Writing Clinic: Choosing an Approach, Part 2

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

In earlier Writing Clinic blog posts, part 1, part 2, and part 3 of “Choose Your Topic Carefully,” I recommended a few first steps to contributing an article to Consultant, including choosing a topic with the appropriate scope and “hook.” In the last installment, part 1 of “Choosing an Approach,” I discussed a few of the most popular article formats in the journal, case reports and quizzes.

In this post, I’d like to briefly mention other possible approaches to an article, which may better suit the subject matter you have in mind.

The Clinical Review Article

In addition to the popular case reports and clinical quizzes contributed to and published in Consultant, which I discussed in my last post, other kinds of articles are vitally important to furthering the clinical knowledge of primary care providers.

Clinical review articles typically are longer and more comprehensive in their approach to a condition, a treatment, or other medical subject matter. They don’t concentrate on a single case or case series, but instead they review the evidence-based medical literature and approach a topic with a wider focus. They seek to summarize and synthesize up-to-date knowledge about a topic, so that primary care providers can apply the latest information to their clinical practice.

Topics for a clinical review should be broad enough to be relevant to readers in all primary care specialties and subspecialties. This differs from the approach to a typical case report, where a narrow topic is better that a broad one. Still, having said that, it’s best to avoid “zebras” (as I discussed here) in favor of “horses.”

It also is best if there has been recent progress in the understanding of a disease or condition, or recent diagnostic or therapeutic advances. For example, new guidelines about medical conditions and their management are published with great frequency and are not difficult to find using a web search.

A focused literature search on the topic, using a database such as PubMed, is a vital early step to writing a review article.

What’s in a Review Article?

Perusing the clinical review articles published here at reveals a great variety of approaches. As with the case reports, the components of review articles vary widely and have to be adapted to the topic.

Here are some ideas about the sections you might consider adding a review article. Not all of these may apply to your topic, of course.

• Learning objectives (what you plan to cover)

• Details about your literature search

• A basic introduction to the condition, possibly including anatomy and physiology, etiology, epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, etc.

• A discussion of any controversies, diagnostic or management dilemmas, and recent discoveries and developments.

• A summary of the current state of understanding, preferably with practical application.

Photos and Figures

As with other articles in Consultant, photos and/or figures (eg, tables, lists, illustrations, flow diagrams, etc.) enhance understanding and make the information easier to digest. Therefore, keep an eye out for such resources as you do your research, since graphics will be an important part of the published article.

Next Up …

Coming soon, I’ll cover yet other possible approaches to writing an article for Consultant before diving into practical advice about the literature search and the nuts and bolts of the manuscript itself. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.