Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research
The first cohort of the EQUATOR Publication School (6-10 July 2015) had goals many researchers can identify with: develop confidence in writing, fill in the gaps in a self-taught writer’s training, polish skills so as best to pass them on to students, and write faster and better. The Publication School week was spent on every aspect of writing and publication, from planning the paper to writing a press release. By the end, participants were saying:
This has been a great week, I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve been writing papers before now, but I’m even more skilled now. I’m more aware now, more secure about writing the correct things and reporting guidelines.
I’ll absolutely write better articles. I’ll share this with all my colleagues. We do the best we can, but we can do better.
My action goals from the course are to take CONSORT into account when writing, go on a statistics course, get on Twitter, and talk to other medical writers at my firm about using reporting guidelines!
It’s been a great week. I’ve learnt so much!
Intrigued by what you missed? Keep reading for some of the highlights and tips and tricks for writing articles!
Write a paper in a week
Our participants wrote research papers in groups, using a published protocol as inspiration. Each day focused on an aspect of paper writing and common errors to avoid. Liz Wager of Sideview took us through general planning, methods, results, introduction, discussion, and abstract writing. Using this writing order helps to refine a paper’s focus.
Good style is clear thoughts, short words, and short sentences.
The papers followed Liz’s ‘hourglass’ structure, with a broad focus in the introduction and conclusion, but a narrow focus in the middle with the results. Did you know that you can write an interesting, informative introduction in 150 words? Just decide on your target journal and audience, and tailor the information to their requirements and knowledge, avoiding the unnecessary full literature review.
One participant summarized Liz’s advice perfectly in their action goal:
I’m going to change the way I prepare the introduction, especially the first paragraph. Start with how it impacts the audience! I’m also going to change how I structure the discussion. I usually put the limitations right at the end, but I like this idea of moving them to the second paragraph and ending the paper on a positive note.
Producing papers fit for a statistics reviewer
A unique aspect of Publication School over other writing courses was the emphasis on correct reporting for medical research. EQUATOR’s Doug Altman, Iveta Simera, and Gary Collins introduced reporting guidelines, which take all the guesswork out of what details to include in a paper.
Reporting guidelines are like shopping lists, they stop us from forgetting important details!
Your statistics reviewer, reader, and systematic reviewer will all appreciate your efforts if you combine guidelines with the exhortation to ‘report everything needed for replication’. Many of our participants had experience as systematic reviewers and readers, and it was gratifying when presenters and participants quickly agreed on what makes an excellent statistics write up.
Engaging with editors
Our papers were completed in just three days, but the article journey wasn’t over yet: it was time for publication and dissemination! If you’re aiming for a high-impact journal, remember to register your study and publish a protocol before research begins, and add a results summary to your registration before submitting your article. Our participants were relieved to discover that journals do not consider results summaries on trial registries to be prior publications, and in fact encourage them.
Paper review and acceptance can seem a confusing process from the outside. Domhnall MacAuley from PLoS Medicine and CMAJ gave us an honest account of the life of an editor and just how papers and cover letters are received. He agreed with Liz that articles should be clear, concise, and simply written – editors have dozens of articles to read!
Editors are looking for three things from an article. Is it new? Is it true? Will it make a difference?
Jackie Marchington warned us about a different segment of the publishing world that deliberately hides its processes. Predatory journals will take your article in exchange for cash and offer very little peer review or editing. Publishing in these journals is a waste of good research.
Post-publication: Posts, tweets, and other noise
Publication alone is no longer sufficient for disseminating your work. Dozens of social media platforms and an ever-shortening news cycle make a wall of noise for your work to break through. Jo Silva, the NDORMS Communications officer, introduced the wonders (and dangers) of social media. Thankfully, we can simply choose one or two media platforms, and should consult our communications officer for help. Jo demonstrated that by following a few basic rules, writing with passion and enthusiasm, and including a personal story, you can bring your research to life for the public in a press
release and get your message to more people than you could ever imagine.
Why should we bother with post-publication research dissemination, or even with publication itself? We all agreed that there are moral obligations around research. Public funding brings with it both an obligation to publish and an obligation to make your work useful and accessible for the public. Plain language summaries and effective research dissemination help to meet these obligations.
A week to remember
Publication School offered insights into every step of the publication process, from planning and writing an article to disseminating it to the public. It focused on clear, concise reporting and the use of available guidelines.
I learnt a lot and enjoyed this week so much.
Thank you for the inspiration and energy that you have given me to go back home to my students and colleagues and tell them again and again about EQUATOR and the job you have done and that we can use it.
I had gotten a bit depressed – I’ve been doing this for 10 years since you started – but you’ve given me new energy to start again!
If this sounds like the perfect course for you or your students, keep an eye on EQUATOR’s news for a repeat of the course next year and check out more selected tips and tricks from the week on #EQPubSchool.
In a previous post detailing my time with the EQUATOR Network, I spoke about my work on the STrengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) statement. STROBE is one of the original “core” reporting guidelines which provides guidance...