Common Mistakes When Writing Peer Reviewed Papers

Writing a scientific paper invariably requires a lot of work.  Great science does not necessarily make for a great paper.  Having published and reviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of papers over the course of my academic medical career it strikes me that getting a few things right makes for a much more impactful publication.  Avoid the following mistakes and your paper will not be ignored.

1)    As a first principle, real science demands the scientific method.  Consequently, don’t forget to structure your manuscript around the scientific method.  Almost any topic in medical science can be explored through this process.  Nothing drives me crazier as a reviewer, than working through a paper with no hypothesis.  Ask an interesting question, answer it with your data and before you know it your paper will start to write itself.

2)    In junior high school you were taught to value your writing by the number of pages generated.  Now that you are a professional, break the habit!  Rambling introductions, endless discussions and ever more detailed descriptions of results lose readers and your message, as well as consuming your precious time.  Tell your story with the fewest possible words.  Wherever possible condense prose into appropriate tables or figures.  If you want your scientific writing to be impactful, less really is more.  From the famous book on concise writing: Strunk & White “Make every word tell.”

3)    By all means write about clinical topics that interest you, but tell the “science” from the reader’s vantage point.  Strip out extraneous stuff that your reader doesn’t really care about.  Meanwhile, statistics can strengthen your argument but a blizzard of statistical measures can actually obscure the central idea of a paper.  Sometimes it can be hard to see past a thicket of statistics and figure out the primary point of a paper.  What a waste!

4)    To the eyes of a reviewer and reader, nothing detracts from the quality of a paper, more than careless errors.  In this day of automated word processing checking tools, there is no excuse for spelling and grammatical errors.  If an author fails to invest literally a few minutes to clean up a manuscript, how can a reader/reviewer have confidence in the much bigger challenge of the actual writing?  Don’t be lazy!!

5)    Just because your immediate scholarly interest is not Nobel Prize material, this is no reason to not publish.  Most potential authors are much too shy about reporting findings that interest them, especially in the clinical domain.  Some physicians literally sit on their hands and data for a lifetime.  If a topic interests you, chances are it interests someone else somewhere in the world, and with online search, they can now find your report.  Therefore, write early, write often!!

When all is said and done, the processes of Cureus.com makes peer reviewed scientific publishing easier than ever.  Therefore, get to work, publish your ideas and experiences, and change the world!

Reviewing on Cureus

Reviewing a medical paper is a big responsibility and reviewing can be a difficult process; but it is critical to evolving the field of medicine.  Cureus aims to make the review process as pain-free as possible.  Moreover, we actively feature and promote reviewers as recognition for their important contribution to the field of medicine.

Today we introduce a video tutorial to highlight our reviewing tools and process. I also want to share a few thoughts for reviewers in this post.

The Cureus.com review process is designed to help the author publish the best paper possible.  Except in the case of fraud or gross negligence, we do not reject papers.  Formidable papers over the decades have been buried by errant reviewers. We believe it is unacceptable that a reviewer looking briefly at the scientific work that has taken many hours, days, weeks or months can decide whether or not a paper gets published.  Only the author can decide whether his work is strong enough for publication or not.

Once published, our SIQ scoring process is activated and the wisdom of the network will determine the relative value of a paper in the form of a score.  Reviewers on Cureus.com are the first to score a paper (SIQ score) and their score holds the most weight….so a low SIQ score might result if authors fail to take reviewer feedback into consideration.  While an author is not under obligation to modify a paper based on the feedback of the reviewers, it is in their best interest if they want to maximize their paper score.

httpvh://youtu.be/76PtlKk9n4A

Publishers Under Fire

For the vast majority of us, the world of medical academic publishing is a mystery. Physicians and scientists work amongst the inner sanctum of academia in which the “publish or perish” mantra is alive and well. Tenure is heavily driven by both the volume of one’s publishing activity and the collective Impact Factor of the journals in which one is able to get published. The presumption is that Impact Factor has a strong correlation to the importance of the works.

What is less known about academic publishing is the extent to which it influences all of healthcare. Reimbursement guidelines, choices of which drugs and devices to use and much more are all influenced by this body of authors who are doing the cutting edge research and providing the industry thought leadership. Given the importance of this work, academic papers have historically been sacrosanct and largely immune to criticism. The peer-review process was almost untouchable except for occasional retractions.

Times have changed and the critical world of peer-reviewed medical journals is not only under fire for outdated processes and models, but the ethics of some of the leading journal publishers are being called to the mat.

In Friends Don’t Let Friends Publish in Elsevier Journals, the author Henry Farrell discusses a particularly troublesome practice in which Elsevier bundled papers from industry and packaged them to look like standard peer-reviewed journals. It also appears any disclosures were either entirely absent or minimal. The post is worth a look and that smoke we are starting to see in the academic publishing world is an indication of a much bigger fire on the near horizon.

Journal Consumption by Tablet

I will be in Boston tomorrow speaking at the iMedicine and Mobile Life Sciences World Summit and I expect the recently released report from Manhattan Research on physicians use of mobile technology to be a source of conversation.

