Medical Writing: few tips and tricks to help smooth the road to publication

Our Principal Medical Writer, Alison Coletta discusses some tips to help smooth the road to pubblication. She was formerly medical writer and scientific editor at the European Journal of Heart Failure.

HealthcareWriting a paper for publication in a medical journal can be a daunting prospect for those not familiar with the process. Obviously the main criteria which determine acceptance for publication are scientific integrity, novelty and interest. However, the quality of writing and presentation can also impact on how well a paper is received. A paper that is well written in a format that complies with the journal’s specific requirements is more likely to be accepted than one that does not.

Here are a few tips and tricks to help smooth the road to publication:

  1. Select your target journal before you start writing and read the Instructions for Authors carefully (these should be available online). You can then start writing in the style required by your target journal, thereby avoiding the need for substantial changes later on to meet the journal’s requirements.
  2. Obtain a copy of a similar type of paper published in your target journal and use it as a guide as to what’s required.
  3. Check the basic formatting requirements such as line spacing, font, font size, margins, etc. and make sure you adhere to them.
  4. Give your paper a brief but specific and informative title.
  5. Keep the language simple. Avoid long complex sentences, which can confuse the reader. As a guide sentences should ideally be no longer than two lines of typed text.
  6. Avoid using non-standard abbreviations for frequently used words, this can be tempting but makes reading the text difficult. So just stick to the standard abbreviations with which everyone working in your particular therapeutic area is familiar.
  7. The introduction should describe your hypothesis, identify the knowledge gap and explain why the study was undertaken. The introduction should conclude with a brief description of the aims of the presented study. It should not include any mention of the results.
  8. The methods section should describe the procedures used in the study with sufficient detail to allow the reader to repeat the work if necessary. Any specialist equipment or materials should be specified. A separate description of the statistical methodology (if appropriate) should also be included.
  9. Results should be presented clearly and concisely with visual presentation of key data as Tables, Figures or Images. Do not repeat data presented in the Tables and Figures in the text.
  10. All Tables, Figures and Images should be numbered and cited in numerical order in the text.
  11. Ensure that each Table and Figure with its accompanying legend and footnotes can be understood in isolation without any of the accompanying text.
  12. The discussion should provide an objective interpretation of the results and their significance in the context of previously published work. The limitations of the study and suggestions for future work should also be discussed.
  13. References should be presented according to the style required by the journal. All journal titles have a standard abbreviated form which should be used when referencing, for example the abbreviation for the New England Journal of Medicine is N Eng J Med. These standard abbreviations are listed on a number of different websites including Index Medicus.
  14. Write the abstract last, once the main body text has been agreed. This will ensure consistency. Make sure you adhere to the strict word limit for the abstract as stated in the Instructions for Authors.
  15. Run a spell-check using either UK English or US English depending on the journal.
  16. Use non-proprietary generic names for all drugs, for example warfarin not Coumadin®, ranitidine not Zantac®. Unlike trade names which are capitalised, generic names should not be capitalised.
  17. Once you have completed writing your paper, get a colleague to read it to check for consistency and content. It’s amazing how many things they will find.
  18. If English is not your first language, try to find someone, preferably with a medical background, who will read the paper for you to check for any errors in the language expression.
  19. Before you submit, make sure that your paper complies with all of the requirements specified in the Instructions for Authors, otherwise it will be sent back to you for revision.
  20. The covering letter is the key to selling your manuscript to the journal editors. It should be brief (no more than one page) but should highlight the key findings and explain their value in the context of current understanding.
  21. Allow sufficient time to complete the online submission process which can be quite complex. Consult the journal’s website to check what is required for the submission and collect all of the required documents together beforehand.
  22. Finally, do not be offended by the reviewers comments, they will help to improve your paper. Respond to all comments no matter how minor. It is acceptable to rebut comments from the reviewers but this should be done politely and with well-structured reasoning.

CROS NT has an expert panel of Medical Writers with decades of experience between them in both Europe and North America. All of our Medical Writers are native or fluent English speakers, and some have bilingual writing capabilities. These Medical Writers have produced technical and scientific documentation for all phases of clinical trials (I-III) as well as post-market studies for both the EMA and FDA.