Here’s a map to get your best work out the door efficiently. It’s never too soon to plan the journey to a completed manuscript.

Get moving.

  1. Huddle with your lead investigator, statistician, research team members, clinical lead, and other contributors from the start to plumb everyone’s ideas and assure buy-in.
  2. Set a brisk but reality-based timeline, and establish a standing meeting cadence.
  3. Use the first meeting to nail down the exact research question(s), agree on roles, document analysis approach, and decide authorship order.
  4. Use subsequent meetings to review data, text and tables. Projecting documents onto a screen or sharing screens for real-time group editing can dramatically accelerate group writing and keep everyone involved.
  5. Consider adapting the generic author agreement from American Psychological Association. The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors has in-depth information on their site defining authorship requirements. This gold standard demystifies individual responsibilities and helps distinguish between authorship and acknowledgement criteria.
  6. Remember to get IRB approval early, as coverage is intended to be prospective even when using extant data.
  7. Use reporting standards and examples for your specific study type from the EQUATOR Network to plan.
  8. Divide and conquer by mapping specific subsections unambiguously to the author who will be drafting the content with deadlines at each upcoming standing meeting. 

Choose your target journal and write into their format.

  1. Base target journal decision on where similar research typically appears, the audience you want to reach (practitioners or researchers), aims and scope (listed on the journal’s website), and any submission and publication costs. Impact factors are formally catalogued by Journal Citation Reports (subscription required) but typically readily available by googling – compare to understand the options.
  2. Check author guidelines posted on the journal website to get the abstract structure, word limits, and specifications for figures and tables. Even if your target changes, author guidelines can help create a more detailed map for items to be produced.
  3. Use bibliographic/reference management software such as BibTeX, Zotero, Endnote, or Reference Manager/Mendeley to create a shareable repository for full-text articles, and instantly format the manuscript bibliography using cite-while-you-write add-ins to word processing software.
  4. Remember writing is a two-step process: first get the thoughts down, then edit. Perfectionists will need to learn to let go of drafts.
  5. If needed, as a forethought send the abstract when drafted to the Editor in Chief and/or editorial board of the target journal to check on fit. This is also your first chance to briefly explain the importance of the work and to let them know if the work has been or will be presented at a national meeting.

In review.

  1. At submission, expedite the review process by suggesting one or two potential reviewers who are considered experts in the content area.
  2. After submission, monitor the journal website again to check on the status of the manuscript, determine if/when it was sent for review, estimate time to receiving reviews, and plan ahead to have time set aside among the writing team to tackle the comments.
  3. If you need to communicate with the editorial staff always use the manuscript ID number assigned in the submission confirmation email.
  4. Address all the points and potential revisions suggested by the reviewers and Editor in an item-by-item response. Sweeping summaries or ignoring specifics even if they seem minor is a “no-no”. Always review comments and revisions with the group. A benefit of having a team is the range of insights available.

Struggling?

  • Enlisting the help of a medical writer can help keep the project on track if none of the authors is a project manager.

Momentum, role clarity, and accountability are key to group writing. Aim high, and remember that the average number of rejections is 2.5. Learn from reviews and do not give up!

 

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