Writing for Medical Journals: Manuscript Preparation From ...
Writing The Medical Manuscript: A Systematic Approach Manuscript Writing Part I About writing and what makes a good paper Parts of a manuscript Writing strategies Part II Essentials of good writing Sentences-Paragraphs Common writing mistakes Medical Communications Today Medical science becoming increasing specialized 1976: ~ 5,000 biomedical journals, only in libraries 2006: >17,000 biomedical journals, electronic on internet
Subspecialties and new vocabularies has increased dramatically over past 20 years Biomedical research moving to interdisciplinary initiatives The NIH Roadmap Thus, readership increasingly specialized yet interdisciplinary, requiring an approach that is common, clear, simplified. We must strive to make our articles increasingly reader friendly and cross- The Avoidable Downfall Your research Carefully planned Novel Flawlessly designed and executed Your paper
Poorly designed and writtenrejected or delayed The loss or delay of disseminating important critical information to the science community Journal Editors Agree Good writing signals clear thinking and an organized approach Clear direct English and logical, cohesive, organized writing are key to acceptance Even the most novel and well-constructed study will be rejected if the writing is flawed Writing is an Essential Skill The ability to communicate clearly and
precisely through the written word is an essential skill for medical researchers Delayed publications and denial of funding because of poorly written manuscripts and grants continues to plague researchers The career of a researcher can depend heavily on this skill Key Difficulties Many papers are poorly constructed and written Some scientists have not learned good manuscript writing techniques Others do not enjoy writing, and do not take the time or effort to ensure that the prose is clear and logical.
Authors are typically so familiar with the material that it is difficult to step back and view it from the point of view of a reader not familiar with the science Peer review is therefore critical Top 10 Reasons Manuscripts Rejected 1. Wrong journal, format, preparation 2. Disorganized study design 3. Defective tables, figures
4. Poor organization throughout, writing, spelling 5. No hypothesis or problem statement 6. No or insufficient conclusion 7. Overinterpretation of results 8.
Article unfocused, too verbose and long 9. Inappropriate statistical methods; methods not sufficient to repeat study 10. Poorly written abstract/title Pierson DJ, Respiratory Care 49(10), 2004 Byrne DW, Publishing Medical Research Papers, Williams and Wilkins, 199 The Paper Writing and editing the paper is the last step in the research process The paper tells the story from study inception, through data collection, statistical analysis, findings and
discussion The process of writing the paper should be analogous to the research processit requires attention to detail, time, and revision Start with Outline Outline each segment of the paper using traditional outline: I, II, III, A, B, 1, 2, a Forces logical thought and order
Eliminates unorganized thinking and writing Uncovers flaws in arguments Reduces wordiness Makes writing easier Include your draft figures, tables
Outline I. Introduction A. Zinc plays a critical role in biochemical functions in cells 1. Mitochondrial function (Billings) 2. Cell motility (Jones, Smith)
B. Zn concentrations affected by physiological changes in pregnancy (Billings) C. Zn deficiency increases spontaneous abortions and pregnancy complications 1. Rhesus monkeys (Putter) 2. White rats (Michaels, Reiss) D.