The report confirms what most anyone working with physicians observes on a regular basis… that iPad is the dominant tablet platform with 62% of physicians claiming to use one for professional purposes. What’s a little surprising is the rate of adoption — use has nearly doubled since just 2011.

“Physicians are evolving in ways we expected — only faster,” said Monique Levy, vice president of research at Manhattan Research. “The skyrocketing adoption rates of tablets alone, especially iPads, means healthcare stakeholders should revisit many of their assumptions about reaching and engaging with this audience.”

Other points from the survey that really shouldn’t surprise anyone: over 85% of physicians use a smartphone, and growth of physician use of social networks is not only flat, but limited in scope.

While there remain impediments to more widespread adoption of tablets in the clinical care environment, tablets are clearly becoming the preferred method of content consumption. Even in the early stages, Cureus users are notably reading journal papers on tablets as much as the desktop/laptop. When taking into account that initial introduction and sign up on Cureus is mostly taking place on a desktop/laptop, the fact that papers are being read on the tablet means users are switching platforms when they get into reading mode.

Cureus has leveraged two technologies to help ensure the site translates equally well on all platforms. First, we use Scribd in the background to render our papers using their patent-pending document conversion tool. The Scribd technology configures a paper into proper dimensions whether viewing on a large monitor or an iPhone. Second, we use Twitter Bootstrap to manage our user interface which means the site design is more easily managed and modified for multiple platform environments.

Over the coming months we’ll report on more specific trends, but just as Amazon Kindle has shifted the entire book, magazine and newspaper reading industry, we expect tablets to be a primary vehicle for medical journal consumption.

Medical Publishing Change Underway in Europe

There is mounting evidence that the world of academic medical publishing is entering a period of major change.  Decades and even centuries old processes and capital models just don’t make sense; and its time they get a massive makeover that better serves physicians and patients alike.

The groundswell for this movement is underway in America but the following article demonstrates that the tide is very similar in Europe:

Science Research May Be Freed From Journals Unhealthy Paywalls by Robert Andrews [PaidContent/GigaOM] 5/3/12

The UK government has told academic journal publishers it will make freely available online the publicly-funded research they currently charge for, labelling “paywalls” as “deeply unhealthy”.

This news will prove unpopular with academic publishers, which license and peer-review researchers’ work and charge libraries to make it available.

“As taxpayers put their money towards intellectual enquiry, they cannot be barred from then accessing it,” science minister David Willetts said in a speech to the Publishers Association on Wednesday (transcript).

“They should not be kept outside with their noses pressed to the window – whilst, inside, the academic community produces research in an exclusive space.”

Read the rest of the article.

Cureus People – Rod Oskouian, M.D.

Cureus met with Rod Oskouian, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Swedish Neuroscience Institute who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of complex spinal disorders. He talked to us about the sometimes lengthy process of peer-reviewed medical publishing.

“One of the reasons why I got involved in Cureus and why I’m on the editorial board is pretty simple – I want to have open access to journals, be able to publish journals and review journals in a timely fashion so it doesn’t take two years to get a paper out.” – Dr. Rod Oskouian, told Cureus.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ee89PlWN-g

“I think the younger generation we’re all using mobile applications, going online a lot – the traditional journals where you have to subscribe to some obscure article that costs the institution thousands of dollars in some corner of the library that you have to go look up is not happening.” – Dr. Oskouian added.

Why publish peer-reviewed literature?

What makes a physician decide to publish in peer-reviewed literature? The stock answer to that question is the pursuit of scientific truth. But even a superficial glance at peer-reviewed medical literature today shows that only a small proportion of it involves “pure science”, that is, research with the scientific method at its core.

So if not for pure science, why do physicians publish? One reason is that those within the professoriate are expected to publish for academic advancement – alongside patient care and teaching, written scholarship is one of the three pillars of academia. Articles written by academic physicians may generally be pedantic and unimaginative, but the pressures within academia to produce them are unlikely to change, and we can expect such papers to continue to appear in great numbers.

But most physicians reside outside of academia and do not face pressure to publish. So why should they? Many reasons! To start with, writing an article for peer review requires a physician to review the existing literature, which helps keep him up to date with current medical practices. Secondly, the writing process forces a physician to analyze patient outcomes critically and report results in a disciplined way. This type of self-analysis opens up opportunities for improving patient outcomes.

Additionally, publishing papers is a crucial way for a physician to communicate his clinical abilities to the wider world, to both referring physicians and potential patients. The writing of articles is one of the best way of marketing a clinical practice, and this is a factor that motivates some of the articles in medical journals today. Academics tend to view this practice with cynicism, but provided a paper’s content is worthy, this type of “marketing” is preferable to promoting one’s practice through glossy brochures or highway billboards – especially in terms of reaching other physicians.

It is my belief that Cureus.com will make the process of publishing easier than ever – and not just easy but fun. Isn’t it time you got to work on your next paper?