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Share your experiences with others through publications.

In a 1986 Environment News Digest editorial, Charles Felix decried the scarcity of papers being written for publication on the subject of food protection. He speculated that people involved in researching the subject are sanitarians who are too busy doing it to be able to take time out to write about it. "By not sharing with others the results of their experience," he warned, "much of what is being learned...is lost for the rest of us." The bad news is that food protection is only one of many environmental health disciplines suffering from an insufficiency of published articles. The good news is that "the rest of us" can do something about it.

The problem is crucial, but subtle. There is no apparent shortage of articles to fill the abundant environmental health publications; no blank pages advertise "this space for rent." Our professional periodicals, in fact, contain consistently excellent articles. Typically, these are authored by sanitarians and other environmentalists whose names are familiar to us. But we rely too completely on the labor of these "regulars." Even as we commend those who work so diligently to keep us informed, we must pledge our own contributions. Our profession needs the diverse ideas of rank and file professionals in environmental health. Our profession needs publications by "the rest of us."

There are practical as well as altruistic reasons for writing and publishing our ideas. One of these is money, that "evil" without which our organizations would cease to exist. Today, continual budget crises at all levels mean funding for our programs is no longer inevitable. What is certain is that if we keep our accomplishments a secret, we will be passed over when funds are allocated. Conversely, if we convey our successful projects through publications, we may increase our personal prestige and enhance the standing of our organizations. Accordingly, management may look more favorably upon our requests for specialized equipment or additional personnel.

Organizations which employ established authors may also be at an advantage for securing new funding from federal or private grants. Understandably, even philanthropic agencies must get the maximum bang for their increasingly limited bucks. Since "nothing succeeds like success," one criterion for prospective investigators is a proven record of accomplishments, such as authorship in professional publications. Additionally, since having an article published in a professional journal broadcasts your name far and wide, your organization's good reputation may precede its formal application for a grant. In theory, every organization has an equal chance to compete for a grant. In practice, however, it can be advantageous when agencies have advance knowledge of your leadership in a particular field. Your published articles announce this leadership.

Interestingly, it may be the fear of assuming leadership that prevents some people from writing and publishing. Constructing a paper, like leading a project, involves making decisions and taking risks. When your paper is published, your thought processes are bared for all to see; you are vulnerable. You may be anxious about potential rejection by your peers, or that you will appear incompetent or silly. While it may be true that some people will not like your work, the majority will appreciate your effort. Take a chance! Complacency is anathema to leadership. Write about what you know, and you will be successful.

What do you know? You know a lot! You are an authority on the things you do. All humans are said to possess "ludic tendencies," meaning that we continually contemplate things. Among those things are our jobs. So, take a fresh look at the job you do. Although you may consider your job routine, I will bet that you have devised a better way to do it. Such innovation deserves an audience.

Once you decide to write an article, select a publication in which you would like it to appear. Write or call the editor. If the editor express no interest in your prospective article, do not despair; simply find another publication. Actually, editors are pretty nice folks, and they understand the challenges of writing. They tend, therefore, to be more like mentors than judges. Soon, you will find an editor who shows enthusiasm for your idea, and you will be on your way. That person's interest will not guarantee that your paper will be accepted for publication, but at least you will have a good prospect. Review the "instructions for authors" and start writing.

Starting is often considered the most difficult part of any project. One reason for this is that often significant projects appear so monumental, initially they may be perceived as insurmountable. They become less daunting, however, when they are comprehended as a collection of smaller tasks. Thousands of years ago, Taoists knew of this phenomenon. As Lao Tzu observed, "...the great construction project begins with a single bucketful of earth. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step."

The first step to writing your article is to organize it. This is where many people first encounter the dread "writer's block." This barricade sometimes arises from feeling confined by certain inflexible rules about how one must write. The constraining notion that all essays must begin with a written outline is one such rule. Why must they? You have no written outline when you converse, but you probably do a pretty good job of communicating your ideas. So, if it behooves you, break the rule and remove a major impediment to your creativity! Simply "organize" your article in the same easy manner in which you speak. Why not start by telling your story to a tape recorder?

You can exploit the fact that your work as a environmental health professional requires substantial travel, some of which will include relaxing excursions through the countryside. Use that time to chat into your recorder. Relaxation is the key to the creative process. Einstein once asked, "Why is it that I get my best ideas when shaving in the morning?" According to psychologist Rollo May, it is because the mind needs the relaxation of inner controls for the unaccustomed ideas to emerge.

Steve Martin's character, The Man with Two Brains, was far from unique. Functionally, the right and left hemispheres of our brains are so different that each is an entity; the right one is subjective, innovative and creative; the left one is objective, orderly and logical. In his book, Right Brain...Right On!, Bill Downey differentiates between them: "If the house is on fire, the left brain calls the fire department and runs for the water hose. The right brain admires the fluorescent tones of red in the blaze." It is your right brain that must be freed in order for your paper to be written.

Therefore, conceive your article freely, and without concern for producing a polished product. Polishing or editing, a left brain activity, will be undertaken later. After you transcribe your concept, perhaps into a word processor, you will edit. At that point, control will shift to your objective, left brain. This is fortunate, because as the subjectivity of the right brain was essential to the creation of your article, now the objectivity of the left brain is indispensable to the finished product. Originally, you drew your own enthusiasm from writing about what you know, but now you must focus on the needs of the reader.

In How to Get Published in Business/Professional Journals, author Joel Shulman states that readers are like the rest of us, interested in "Me! Me! Me!" They are interested in themselves, he notes, "more than in anything else, more than in anyone else." You are interested in improving yourself. It is the reason you are reading this article.

There are limits, however, to your objectivity. Even if your eye is fresh, still you will be scrutinizing your own creation. Therefore, you should seek the unbiased criticism of your colleagues. However, if they should return your manuscript to you without comments, try again. Follow the sage advice of an editor I know: pick at least one reviewer who you know will not like your article. Finally, incorporate the lessons of your reviewers into your rewrite.

Underscoring the significance of revising one's work, the late Supreme Court Justice and author Louis Brandeis said, "There is no such thing as good writing. There is only good rewriting." Sufficient rewriting will result in a paper economical of words and straightforward in meaning. As does your complete manuscript, each paragraph and sentence within should contain a thesis, a discussion and a conclusion; a beginning, a middle and an end.

Ending your paper can be a challenge in itself. Do not become obsessed with achieving perfection, for it is unattainable. A tourist is said to have watched an old world craftsman carving an extravagantly ornate door. Already was the detail so great that the tourist was compelled to ask the man how he would know when he had finished. The artisan replied, "I'm never finished; I just keep working until they take it away from me." When you are finished, send your manuscript to the journal you have selected and prepare to sculpt it more finely, based on the advice of the reviewers.

As communicator and author Earl Nightingale said, "Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm." Show your enthusiasm for your profession by writing and publishing the things you have learned. Help the rest of us by sharing your experiences through publications.

Barry J. Drucker, MPH, R.S., Program Manager, Public Health Sanitation Branch, St. Louis County Dept. of Health, 111 S. Meramec Ave., Clayton, MO 63105.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Environmental Health Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Guest Commentary
Author:Drucker, Barry J.
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Words:1589
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