In humans, the role of Zn deficiency in pregnancy outcome is unclear (Brown) E. Objective: we evaluated whether Zn supplementation during pregnancy is associated with changes in birth outcomes. Journal Editor: Whats A Good Manuscript? Title descriptive and specific Abstract descriptive, specific, and correct length Introduction and background short and strong Research question clearly stated Literature cited is comprehensive and relevant Methods descriptive enough to be replicated; appropriate statistical analyses Figures and Tables stand on their own, support conclusions, well constructed
Citations relevant to topic Discussion within boundaries of findings; demonstrate how findings have helped resolve stated problem; implications and future work addressed Writing clear, terse, logical Manuscript follows journal guidelines The Title First reviewed by Journal Editors before abstract Short Specific, Relevant, Descriptive Write lastyour findings and conclusions may alter your title What is the single most important point of this study? How would I tell my colleague, in one short descriptive sentence:
whats this study about? A descriptive, specific title perfectly framing your study will be apparent only after youve written the paper and abstract. Start with a short descriptive working title Unnecessary Title Phrases A Study of A Study to Determine Results of An Innovative Method Contributions to (of) Investigations on (concerning, about) Observations on A Trial Comparing TitleSpecific &
Descriptive A Study Involving Medical Imaging with Genetic Patients and Turners Syndrome MRI Brain Imaging in Children With Turners Syndrome and Other X Chromosome Abnormalities Nerve Growth Factors and Sodium Channels in Pancreatic Cells Nerve Growth Factor Increases Sodium Channel Expression in Pancreatic (Beta) Cells: Implications for Insulin Secretion TitleSpecific & Descriptive Down SyndromeWhere we are today: A Review
Down Syndrome: Genetic, Behavior, and Functional Neuroimaging Research 2000-2006 Aldosterone and Heart Failure Aldosterone Plasma Concentrations Increase with Severity of Congestive Heart Failure A study of MI in older Americans 1994-1999 Epidemiological survey of MI in Community-Dwelling American Males Over 65 years Lazarus arise! Life and Death Issues in Intensive Care End-of-Life Care Issues for Critically Ill Patients in Intensive Care Hospitals TitleSpecific & Descriptive Hepatitis C virus associated membranoproliferative
glomerulonephritis: A tale of Mice and Men Membranoproliferative Glomerulonephritis Associated with Hepatitis C Virus in F39(b) Nude Mice: Applicability to Humans Isolated unilateral tubular sclerosis-associated severe late-stage renal cystic disease in neonates Severe, Late-Stage Renal Cystic Disease in Neonates Associated with Isolated Unilateral Tubular Sclerosis Drug trial comparing systemic beta blocker with calciumchannel blocker in CHF Open-label Comparison of Altenolol and Propranolol versus Nifedipine in Patients with CHF: Beta Blocker and CalciumChannel Blocker Mechanisms Dont Stack Adjectives
Female but not male serotonin reuptake transporter (5-HTT) model knockout mice exhibit bladder instability: Implications 5-HTT female (not male) knockout mice have unstable bladders: Implications for Stress Urinary Incontinence Treatment Good TitlesSentences Intellectual impairments occur in children with blood lead concentrations above 10 mg per deciliter Increased 17b-estradiol suppresses PTHrP gene expression in breast cancer cell lines Spinal cord stimulation attenuates visceromotor reflexes in a rat model of post-inflammatory colonic hypersensitivity
Rhinovirus challenge decreases antioxidant enzymes in respiratory epithelial cells Not Sentences But Good Titles Comparison of MRI and CT for Detection of Acute Intracerebral Hemorrhage Extracranial Thrombotically Active Carotid Plaque as a Risk for Ischemic Stroke Annual Revaccination Against Influenza and Mortality Risk in Community-Dwelling Elderly Persons Effect of Antihypertensive Agents on Cardiovascular Events in Patients With Coronary Disease and Normal Blood Pressure. The CAMELOT Study: A Randomized Controlled
Trial The Abstract 1st Impression to journal editor and the reader! Follow the Journals Guidelines Most abstracts are often too long: 250 words: Cannot upload your paper! Structure it (outline it) The abstract is the single most important part of a manuscript, yet the most often poorly written -JAMA Editor The Abstract First looked at by editors/sometimes only thing read by readers Sometimes only part available electronicallyKEY words! Summarizes the main points succinctly:
Background/Significance Objective Study design, method Primary germane results Principal conclusions, implications Do NOT be vaguebe substantive and brief NOT The implications are summarized INSTEAD Summarize the implications! Abstract Emphasize methods, main results, and conclusion Introduction/purpose: 1 short sentence
Put objective as imperative style: Objective: To evaluate whether zinc supplementation during pregnancy affects infant birth measures. Methods, Results: 2-4 sentences Conclusion: 1-2 sentences Structured Abstract ContextSummarize the study rationale and provide clinical (or other) reason for the study question. ObjectiveState the purpose or question asked. If more than one objective, state primary objective and key secondary objectives. DesignDescribe basic design, including relevant details. SettingGeneral community, primary care, hospital, etc. Patient or other populationdescribe demographics, disorders, inclusion/exclusion criteria, etc. Interventionsname, dose, dosage
Main outcome measure(s) Results Conclusions Introduction Why did you carry out this research? State the specific purpose or rationale for the study. What is the existing state of knowledge of this topic? Synthesize information tracing the development of the problem and summarize its current stateie, the background. You ask (with citations): Whats known? Whats unknown? What are the gaps in knowledge this study will fill? What are you going to do and what do you expect to find?
