Writing Clinic: Choosing an Approach, Part 3

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, and in part 2 I covered the clinical review article.

This post briefly mentions other possible approaches to writing an article.

A How-To Article

A how-to article is exactly what it sounds like. It is best suited to procedural topics and can be particularly effective for dermatology topics and surgical methods. Here’s a link to a good example of a how-to article published at It’s a step-by-step guide to performing in-office KOH prep tests:

To be most practical and useful, a how-to article requires a series of photos or figures that are well thought out and well planned, and a logical, chronological approach to the procedure.

Original Research

While the stock-in-trade of Consultant by design is case reports and review articles, we do publish original research articles. These articles have a decidedly different feel than the quizzes and other more interactive features.

Traditionally, the sections of original research articles follow the IMRAD format: introduction, methods, results, and discussion. If you have done a study, you’ve very likely familiar with this format, which offers a great outline to focus the thought process for approaching the article.

So as to stay true to Consultant's mission of providing practical, usable information, it’s best if the discussion section helps readers put your research findings into practice. And that’s the challenge with an original research article.

Personal Essays, Opinions, and Letters

I dislike using clichés such as “last but not least,” but in this case it’s appropriate. The very title of Consultant reinforces the idea that the publication and this corresponding website are meant to be a forum for the sharing of practical, clinical information among primary care providers. I hope that mentioning personal essays, opinions, and letters to the editor last in this discussion doesn’t pay short shrift to the importance of such contributions in furthering medical knowledge.

Essays, opinion pieces, and letters have virtually no rules governing content. If you have an opinion or personal story to share, or you strongly agree—or disagree—with another author’s work, put it in writing and send it along. It’s perhaps the easiest way to get published in Consultant, but it is by no means a less important way to communicate with your colleagues and share your expertise and insight.

Coming Up …

Coming soon, I’ll delve into some detailed and specific practical advice about the literature search and the nuts and bolts of the manuscript itself. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.