From the Editor: Getting Started

Welcome to your new medical and scientific editing column! As your in-house editor, I’d like to use this space to provide advice and tips about manuscripts and other documents, from the basics to complex issues.

For this inaugural column, the first bit of advice I want to share for anyone writing anything, whether a manuscript destined for a peer-reviewed journal or a short abstract to be submitted to a conference, is simply to take your time.

Everyone’s workdays are full, so writing anything can mean late evenings and weekends spent trying to string together data, supportive background information, and conclusions. Not to mention graphs. And tables. How are the references supposed to be formatted? What is the word count limit? And this journal wants a précis? What is that, anyway? And it all has to be submitted in two days . . .

It can be a bit overwhelming, even for experienced authors. Reviewers and readers know when your work has been rushed. Details matter, and overlooked typos or incorrect formatting can overshadow the content of your work. But the payoff of paying attention to those details—having your work accepted in a peer-reviewed arena—is worth it.

However, instead of thinking in terms of saving time or trying to find it where none exists, think instead about using your limited writing time more wisely. Start with a basic outline, even just a few sentences. You already know your study results, or the aims of your grant, or what you want your biosketch to highlight. So, start with the known; get the concrete material down first. This allows more time to build background, conclusions, and other parts of the work, which usually take more effort to think through and refine. And as you expand your writing, pay attention to author instructions, specific to where you are submitting. Journals and publishers can be strict about adhering to word-count limits and formatting of references. If you stick to instructions from the start, you’ll save time and headache when it comes time to tackle revisions. And remember that you can always call on your in-house editor to assist!

In future posts, I plan to talk about common writing and editorial issues, such as finding and using graphics in documents, responding to reviewers, and writing for non-scientific audiences. Please feel free to let me know if you have an editorial topic or question you would like to see covered here, or if I can assist with any of your writing projects.

Kris Greiner is the Medical and Scientific Editor for the Department of Internal Medicine and is part of Internal Medicine’s Design Center. Kris has more than 25 years’ experience writing and editing clinical, basic science, and academic health care materials. She can be reached at or 319-678-8193.


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