Annual Reviews – Reviewed Fall 2009

Annual Reviews

Helen P. Clements, Associate Professor
Humanities & Social Sciences Division
Edmon Low Library
Oklahoma State University

Reviewed June-October, 2009

Annual Reviews (AR) are annual journals, which offer synthetic, critical reviews of the literature in nearly forty disciplines in the physical, life, biomedical, and social sciences.  They are published by Annual Reviews, a non-profit organization managed by scientists and dedicated to promoting the growth of the sciences by providing essential analytical reviews of developments by authorities in each field.  As the home page notes, Annual Reviews publications are frequently cited in the scientific literature, including the leading journals indexed by ISI Web of Science (

Each of the AR journals now appears both in print and online.  Although online access is available for prior volumes, many academic libraries will also have print copies, at least of older volumes.  For the purposes of this review, the electronic versions of Annual Reviews, especially those for Anthropology and Sociology, were visited.  The AR website allows any user to search by keyword for citations and abstracts across all the series, or in selected titles.  Searching is free, but access to the full texts of articles, in .html or .pdf format, requires a subscription (see Pricing, below).


Based in Palo Alto, California, Annual Reviews was founded by Stanford biochemist J. Murray Luck, in response to his experiences as a young professor in a rapidly growing field.  Dr. Luck’s delightful account of and his colleagues’ creation of the first Annual Reviews is available at (

The first Annual Reviews series, the Annual Review of Biochemistry, began publication in 1932.  The Annual Review of Physiology followed in 1938, and the Annual Review of Microbiology in 1947.  New series have begun publication as the scientific disciplines expand and mature.  New or upcoming additions in the sciences include Analytical Chemistry (2008), Marine Sciences (2009), and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Condensed Matter Physics, and Food Science and Technology (2010).

Most of the social science journals are relative newcomers.  Psychology began in 1950.   Anthropology joined the series in 1972; a precursor, Biennial Reviews in Anthropology, was published by Stanford University Press from 1959 to 1971.   Sociology began in 1975, and Political Science in 1998.  Law and Social Sciences and Clinical Psychology both began publication in 2005.  Three new titles–General Economics, Financial Economics, and Resource Economics–are being added to the social sciences suite in 2009.  This brings the totals to twenty-five titles in Life/Biomedical Sciences, fourteen in Physical Sciences, and eleven in Social Sciences.

AR Mission and Content

The Annual Reviews current editor-in-chief is Samuel Gubins.  In addition to the editorial and management committees, each AR series has its own editorial committee, made up of distinguished scholars and production staff members.   Subjects for each year’s reviews are chosen by academic members of the series editorial board.  The names and affiliations of the members of the AR boards and committees can be found via the Welcome page at (  Many of the authors of individual articles have won prestigious awards in their respective fields, as the News/Releases page indicates (

The editors of each Annual Review invite leading scholars in their discipline to provide a comprehensive and systematic critical review that “not only summarizes a topic but also roots out errors of fact or concept and provokes discussion that will lead to new research activity.” (Annual Reviews Mission Statement (

The importance of the literature review article for the social sciences has been documented by numerous authors, including Benson, Sporakowski and Stremmel (1992) and Huang and Chang (2008).  Knowing what has already been done and clarifying what has been done well (or poorly) are essential to establishing one’s own research contributions, encouraging research that is timely as well as sound theoretically and methodologically.  Articles that synthesize and evaluate prior developments in a given field and relate them to current issues are important for any scholar who wants to move in new directions, or wants to learn about the development and integration of a discipline not his own.  For a student struggling to orient herself in a class in social theory or area studies, for example, the AR reviews can cut Gordian knots of scholarly argument.  Literature reviews are the results of complex processes (Benson, Sporakowski and Stremmel, 65).  They are essential to the growth and learning that take place in the preparation of a thesis or dissertation, so articles written by established scholars serve as good models of literature reviews and are invaluable.  Annual Reviews meet these needs.

As the website points out, Annual Reviews articles in the various disciplines are highly cited.  The analyses published by ISI in its Journal Citation Reports for 2008 indicate that the AR social science journals are, indeed, important sources of information for professionals.

Table I.   Recent Annual Reviews Social Sciences Volumes and Their ISI Rank

Annual Review  Title

of First Volume)

Latest Volume Date Number of Articles in Latest Volume Rank,  Among Journals Indexed in Comparable ISI/Web of Science Category 5-year impact factor

(Journal Citation Reports
for 2008 )

Anthropology (1972)

(2009 volume announced for October)

Oct.  2009 18 10/61


Environment and Resources  (1976) Nov.  2008 20 1/58 6.726
Law and Social Science  (2005) Dec.  2008 17 81/104 0.657
Political Science (1998) June 2009 27 7/99 2.414
Psychology, Clinical (2005) Apr.  2009 20 23/88 3.842
Psychology, Multidisciplinary  (1950) Jan.  2009 28 1/102 17.608
Public Health (1980) (Public, Environmental & Occupational Health Apr.  2009 21 1/76 7.491
Sociology (1975) Aug.  2009 27


3/99 4.954

Sources: Annual Reviews, “ISI Rankings.”Accessed 10/19/2009 at;  Journal Citation Reports, tables for Social Sciences.  Accessed 10/19/2009 at

The readers of AR journals find them valuable and use them in further work.  AR journals consistently rank high among leading titles in their fields, as indicated by the impact factor measures of Journal Citation Reports, a Thomson Reuters database associated with the Science Citation Index. Even relatively new AR journals appear high in the rankings. (The three economics journals first issued in 2009 have not yet received a ranking.)  Further information about JCR and impact factors may be found on the Thompson Reuters website at The relative youth of several of the AR social sciences titles suggests that longer-established disciplines in the sciences (and business) increasingly recognize the contributions of the social sciences.

A further indicator of the importance of Annual Reviews publications is their coverage by major journal databases in the disciplines.  Sociological Abstracts indexes both the Anthropology and Sociology titles among its Core Journals (all substantive articles indexed).  Law and Social Sciences is indexed as a Priority journal (50% or more of articles indexed), and Political Science and Public Health both receive Selective coverage (less than 50% indexed, but monitored for substantive articles).  JSTOR has provided access to AR’s Sociology, Anthropology, and Ecology, Evolution and Systematics titles, as well as the Biennial Review of Anthropology, in its first collection of journals.

Another gauge of AR’s importance may be found in OCLC WorldCat, in which around 1,700 libraries report AR Sociology holdings, and around 1,500 report holdings in the AR Anthropology and its predecessor.  (By comparison, the Annual Review of Biochemistry is held by some 1,750 libraries.)

Topical Coverage

The range of topics covered in each Annual Review may be found in the editorial statement provided in the Publications Catalog area (  The broad range of topics covered in the Annual Reviews of both Anthropology and Sociology reveal the diversity of the disciplines and their interconnections with other areas of study.  Articles with a specific national or regional focus may be subsumed in the categories for the sub-fields.  Most articles are in English, although many cite works published in other languages, or authored by international scholars.

Themes in Annual Review of Anthropology

The volume editors for AR Anthropology generally choose topics that reflect important developments, as well as current issues and controversies in archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistics and communicative practices, regional studies and international anthropology, and sociocultural anthropology.  Through the varying themes of successive volumes, the editors reflect the discipline’s holistic approach, where “students and scholars… can find food for thought, material for teaching, and inspiration for research” (Brenneis and Ellison, 2009).  Evolution and human reproduction are the dual themes of the 2008 volume, and in 2009, the themes are current research on gender and anthropology and human health.  The editors actively seek essays that will be intellectually stimulating, in the hopes that “the intellectual energy released by reviews of these topics will lead to more research, discussion, and debate in the years ahead” (Durham, 2008).

The volume for 2009 includes articles on reproduction, human development and social evolution, and the development of societies in Asia and Oceania.  The fact that a search for what might be considered an anthropological topic may show results from sociology, psychology, or the life sciences, point to the interdisciplinary nature of the social sciences, especially anthropology.  Many of the articles in recent volumes represent sociocultural anthropology, showing its diversity of regional and topical focus.  In Sociology, the articles appear to be divided more finely by sub-discipline, without a marked predominance of any area scholars.  Table II shows themes covered in recent Anthropology volumes, and Table III shows a similar breakdown for Sociology.


Table II.   Articles in Recent Annual Reviews of Anthropology

Year of Publication Major Volume Theme(s)
2009 (October) Dual themes, gender in anthropology and human health.
2008 Evolution, reproduction

Returned to “theme” approach

2007 Skipped “theme” approach, emphasized “the core”
2006 Environmental conservation,

Source: Annual Review of Anthropology, Tables of Contents for 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009

Themes in Annual Review of Sociology

The AR Sociology also “covers the significant developments in the field… (including the) major theoretical and methodological developments as well as current research” Editorial Statement,  The volumes are structured along broad thematic lines and reveal the variety of interests among sociologists.  Categories that have appeared in most or all volumes from 2006 to 2009 are: theory and methods; social processes; institutions and culture; formal organizations; political and economic sociology; differentiation and stratification; individual and society; policy; and demography.  The categories societies and world regions; urban and rural community sociology, and historical sociology, have appeared twice in these four years.

Table III.   Articles in Recent Annual Reviews of Sociology

Sociology Major Volume Theme(s)
2009 Interdisciplinary, gender, work and labor issues, marriage and family structure, inequality, societal responses to war and terrorist attacks, Asia
2008 Reproductive biology… Gender inequality
G.H.  Mead (and his legacy)
2007 Statistics/Analysis
2006 Sociological Knowledge

Source: Annual Review of Sociology, Tables of contents for
2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Special Features

The online AR version also offers special compilations of articles previously published and gathered by the AR editors.     Another feature of interest, “Supplemental Materials,” is a digital repository that allows authors to make available graphics, charts, videos, figures, tables, additional bibliographies, and other material that could not be included in earlier journals.  A link appears in the individual volume, as well as on the website at  The Audio Series feature, another effort to enhance AR services, is available from the home page and from the pages of series that include interviews with series editors and article author; see the link at  At present, the list includes interviews in clinical psychology and chemistry.  Hopefully this feature will expand to others.

The “Quick Links” feature is a functional sidebar that accompanies the abstract and .html versions of each article.  Each series has a varying number of links, which may include the Advanced Search function, a link to the current series editors, errata for the volume, to related articles in the AR or in the Web of Science databases, “add to one’s favorites list,” “send a link to a friend,”  “set up alerts or RSS feeds,” “view most cited and most downloaded articles,” and so on.  At the article level, the reader finds the “chain of reviews” (earlier articles that the current article cites), and a sign-up for alerts when the present article is cited).  The first page of the .pdf version also contains the “Further” feature, which provides links to additional sources.

Article Format

All publications in AR appear to have a similar presentation format.  Print volumes are hard bound, with reviews arranged by sub-discipline and topic.  Online reviews can be searched by keyword or browsed by year of publication.  Each review is divided into sections, generally including an introduction, several sections which develop the theme historically or discuss developments in theory or methodology, a conclusion, and acknowledgements.  At the end of each essay is a lengthy bibliography, often over 100 items long.  In the online version, there is a feature that allows the reader to jump from section to section of an article, and each text reference is hyperlinked to the corresponding item in the bibliography.

Database/Site Navigation and Article Retrieval

Site Navigation

As might be expected with an important interdisciplinary series, the AR website is complex but well-organized.  It allows any user to search for citations and abstracts to all journals.  Access to the full texts of articles, in .html or .pdf format, requires a subscription (see Pricing).  The Browse page may be a good one for libraries to set as their default entry page for AR; it gives access to all volumes, telling which volumes are actually subscribed to by the library.  Perhaps the one hard-to-locate feature of the AR site is that access to information about AR is linked to the series tagline at the top of the entry page.  With this link readers can find a directory of the AR editorial staff and individual editorial committees, a history of the organization, links to events, and a description of AR’s participation in efforts to disseminate scientific knowledge at low cost in the developing world  (described elsewhere in this review).

The journal home page features tabs for accessing various functions: ordering, browsing entire AR series or individual titles, searching, and creating a user profile.  The help section is clearly organized, with a detailed table of contents and a link to the FAQ page.  There is a separate tab for information about contacting the AR staff or editorial committees.  The home page also has an index with links to ordering and account information, setting up a user profile, librarian resources and library administration tools.  AR is a CrossRef member and is Counter compliant.

