We’ve addressed physician burnout multiple times here on Neurology Insights. It’s a concern for every neurologist—whether you have it or hope to avoid it. One idea for beating burnout is diversifying your practice by adding clinical trials. When you become a site for clinical trials you can add a second source of income to your practice. Even if you don’t want to function as a site for larger trials to increase your income, you still might want to conduct research of your own to exercise your mind and beat burnout.

And you might just want to have that research published. However, the majority of medical research manuscripts are not accepted for publication.

This was the topic of one of the sessions at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine (AANEM). Dr. Zachary Simmons, Professor of Neurology at the Pennsylvania State University Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Editor of Muscle & Nerve, gave tips on how to write up your research for publication.

Simmons explained that the most common reason a manuscript is sent back to the author is because it is too wordy. It’s important to communicate the essential information succinctly, and to resist the urge to repeat information between various sections of the report. Here are some of his thoughts on structuring your manuscript:

Introduction

Be brief! Give pertinent background and explain why the study is a valuable addition to the existing body of knowledge. State your hypothesis, but don’t give in to the urge to detail methods or results here. They have their own sections.

Methods

It’s easy to be too wordy here. You must weigh the space limitations against the need to make it clear to an expert how you performed the research. Edit and re-edit to do this well. If you’ve previously used the same methods, or someone else has, Simmons explains that it is appropriate to cite the research where the methods can be found rather than rewriting them.

Be sure to state the obvious in your methods section. Reviewers need to know if it is a prospective or retrospective trial, what the inclusion or exclusion criteria are, and other very basic aspects of the study structure. Be clear about the statistical methods you used. If they are complicated, it’s best to have a statistician involved.

Results

This section is the heart of the paper, according to Simmons. You must describe your patient population here, but don’t restate your methods or begin the discussion yet, just outline the results.

Simmons emphasizes that space is at a premium so don’t be redundant. If you put the data in a table, don’t write it out. Use your written statements to direct the readers’ attention to the main points.

Discussion

Here is where you get to discuss the implications of your work in the context of previous research. Discuss similarities and differences. Detail what it contributes to the overall body of knowledge. Again, don’t repeat the results here. Do explain “what’s next.”

Final Thoughts

Simmons offered a few additional tips to help get a manuscript accepted for publication.

  • First, plagiarism is an issue. Most reputable journals run manuscripts through plagiarism software. It’s just like it was in school, so do your own work.
  • Second, you must declare conflicts of interest, even if they don’t seem to have anything to do with your research. Conflicts won’t stand in the way of publication. A good journal simply wants readers to be able to frame the material they read with the view of the author. It’s a transparency issue.
  • Third, know your limitations. If you are not a confident writer, have your manuscript professionally edited. As Simmons says, “It is not our job to take a paper that is really badly written and make it a good paper.” Further, a poorly written paper will cast a shadow over the research itself. If the writing is sloppy, was the research sloppy, too?
  • Fourth, get IRB approval. Unless your submission is a case report, you must have IRB approval if you hope to be published.

The most important factor in having your research published is the quality of the research itself. But a poorly written manuscript can prevent important research from seeing the light of day. Before submitting your research, take a look at Dr. Simmons’ tips and be sure you’ve done everything you can to keep that from happening.