Writing an Article

These tips will improve your chances of acceptance when writing for the ANZ Journal of Surgery:

Understand the environment

Writing is a higher order cognitive skill that requires practice. It is best to develop a routine so that you have ‘chunks’ of time without interference. It is difficult to make much progress in less than two hours, and few can keep at it for more than three to four hours.

Appreciate the peer review process – it is clearly set out in the ‘Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals’ published by the International Committee of medical Journal Editors.

Comply with the Author Guidelines

The Author Guidelines should be studied carefully. It is important to comply with the directions for each type of manuscript. Errant manuscripts are either returned to the authors for correction or rejected.

Develop a template

Develop an overall plan for the manuscript before you start writing. One way of doing this is to outline the manuscript as a ‘mind map’ listing the issues to be discussed in each paragraph.

It is useful to make copies of several similar articles so that you can plan for length of the sections and the number of illustrations. It is crucial to keep within the designated page limit – journal contracts are expensive and they specify the number of pages that can be used each year. That is why editors are concerned if the last few lines of a manuscript flows onto another page – too much ‘white space’ is a waste of scarce resources.

Use simple direct writing

It is hard to write clearly, but you must strive to do so. There are many useful references available one of them is the short book by Strunk & White – it has sold over ten million copies. It states: “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts”.

Consult guidelines

A number of groups have issued statements about the standards of reporting that are required for various types of studies:

CONSORT: The CONsolidated Standards Of Reporting Trials
STROBE: STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational Studies in Epidemiology
STARD: STAndards for the Reporting of Diagnostic accuracy studies
SQUIRE: Standards for QUality Improvement Reporting Excellence
PRISMA: Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses

Heed their recommendations.

Revise, Revise, Revise

It is difficult to edit your own writing. Show your manuscript to colleagues and associates for comment. Pay attention to their suggestions and, especially if more than one person raises the same issue, change the text accordingly. Remember that the rubbish bin is the writer's best friend.

Respond well

Seize any opportunity to revise a manuscript. Do so in good grace and provide a point-by-point detailed response. It is dangerous to return a corrected manuscript with the terse comment that ‘all of the suggested changes have been made’ – editors and reviewers do not have the time to unravel messy responses.

Sometimes a reviewer or editor will make comments that you disagree with. When this happens, it is important to keep your cool and respond in a calm and objective manner. Editors do not expect you to agree with every comment made by others, but they do expect you to provide a clear, logical response and, if possible, provide evidence for your stance.

Appreciate that all writers get letters of rejection. Try to learn from it, consult senior colleagues, make adjustments and persevere.

References

Michael J. Grigg, Franklin L. Rosenfeldt. Writing A Surgical Paper: Why And How? ANZ J Surg 1990; 60: 661-664.

John Ludbrook. Where Should I Submit My Surgical Manuscript? ANZ J Surg 1991; 61: 329-331.

Hall JC, Hall JL. The readability of original articles in surgical journals. ANZ J Surg 2006; 76: 68-70.

Strunk W Jr, White EB. The Elements of Style. Longman; New York. Fiftieth anniversary edition, 2009.

George M Hall. How to write a paper. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2008.

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