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So you want to be an author.

All of those authors can't be that exceptional. But they have the audacity to think that they have something worthwhile to say and that they can say it better than others whose writing they have seen. Just as important, editors, and their review boards in many cases, have concurred with that assessment.

The short and simple of it is that they are right. They, and you, have something worthwhile to say, and you can probably say it better than the next person. The secret to successful writing, and publishing, is the approach.

An old, and only sometimes useful, saw, is that, in preparing a message for communication, the three things one should do are tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them what you want to tell them, and tell them what you told them. The advice is most frequently offered for speech making, but it finds its way into writing as well. Learned and scientific publications are famous for this dictum, even though they may attach disarming labels to the three sections.

There is considerable virtue to the advice, but it is not enough. It may not even be the way to write the article that you develop. But beyond considerations of the actual writing, there is a process that can be followed to provide greater assurances of publication success.

We have developed a step-by-step method to get you started on your literary odyssey. Of course, we presume you have a desire to express something in print. If you don't, stop here. The "publishing bug" is an insidious creature, not easily exterminated once contracted.

The first barrier is deciding what you want to write about. What probably keeps many of us from writing at all is the conviction that we have nothing to say, or that what we want to say is unimportant or trivial. It is frightening to think what number of good ideas are lost or confined to a single organization because of the failure to overcome this barrier. Look at and think about the daily operations of your organization. Give some thought to operational programming and projects that are in the planning stages. It should be clear that one or two of them are worth disseminating. Even if the idea is not new, there may be elements of the approach that could be useful to others. If you have solved an organizational problem, it is likely that others might benefit from knowing of your solution.

Sometimes a simple elucidation of the problem itself can be helpful. The exercise might create potential solutions in your mind or in the minds of the readers of the article. Your writing about the problem, even without concrete solutions, can contribute to the development of solutions elsewhere. In addition to delineation of the problem, you may want to include a review of the problem area as represented in the literature. Of course, the most useful article is one that outlines the problem, places it in the perspective of similar problems, and describes the solution.

This same approach can be brought to bear on any issue that confronts the health care field or health care management. In this case, the article will probably be most acceptable if it carefully outlines the issue at hand, reviews the development of resolutions to date, and provides the author's assessment of how the issue can best be resolved. In issue-oriented articles and in case studies, however, it is the freshness of the approach that willlikely be intriguing to editors.

So now you have a topic for your article, and you have at least a preliminary notion of how the article should be approached. For the careful writer, the next step is a search of the literature on the selected topic. The importance of this step cannot be overstated. It can accomplish several important chores.

* It is a check on the freshness of your treatment of the topic. If the topic has been covered adequately in the literature, including your particular approach, there is no need for another article.

* It can help to redirect or refine your approach. The additional information found in the literature can be used to reformulate exactly how you wish to address the topic or issue.

* It allows you to provide a sound basis for the article you plan. To make your article a more useful addition to the literature, a list of references should be included. The literature search provides this list as a by-product. The information garnered in the search also will aid in the writing of an introduction to the article.

In spite of the amount of work that has already gone into an article that has not yet been written, there is another step. You will want to decide which journal or magazine you are going to submit your article to. This is an extremely important step. Journals vary in their editorial missions and approaches. The variations are reflected in the focus and content of the publications. For the publications that you read on a routine basis, a determination of focus and content is no problem. For those with which you are less familiar, check several issues, ideally scattered over time, so that you understand the intent of the publications. You want to be sure that your article and the topic it will cover "fit" the editorial goals of the publication you finally select.

Once you have selected the target journal, having noted the shared characteristics of the articles in it, you have a choice. Frequently the best course of action is to send a brief description or outline of the article to the editor to test the waters. However, be aware that acceptance of the proposal, while an excellent indication of editorial interest, is no guarantee of accept ance of the article. All articles will go through some kind of editorial review, and most of the journals that you target for the article will likely have more rigorous review processes, normally involving peer review.

Where all of your advance work has demonstrated that the article really does offer a unique view of a topic or issue, skip the preliminary test and go ahead and write it. Of course, it will be subjected to thorough review, but if your confidence is very high, the effort will probably pay off in some publication, even if it isn't your first choice.