State your hypothesis or question clearly (Objectives, Aims) Give only strictly pertinent references. Introduction This is a vital part of your paperit convinces (or not) the reader whether your study: Has merit and asks important research questions Is focused and supported by relevant recent citations Is ultimately important to human health and human disease Reviewers and editors will judge the papers importance in the introduction. You will better focus your introduction AFTER you construct your findings (results) and consider them (discussion). Your research question is the most important partin your
discussion, you will address whether the question or hypothesis was answered based on your data. Methods are Critical: Editors Responses What section contains the most flaws? What section responsible for outright rejection? Discussion Results Methods Introduction 0 2 4
14 16 18 % Responses How frequently do Editors encounter manuscript problems? Poorly written, excessive jargon Inadequate/inappropriate presentation Poor description of design Excessive zeal and self promotion Rationale confused, contradictory Essential data omitted, ignored Boring Important work of others ignored Seldom
Byrne DW, Publishing Medical Research Papers, Williams and Wilkins, 1998 Occasionally Frequently Methods Editors judge the study on whether your methods are adequate to answer your specific aim or hypothesis Rationale for choosing procedures/tests
The pivotal point to judge whether the results are valid Dont suggest a method you have no expertise with Your peer reviewer may uncover this Use consultants for methods you have no experience with, stating this in paper Methods usually the weakest section Often deficient in detail, not providing enough information to
replicate the study Statistical shortcomings Methods Study design or analysis type and period of study Condition or disease studied Human subjects approval Details of sample (number, recruiting methods of study subjects, patients, how organized) Interventions, outcome measures, statistical analyses Include the locations and times that data were collected Give enough information to replicate the study; dont assume only the specialist in your field will read it Methods Balance between brevity and completeness Sometimes reference an often-used method
Use figures and tables (eg, flow diagram) Naming thingsbe consistent Acronymsspell out first time, use consistently throughout Specialized tests, termsuse identical name in text, figs, tables Develop list of frequently used terms Present in logical order and your subsequent results should follow that same order MethodProcedures Method diagrams communicate schedule of procedures, enrollment, study design, mechanisms of action, guidelines, algorithms to reduce text and increase comprehension. ResultsThe Beginning The heart of your paper
Write after figures and tables are constructed Consider your data critically Construct tables, figures and include them in outline Write the results Use subheadings Results determine Whether youve answered your original question(s) Your direction for future studies Both of which belong in the discussion ResultsThe Beginning State ALL the findings Whether significant or not Without bias or interpretation Do not include weaknesses, strengths of study, ie dont discuss results List experiments in order listed in methods
Use logical headers and group your findings Characteristics of study subjects Findings in order listed in methods General to specific Use past tense Results confirm or reject your hypothesis: they do not prove anything. Results Short and to the pointMain or most important findings first Present only data directly relevant to the studyfocus Dont repeat methods but you may remind the reader briefly how you measured something. Allow the data to speak for itselfuse tables/figures
construct them first and use as a basis for writing In Tables and Figures, be descriptive, specific. Do not repeat the obvious: NO: Results of the kidney lead analysis are shown in Table 1. YES: Kidney lead concentrations increased in group 1 over the first 10 study weeks (Table 1). Present absolute numbers and percentages so reviewers can judge the significance of the findings. Statistical significance clinical significance ResultsMajor Mistakes Failure to provide all the data critical to answering the research question
Interpreting or commenting on results Six of the 20 patients required intubation, illustrating the seriousness of this problem (belongs in Discussion) Over 40% of treated rats exhibited a decreased inflammatory response, an unexpected finding (belongs in Discussion) Failure to adequately address statistical methods Tables and figures inappropriate, unbalanced Tables and figures poorly constructed Discussion Construction Summarize major findings1st paragraph Explain how your findings relate to those of otherswhat do they mean? Clinical relevance of the findings? Limitations and how this influenced your study?
