the recommendations made, what happens next, etc) and NOT on the meeting (ie, please do not go into details about how the meeting was organized or include sentences like "Dr XXXX of the University of YYY told the meeting that ZZZZZZZ . . . ").

There are no strict limits on the length of a Feature Article. However, for essay/opinion/op-ed-style articles authors are advised to stay below 2000 words, two display items (figures, tables etc) and 20 references if possible. Also, please avoid lists of bullet points, unless they are essential, and please use no more than two levels of headings.

For articles reporting the results of surveys or other research projects, authors are requested to stay below 4000 words and ten display items (figures, tables etc): in an initial submission it is fine to have text, display items and other material in a single supplementary file; however, if a full submission is requested, the author will be asked to reformat (eg, figures in the supplementary file will have to become figure supplements to primary figures). Please make sure that the article includes a paragraph discussing the limitations of the study; for articles based on surveys, please include the relevant questionnaire(s) in the supplementary file, and please explain in the article how participants were recruited.

Please ensure that each figure caption has a title sentence, and that the caption fully explains what is shown by that figure.

Feature Articles are peer reviewed at the discretion of the eLife editors and staff, and may be declined without formal peer review.

You can find all the Feature Articles we have published to date at the following URL: