​​​​​​​More Than Articles: Review Essays in JAPA (Nerd Alert:Technical Details)

For some time the Journal of the American Planning Association has published Review Essays. As outlined in the instructions for authors, such essays “fully engage with and synthesize the current body of scholarly work on the planning topic that the authors have chosen."

The authors:

  • Examine the body of scholarly knowledge and professional/gray research and writing on the topic
  • Analyze the gaps in knowledge and the major questions or controversies in the area
  • Assess what previous researchers in overlapping disciplines have contributed to the understanding of these questions and conflicts
  • Evaluate the methods or approaches these researchers or practitioners have used to address these questions or to fill in data gaps
  • Identify the additional research needed to provide scholars and practitioners with useful information, and
  • Make clear the practice implications of the entire discussion, which often requires that the authors gather and assess professional and policy reports on the topic to effectively assess the state of current practice on the topic.

These are essays and can take a number of different forms. That is they do not just have to be narrowly defined systematic reviews but can take different approaches. However, it is not just a long conceptual piece — a Viewpoint masquerading as a literature review. It really needs to engage alternative views and dig into methods.

Examples

Recent and forthcoming review essays:

Horst, McClintock, and Hoey (2017)
"The Intersection of Planning, Urban Agriculture, and Food Justice: A Review of the Literature"

Meenar, Morales, and Bonarek (2017)
"Regulatory Practices of Urban Agriculture: A Connection to Planning and Policy"

Dalton, Hajrasouliha, and Riggs (2018)
"State of the Art in Planning for College and University Campuses: Site Planning and Beyond"

Azfahan and Muller (2018)
"Online Participatory Technologies: Opportunities and Challenges for Enriching Participatory Planning"

Goetz, Williman, and Damiano’s (2020)
"Whiteness and Urban Planning," forthcoming.

Key Tips

Authors tend to struggle in several key areas.

As the instructions note, “it is very difficult to do this entirely with narrative text. You will likely need to develop graphical conceptual frameworks or other analytical diagrams; comparative matrices or specific studies on a key topic of broader approaches; and the like. It is crucial to examine at least some studies in depth — explaining their methods and not just their findings.”

This is about conveying the body of literature clearly and not hiding behind vague narrative.

As the instructions go on, “it is particularly important to identify debates between and among researchers (and disciplines where relevant) and to weigh the body of knowledge on all sides of that debate. It is not necessary that authors resolve those debates or answer all outstanding questions that they have identified and discussed.”

JAPA has certainly published articles that do not live up to all this advice but it will be less likely to do in the future.

However, compared with many other journals JAPA is somewhat flexible about reviews, allowing different formats and encouraging authors to engage with gray literature.

This gives authors more freedom to come up with interesting and practice-relevant syntheses, rather than being restricted to more narrowly defined literature review approaches. I welcome author queries about potential Review Essay topics.

Top image: Covers of JAPA Volume 86, No. 1.


Headshot of Ann Forsyth.
About the Author

Ann Forsyth

Ann Forsyth is editor of the Journal of the American Planning Association and the Ruth and Frank Stanton Professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University.

March 12, 2020

By Ann Forsyth