How will you overcome these in the next studies? Explain the implications of findings What future direction(s) will you take? Discussion: Getting Carried Away Few studies make discoveries changing the course of scientific direction, and so authors: Attempt to overly state or the importance of their findings Come to erroneous or unsupported conclusions Uncritically accept statistical results This all distracts from works importance and signals to the reviewer problems with the research Also results in excessive length, a common problem
Authors should let the data speak for themselves 1. DiscussionCommon Mistakes Unwarranted speculations 2. Injecting tangential issues 3. Conclusions not supported by the data 4.
Not suggesting future directions for research hypothesis study data/results conclusions TIGHT PACKAGE Sections Unbalanced Article 3650 words Abstract Introduction Original Methods Final Results
Discussion 0 500 1000 1500 From The Journal Editors Perspective Prepare Your Manuscript Carefully Incorrect style irritates reviewers and editors, and the wrong style suggests that another journal previously rejected the paper.
Edit carefully Eliminate spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors Good writing requires rewriting Check accuracy of references with original sources Incorrect citations inconvenience the publisher and are a disservice to the reader Double-check numerical data! Numbers in abstract, text, tables, figures, ledends, and text must be consistent and correct Avoid Repetition Do not disclose results in introduction Do not repeat the Introduction in Discussion In text Do not repeat figure legends, table titles, or contents of the tables
themselves Use tables sparingly Presenting a few facts in text takes less space than a table Do not use tables for presenting simple lists Abbreviations, definitions, symbols in figures and tables must be explained in legends and footnotes Never refer a reader back to text for such information Journal Review Full review and decision takes ~1 month Editors make decision based on arguments; they dont count votes from Peer Reviewers Most papers undergo 2 rounds before publication For borderline decisions, a goal is to avoid multiple rounds of review Pressure to publish quickly may lead to rejection if further experiments are needed
What Helps or Hinders the Paper? What Helps? New data to a point Referee or Editor made factual errors (easy to prove) Careful and accurate response to criticisms (table) Telling the editor that reviews were helpful in improving the paper Knowing how to submit to the journal electronically Practice! What Doesnt? Referees were unfair and the criticisms were largely not valid Guesses at referee identity followed by personal attacks Specific evidence of bias by referee (difficult to prove) Endorsements or (positive) statements about your standing and reputation My Suggestions Put the manuscript away for a couple of days
Read troublesome areas aloud Dont try to edit a mangled paragraphdelete and rewrite it Your colleagues reviews of writing and table/figures are valuabledont be defensive about edits Let go of academic writing habits and dont imitate others writing. Develop your own clear, direct style Writing Deficiencies Most commonly cited by journal editors Wordiness and redundancies Cut, condense, combine
Outline to catch logic problems Poor flow of ideas Poor syntax and grammar Excessive abstraction Unnecessary complexity Byrne, D. Science Editor 23:2, 2000 Excessive compression
Consult an editor Be specific and descriptive Keep it simple and direct Do not overly compress writing
Qualify statements as necessary Summary Outline your paper Start early as your data is being analyzed Look at your data and decide how to organize and present your results: tables, figures, text Patterns and clues will emerge to guide your argument Start with results then introduction and discussion/conclusions Write title and abstract last Put it away, re-read, give to your colleagues to read Revise, revise, and re-revise Adhere to journal guidelines! Critically evaluate your paper with an editors eye Write clearly, logically, and simply!
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