What are eLife papers made of?

The eLife editorial leadership share their ideas and opinions on what great science looks like.
Inside eLife
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eLife will be a venue for outstanding work, but what will the editors be looking for when they evaluate a new submission? In general, our goal at eLife is to be selective but also inclusive – to judge a work’s potential significance or influence as broadly as possible. A new report might offer fundamental biological insight, brilliant methodological inventiveness, or profound societal benefit.

To give a sense of the richness of science that we aim to see represented in eLife, we asked our editorial leadership to share their ideas and opinions about what great science looks like to them. This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive list and we don’t attribute these comments to any specific editor because they are paraphrased and were sometimes expressed by multiple editors.

Great papers move a field forward. “When I read a great paper I feel that I have just fitted a critical piece into a jigsaw puzzle. There is a sense of completion, satisfaction and admiration. And the work seems somehow, in retrospect, simple, elegant and obvious.” Along similar lines the work might “answer a long-standing and important question”, “connect previously unrelated ideas”, “provide unexpected insight”, or “correct long-held beliefs.”

Opening up new areas for exploration is another characteristic of great work that was highlighted by several editors. The work might “describe a new resource or tool that will empower a large number of scientists to address and answer interesting and important questions” or offers an entirely “fresh approach to a problem leading to results and conclusions that may never have been possible with the prevailing methods”. Importantly, if new work does open up interesting questions, “the work does not also need to close them all!”

Real-world impacts were also frequently mentioned. For example, an eLife paper might “describe a technology that has the potential to improve the lives of people”, with efficacy “in the clinic – or the farm”.

Such a broad range of research will have a variety of different impacts on science and society, and we will provide a wealth of metrics and indicators on each article we publish to document that impact dynamically. We’ll have a post about that aspect of eLife shortly. In the meantime, we hope that the views of our editors on great science will help prospective authors in their decision about whether to send their work to eLife. If in doubt, we’d recommend that you send an initial submission and we’ll provide a swift response.

If the work is selected for further consideration, it will then be subjected to in-depth peer review, to ensure that the highest standards of scientific conduct and reporting are adhered to.