For authors of AR articles, links to detailed guidelines for submission, formatting, bibliographic citation, charts and other illustrations, and other issues, are available on the Welcome page (entry through the AR tagline, at  The downloadable author guidelines for anthropology and sociology and other social sciences are available in .pdf format in a handbook known as the “green book,” available on the AR website at


Searching the AR database is relatively easy.  (As mentioned, searches for articles and abstracts are available without a subscription, but retrieving full-text access requires one.)  The Browse tab allows access to individual series and volumes.   On each volume page a Quick Links area allows access to keyword or advanced searching.  In the search and browse areas, the user can choose from quick links that enhance the accessibility of a number of AR resources to:

  • Search one volume, one series, or all series at the same time.  This can reveal related content in other series, giving the potential for tracing the influence of a person or theory in other disciplines.
  • View article abstracts and full text in .html or .pdf format
  • Save advanced searches and receive search alerts
  • Create lists of favorite articles
  • View the “Chain of Reviews,” other AR articles related to the current article
  • View citations to related articles from the ISI Web of Knowledge index
  • Track later citations to the AR article; this can also be set up as an RSS feed
  • Download the article to one’s computer, or to a citation manager software
  • Use several training materials on AR content and navigation available via the Resources for Librarians link
  • Interface with the JSTOR and Web of Science databases.

Using the Advanced Search option (available under the Search tab) makes further features available:

  • Search by all words supplied, exact phrase, at least one word, none (exclude a term)
  • Search by author
  • Search anywhere in the article, in the title, in the image or table captions (an improvement would be to add searching in the abstract)
  • Limit the search by the published date of AR articles.

Publication Schedule

Annual volumes appear throughout the year on a rolling schedule, which can be found at  ( ).  RIAs, Reviews in Advance, are published online as soon as they have been edited and revised (but may still have minor changes).  If RIAs are available for a given volume, a link appears on the publication schedule and on the table of contents for the upcoming volume.


Subscriptions are available to individuals, institutions, or corporate bodies.  Pricing for all AR volumes appears at  Orders can be placed online, or by telephone, mail, or fax.   Details on shipping, including international orders, may be found at

All AR journals are currently offered in both print and electronic versions.  In some cases, the electronic version provides supplementary material not available in the print versions, such as large tables or graphics or extended bibliographies.  If a customer has subscribed to any online volume, that access remains permanent, whether or not the customer maintains that subscription in the future.  For either the Anthropology or the Sociology annual volume, pricing for individuals is $78 for print and online access (available with an access token from AR).  Pay-per-view access for one 24-hour period may also be purchased by individuals who have registered with AR.

Institutions should contact AR to place their orders.  Institutional pricing is $197 for either annual volume in print or online, and $236 for either volume if the institution orders both print and online.  The social sciences collection includes eight titles.  Pricing for this collection’s site license for 2009 will be $1,537, which reflects a 2.5% discount for purchasing the entire collection.  (Online access to the economics titles is only available as a site license  For access to the complete series of AR back volumes from 1932 to 2003, there is a one-time charge of $6,000.  In keeping with its non-profit mission and its history of keeping subscription prices relatively low, AR has announced that it will not raise prices for 2010.

Site license pricing is available for institutions wishing to order all titles in one or more collections, and to consolidate all AR purchases.  Moreover, pricing for multi-campus locations, consortia, corporate and government entities is also available via an AR contact.  (Andrea López at; see also the service page at

Because of the importance of encouraging the development of the sciences in developing nations, AR also participates in several programs for the free or low-cost dissemination of scientific information.  They include:

  • AGORA, Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture, sponsored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  • PERI, the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Information (INASP) sponsors PERI (now in Phase Two as PERii ), a UK-based program
  • TEEAL, a full-text digital library of nearly 150 agricultural journals and a searchable database of citations from major indexes in the biomedical and life sciences, created by Cornell University, which can be used without having Internet access.

Further information about these projects can be found at the Philanthropy link on the About Annual Reviews page

Copyright, Archiving, Permissions, and Author Redistribution

AR requests the transfer of authors’ rights to their articles, but is relatively generous in allowing authors to use and reprint them under clearly specified conditions.  This includes posting on preprint servers.  Authors who are government employees have somewhat different reproduction rights.

