Writing Clinic: Choose Your Topic Carefully, Part 1

Michael Gerchufsky, ELS, is the managing editor of Consultant. E-mail him with thoughts on this post at mgerchufsky@hmpglobal.com.


You might think that authoring and contributing a clinical case report or review article to Consultant would be more time-consuming than a stack of unfinished charts, as complicated as the childhood immunization schedule, and more daunting than your waiting room on a Monday morning during cold and flu season.

But just as the health and medical care of any patient requires a well-considered management plan, so too does the process of preparing a paper for submission. This blog offers information and advice to help veteran authors and newbies alike go painlessly from practicing clinician to published author.

Getting Started

Among the biggest challenges to any task is taking the first step. For writing a clinical article, the necessary first step is choosing what to write about. Some authors are lucky enough to have a great idea for a clinical article come from out of the blue. Others have to work harder to ferret out a topic for a paper—especially clinicians in academia who need to “publish or perish” and who are on the clock to have a byline published in the medical literature to show the rank-and-tenure committee. 

Consider the Audience

To choose a good topic, carefully consider the audience for the information. Consultant mainly focuses on primary care medicine. Generally, this means that the topics that work best are likely to be the diseases, conditions, and patient characteristics that most primary care providers see in their daily practice.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a need for clinical information from specialties such as neurology, gastroenterology, endocrinology, and psychiatry, for example. Clinical information from a variety of specialist perspectives is critical to help primary care providers diagnose conditions in that realm early and treat or refer patients with the condition as soon as possible. It’s also critical for clinicians in other specialties and subspecialties to keep up with medical knowledge from different specialties. Still, an article about a specific disease or condition for Consultant should be written with the needs of a generalist audience in mind.

Know the Field

Before settling on a topic, it’s a good idea to do some research on Consultant—and its competitors. What topics have been published recently? Is my topic or idea duplicative of what’s been published in Consultant or another primary care journal in the last 12 months or so?

Does my idea for a topic fit the mission of the publication? (Again, in the case of Consultant, would it meet the needs of primary care providers?)

Consider Shelf-Life

Knowledge and information about medicine and the rest of health care is volatile. What we consider quackery today might have been the standard of care in the not-too-distant past. New drugs and new indications are approved each year, and other medications are removed from the market. Medical guidelines, recommendations, and best practices are newly published or updated continuously.

Keeping in mind that a great percentage of medical information has an expiration date, ask yourself whether a topic you’re considering is too mercurial for a monthly publication. The head-spinning changes in our understanding of COVID-19 from week to week—and even day to day—are a testament to this observation.

Coming soon, watch for part 2 of “Choose Your Topic Carefully,” in which I’ll discuss how to find your “hook.”


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