Writing Clinic: Nuts and Bolts of the Manuscript, Part 1

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


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. In In part 1, part 2, and part 3 of “Choosing an Approach,” I discussed the array of possible article formats in the journal and other tips for approaching the writing of an article. I also advised about contacting the editor and performing a literature search.

Now let’s discuss the nuts and bolts of the manuscript.

First, let me answer the No. 1 question that I get from potential contributors about the manuscript: “How long should it be?”

My usual answer to that question may come off as a little bit snarky: “As long is takes, and not one word more.”

I have good reasons for this seemingly evasive answer, though. The last thing I want to do as an editor is to place obstacles in the way of a writer’s ability to fully communicate all that he or she needs to. Artificial word counts at the first draft stage can make it difficult or impossible for an author to fully describe the topic or condition or to include all the pertinent details of a case report, for example. I’d rather have authors use the “kitchen sink” approach—that is, include every detail, every fact, and every observation that could further understanding of the article’s subject.

Because the post-submission review and editing process invariably tighten the copy of every manuscript, expect shrinkage after submission. From a developmental editing perspective, it is far easier and more efficient to tighten the language and edit out what turn out to be extraneous details than it is to add missing information and observations.

Even if a manuscript remains subjectively "too long," other options are available to help wrangle the content and manage a lengthier article. For example, a single article can be divided into 2 or more articles to be run in the same issue or in consecutive issues. Or sections of an article — what I call the “interesting, but …” portions, can be separated into sidebars and/or published as online exclusives.

In short, the length of an article is negotiable and variable. But having said that, here are some general ranges. These word counts include references but do not include tables or other extras:

  • 750 to 2500 words for a Photoclinic item
  • 500 to 1500 for an opinion or essay
  • 1000 to 3500 words for a case or quiz (eg, Photo Quiz 360, What’s Your Diagnosis?)
  • 1500 to 5000 words (or more) for a review article

 

Again, these are just very approximate guideposts. Don’t sweat it if your article is shorter or longer than these ranges! The editors are here to help.

Next time, I’ll discuss integration of graphics and other extras into the manuscript.

Thanks for reading!

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