As an NHS consultant psychologist, Dr Jerome Carson found time to write for publication. What advice can he offer busy physios?
Writing for publication is easier than you think. You just need to choose the best format for you. So what is the difference between those physiotherapists who write for publication and those who don't? Many physios might think that colleagues whose work is published have PhDs, hold academic positions or are involved in major research projects. In fact, almost anyone can write for publication.
We all have to start from somewhere. I am inspired by the Chinese proverb that states: 'Every journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.' Most people's writing career starts with a short paper or a book review - not with a report on a major randomised controlled trial in a prestigious journal.
This article is aimed at physios who haven't had anything published in their career. I will try to answer three key questions. First why bother to write for publication? Second, what holds people back from writing? Third, how can one get started? I also offer some points for reflection on each issue. Finally, I suggest possible sources of help for budding writers.
Why should a busy physiotherapist bother writing for publication, when there are so many other competing demands on their time? Phillipa Lyon (Lyon, 2007), offers three main reasons. First, it can be a way of communicating with fellow physiotherapists and other professional colleagues.
Second, through the process of writing you can develop other skills, such as the ability to express your point of view succinctly in writing. Third, you may end up making a contribution to the evidence base for the profession.
Personally, I write for seven main reasons. These are for professional recognition and development, vanity, altruism, contractual requirements, enjoyment, impact and to present new findings.
To take just one of these examples, I like to write for altruistic reasons.
As an experienced writer I enjoy helping others to achieve their first published paper, and I have co-authored many articles as a consequence.
What holds you back?
There are lots of reasons that busy professionals do not write for publication. At a recent 'Writing for Publication' workshop that I facilitated, the participants made the following comments. 'I don't have anything original to say.' 'I don't have an evidence base to back up my views.' 'My writing style and spelling isn't good enough.' There are probably scores of reasons why most of us do not write for publication.
I was not brave enough to submit anything for publication until I was professionally qualified as a clinical psychologist. My first paper appeared in the Newsletter of the Division of Clinical Psychology. Like Frontline, this professional journal was sent to every qualified clinical psychologist, so papers in that publication were read by lots of professional colleagues.
How to get started?
While a peer-reviewed journal is seen as the most scientifically respected type of publication, I would argue it is probably the worst place to start. One senior occupational therapist (OT) was asked by a supervisor to submit her master's dissertation to the British Journal of Occupational Therapy. The paper was reviewed by three anonymous reviewers, who rejected the paper. The OT in question was so traumatised by this process that she never wrote another paper for 20 years.
An examination of the Notes for Contributors/Guide for Authors for some influential physiotherapy journals shows that they accept a wide range of articles. For instance, the New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy has 11 categories of papers. These include research reports, scholarly papers (clinical perspective), scholarly papers (professional perspective), literature reviews, case studies, case reports, and invited clinical commentary. The journal also accepts book reviews and letters to the editor.
Of course, not every physio will feel able to write a major research report. But everyone should be capable of writing a book review or submitting a review of a rating scale measure with a short commentary (called 'clinimetrics' in some journals).
The importance of starting with something small, such as a letter, book review or commentary, is that it is more likely to be accepted. Frontline, for example, invites physio staff from all fields to contribute topical articles of around 350 words to its Viewpoint column.
Success breeds success. As a consequence, we are more likely to build up enough confidence to make the leap from submitting articles to a professional paper to a peer review one.
Reflection point 1: Motivation
What reasons might inspire you to write? Can you relate them to your professional values and behaviour? Check the CSP code
Reflection point 2: Personal blocks
What are the things that hold you back from writing more? Think about your CPD needs and develop a learning plan
Reflection point 3: Making a start
Look at the major physiotherapy journals and the types of article they publish. Ask to review a book, a piece of software, or compile a conference report. Make a start and aim to complete it within six months
How to get help
The CSP publishes Frontline magazine, which keeps physios up to date with developments every fortnight. Its official journal is Physiotherapy, a quarterly peer-reviewed journal. The National Physiotherapy Research Network has produced a helpful guide on writing for publication (Moore and Lyon, 2009).
The CSP library has many resources to help you write your article, which can be found in the CSP online library catalogue. The CSP library and information services staff can conduct literature searches and supply or obtain journal articles for you (charges apply). You also have access to the AMED database, Cinahl Plus with full text, SportDiscus and Medline and many others if you wish to conduct your own search. The CSP library and information services staff have produced an information paper on citation styles that is on the CSP website. Details of the library and information services are on the CSP website www.csp.org.uk/lis. If you have any questions, tel: 020 7306 6666 and ask for the library. The staff will try to help you on the road to becoming a published author. Michelle Harms, Physiotherapy's editor adds: 'If you intend to submit a paper for publication to any learned journal, based on a research project or other study, it is important to plan the structure and content as you start the project. Select the likely target audience and journals for your work and carefully read the guidelines for authors. This will help to ensure your study and write-up will meet the criteria for publication in your selected journals.
'As a novice writer, you would benefit from writing with a senior author who has a publication history. For copies of Physiotherapy's Guide for Authors visit: www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/702542/authorinstructions
Albert T. Write Effectively: A quick course for busy health workers. Oxford: Radcliffe Publishing; 2008
Lyon P. Hints and tips on how to write for publication in academic and professional journals. Oxford: Elsevier; 2007 (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy)
Moore A, Lyon P. Getting Involved in Research: a pocket guide. London: CSP; 2009 (available free to members)
AuthorDr Jerome Carson
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