All of the hurdles have been cleared, and you're ready to write. If you have already prepared an outline for editorial review, you have the skeleton for the article. If this step has not been taken, it should be your next step. For some writers, the outfine can be informal, merely a mental image of the desired results. For others, a formal, written outline is advisable. Whatever its exact form, the outline provides discipline and order for the article. It is a chance to determine the article's flow and to learn if logical elements are missing from your thinking. The direction of the article may even change as the outline is developed. If you have not submitted your article proposal to any editorial review, you may wish to pass the outline by a colleague or friend for comments. Ideally this additional step will only confirm the desirability of the article. In some cases, however, the step may lead to further refinements of the outline. Now you write. And, more than likely, write again. You are the writer, but you are also the first reader. Test all your writing on yourself. It is an imperfect measure of the article's quality, because you are too dose to the content for a totally objective assessment, but it will force you to place yourself in the position of the intended reader. Each sentence and paragraph should be checked for logical development. Each should also be checked for clarity of expression. Is this the best way to state my case? And remember to avoid verbosity.

After the first draft and each subsequent draft, the article should be checked carefully for the basic elements of writing. Are spelling and grammar correct? Is the article syntactically sound? On the most basic level, are there any typographical errors? Is there anything in the article that would cause you embarassment?

There is a limit to how effective the author can be in assessing the quality of an article. As stated above, the author is simply too dose to the project. At some point, a more objective reader must be found. Of course, the editor of the targeted journal will fulfill that role, but safety suggests that an earlier effort be made. Any trusted friend or colleague can be tapped, as long as the person has some familiarity with the topic of the article and enjoys your professional respect. You must be able and willing to accept a totally honest appraisal from this person. The odds are that a further draft will be required. As a matter of fact, if the first outside reading does not elicit some negative responses, you should be wary. The person may not want to hurt your feelings, even though the lack of response may hurt your chances of having the article published.

Presuming that you have received an honest outside assessment of the article and have completed the final draft to incorporate the recommended changes, a magic moment has arrived. You submit the article to the editor of the targeted journal. The wait begins.

In most cases, a letter acknowledging receipt of the article will be sent to you by the editor. Do not be surprised at delays. However, if you have not heard from the editor in a couple of weeks, don't hesitate to call and ascertain the article's arrival. After you know the article has safely arrived at its destination, relax. The review will take some time. Don't be surprised if eight or more weeks are involved. If discretion is used, a few checkup calls are permissible, but repeated inquiries may hurt your cause. The editor is at the mercy of the time schedules of his reviewers, so there is little he or she can do except wait also.

Now comes another magic moment, perhaps. You hear from the editor. In the worst scenario, the article is rejected. Usually, the editor will provide specific reasons for the rejection. If the letter seems vague, there is no harm in asking for details. Unless the article is found so seriously wanting that further submission is inadvisable, these clues to its deficiencies can be helpful in further drafts. It will probably be futile to resubmit the article

to the same editor, but some repairs may make the article suitable for the second journal on your target list.

The second possible response, a bit happier one, is a request for revisions. Swallow your pride and take the request seriously. If the changes seem entirely wrongheaded, you may wish to withdraw the artide. But an honest attempt to comply with the request should be made. The odds are strongly in favor of acceptance if the changes are accomplished. You also shouldn't hesitate to contest comments that you believe are clearly wrong. If the evidence you present is clear and overwhelming, the editor will reconsider, or at least query the offended reviewer. Basically, the editor, on behalf of the reviewers, is saying that the article is worthy of publication but needs some specific attention in order to be fully acceptable. Make it acceptable.

If your article has been accepted, with or without revisions, you are nearly home. But there is more. For all except the most impoverished publications, an editing process will take place at some point. Do not be surprised if the delay in initiating the process is quite lengthy. Most journals operate on extensive schedules, and it is not unlikely that up to a year may transpire before the article is finally scheduled for a specific issue. At some point close to publication, you will receive an edited version of the article for a fmal check. This may be in manuscript or galley form, depending on the manner in which the publication is produced. What is important is that it be read carefully. This is your last chance to make changes, and aB manner of changes may be possible at this point. If the proof copy is in galley form, extensive revisions are expensive, so control your pen. A rewrite of the artide is out of the question. You are looking for obvious errors made in the editorial process. If you make more substantive changes, you should provide or be prepared to provide an explanation to the editor. The editing process may also raise additional questions about the artide, so be prepared to submit any requested information.

The next moment is the most magic of all--the arrival of the journal containing your by-lined article. Of course, now you can begin the steps toward yet another artide, so don't savor the moment for too long.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American College of Physician Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:writing medical articles
Author:Curry, Wesley
Publication:Physician Executive
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Previous Article:Economics of academic medical consultations.
Next Article:Medicine prepares for battle.

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