Permission is required for persons other than the author to use Annual Reviews articles for reprints or photocopies beyond those for individual scholarly use (see the permissions page, ).  AR does, however, allow persons with individual or institutional AR subscriptions to include the links for specific articles in their course packs or readers, developing a list of chapters from AR and placing those abstracts and links in “an online syllabus, reading list, or other Web-based course materials.”  This may be done without additional permission, as indicated on the Course Reader page (

Comparison/Evaluation of AR

Although many other journals publish literature reviews, the Annual Reviews series are exceptionally useful.  The helpful format and added features of the electronic versions make the AR database a highly recommended purchase for any academic library, especially those whose institutions offer advanced degrees in the social sciences.  For graduate education, they are invaluable, providing the perspectives of well-known scholars on the history and theoretical development of each discipline.  The reviews can also be used by advanced undergraduates seeking to increase their exposure to the professional literature in their fields.   AR can be especially helpful when used for course readings in conjunction with handbooks or companions to social theory, such as those published by Blackwell and Sage.

Libraries that serve undergraduate students at the introductory level, may want to examine Blackwell’s Compass, an online collection featuring survey articles in the disciplines of history, geography, literature, religion, sociology, social and personality psychology, and language and linguistics.  These appear to be designed somewhat more for beginning students than the Annual Reviews.

Suggestions for Improvement

Like the content of the reviews, the quality of appearance and ease of navigation are quite high.  Nevertheless, a few small opportunities for improvement may be noted.  AR’s scholarly, selective approach may prevent very recent developments in a given area from being covered every year.  In navigating the complex website, one must remember to use the AR tagline at the top of the page to locate the Welcome page’s information.  An “about AR” link on the home page would remedy this.

A link to special features, such as the Supplemental Materials and the Audio Reviews, could be added to the search page for each series that currently has such materials, or to the Browse Publications page to call attention to these attractive features.  While the current search engine resembles Google’s, fielded Boolean searching might prove more powerful.   On the whole, given the wealth of user-friendly AR features, the drawbacks for this resource are minor.


By their nature, reviews of the literature emphasize developments through time, putting today’s controversies in context.   Because the articles are prepared by leaders in their respective disciplines, they are essential as tools for research and teaching.   Annual Reviews admirably complements specialized encyclopedias or companions to the disciplines, and journals of commentary and debate such as Current Anthropology.

Overall, the Annual Reviews website and database are easy to access; documentation is thorough and thoughtful.  The usability of AR compares favorably with that of both JSTOR and Science Direct.  Numerous user-friendly AR features, such as their interface with Web of Knowledge and JSTOR, make this a particularly good research tool.  It will probably encourage others to follow the Web of Knowledge leadership in the art of citation searching.

The focus of the Annual Reviews in specific disciplines makes them valuable not only to encourage research, but also as tools for teaching students about the intellectual heritage of the disciplines.  The Annual Reviews deserve their reputation as essential journals in their disciplines.


My heartfelt thanks go to Andrea López of Annual Reviews for her assistance, and to my colleagues on the ANSS Bibliography Committee for their support.


Benson, Mark, Michael J. Sporakowski, and Andrew J. Stremmel.  1992.  “Writing Reviews of Family Literature:  Guiding Students Using Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Objectives.”  Family Relations 41(1): 65-69.   Retrieved from ProQuest Research Library on June 25, 2009.)

Brenneis, Don and Peter Ellison.  2009.  “Preface: Holism and Anthropology.”  Annual Review of Anthropology 38.   Retrieved from Annual Reviews database on October 6, 2009.

Durham, William H.  2008.  “Preface:  Keep Evolving!”  Annual Review of Anthropology 37.  Retrieved from Annual Reviews database on October 6, 2009.

Huang Mu-husan and Yu-wei Chang.  2008.  “Characteristics of Research Output in Social Sciences and Humanities:  From a Research Evaluation Perspective.”  Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 59(11): 1819-28.

UlrichsWeb.  “Annual Review of Anthropology.” Retrieved from UlrichsWeb database on July 22, 2009.   (

UlrichsWeb.  “Annual Review of Sociology.” Retrieved from UlrichsWeb database on July 22, 2009.   (

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