How to write for publication
Intended for healthcare professionals
Evidence and practice    

How to write for publication

Jacqueline Harley Programme manager, Higher Education Department, Government of Jersey Health and Community Services, St Helier, Jersey

Why you should read this article:
  • To recognise the importance of preparation before writing an article intended for publication

  • To become familiar with the process of writing an article intended for publication

  • To increase your understanding of the process of submitting a manuscript for publication

Rationale and key points

Writing for publication has become an integral part of the role of the healthcare professional, including nurses. However, for novice writers there are benefits and challenges to writing for publication. When navigating the publication process there are four important stages to address – planning, writing, submitting and revising a manuscript. This article presents a step-by-step guide for healthcare professionals who are novice writers and intend to write for publication.

• When writing for publication, it is important to determine the focus of your manuscript, the journal you will be writing for, the relevant journal’s editorial guidelines and your target audience.

• A successful publication should be well thought out, planned, structured and clearly articulated.

• Writing for publication is an important way of sharing expertise and knowledge, developing networks and advancing the nursing profession.

Reflective activity

‘How to’ articles can help to update your practice and ensure it remains evidence based. Apply this article to your practice. Reflect on and write a short account of:

• How this article might improve your practice when writing for publication.

• How you could use this information to educate students and colleagues on the appropriate techniques required for writing for publication.

Primary Health Care. doi: 10.7748/phc.2023.e1808

Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software

@harleyjacq

Correspondence

j.harley@health.gov.je

Conflict of interest

None declared

Harley J (2023) How to write for publication. Primary Health Care. doi: 10.7748/phc.2023.e1808

Disclaimer

Please note that information provided by Primary Health Care is not sufficient to make the reader competent to perform the task. All clinical skills should be formally assessed according to policy and procedures. It is the nurse’s responsibility to ensure their practice remains up to date and reflects the latest evidence

Published online: 06 September 2023

In the constantly changing healthcare landscape, the dissemination of knowledge and research through publication has a fundamental role in advancing the field. For many nurses, writing for publication has become a professional expectation associated with improving practice and patient care (Casey et al 2017). However, for novice writers, writing for publication can seem an unattainable task despite their expertise and unique insights. Not fully understanding the writing process and not knowing where to begin can prevent healthcare professionals from publishing their work (Albarran and Hayhow 2019).

The aim of this ‘How to’ article is to provide guidance for healthcare professionals who are novice writers and who plan to write for publication. Specifically, this article provides a step-by-step guide that explains the process of writing for publication and discusses the underpinning evidence base.

Preparation

There are several prerequisites to consider before preparing a manuscript for publication:

  • Decide what you want to write about, for example a literature review of a particular subject or a quality innovation, ensuring that the topic area is clearly defined and will inform practice. You may need to review the evidence already published on the subject to determine what has been written previously.

  • Determine who your target audience will be, for example are you writing for experienced specialist nurses or providing an overview of a clinical area or condition for novice nurses or nursing students?

  • In the author’s experience, writing for publication is a multifaceted process that entails four stages – plan, write, submit and revise (see Figure 1). It is important to understand these stages to prepare for the publication process:

    • Plan: choosing what to write about and where to publish are fundamental decisions to make when planning for publication. Create a plan that identifies the intended structure of your manuscript, including the main themes and subthemes, the number of paragraphs and number of words for each theme or subtheme.

    • Write: before beginning to write, identify a structure for your proposed manuscript to establish the focus of the article. Although this may change during the writing process, this is an important part of preparation.

    • Submit: it is important to identify which journal is the best ‘fit’ for your topic and to become familiar with its editorial specifications, including the aim, scope and readership. Many journals provide an online writing-for-publication section that gives guidance on editorial specifications, for example word count, reference style, requirements for supplementary material such as photographs or diagrams and how to submit the article.

    • Revise: after submission, be prepared for your manuscript to go through a robust peer review process that includes double-blind review by experts in your specialty. This is to ensure the clinical accuracy of your manuscript and its suitability for the journal’s audience.

  • Recognise that manuscripts can sometimes be rejected on the basis that they are not suited to a journal’s readership rather than the quality of the writing. One way to avoid this is to email the editor beforehand to discuss what you are planning to write.

  • Having decided what journal to write for, read some of its articles as these will help to guide the construction and preparation of the manuscript.

  • If there is more than one author, agree on the division of work and decide who is going to be named as first author.

Figure 1.

Four stages of writing for publication

phc.2023.e1808_0001.jpg

Procedure

  • 1. When you start writing use any previous study techniques that have helped you to construct a piece of writing, such as mind mapping, free writing or storyboards.

  • 2. Use your plan to guide your writing. This will enable you to stay ‘on track’ and address the objectives of your article. Your plan will also help you to maintain the flow of writing according to your headings, adhere to the estimated word count and ensure that your abstract, the main body of the text and the conclusion are aligned.

  • 3. Where applicable, make sure that you address ethical matters, such as anonymity, confidentiality or any competing interests. For example, when using photographs of clinical procedures or patient case studies, ensure that you have permission and are not breaking patient confidentiality.

  • 4. If you are presenting research findings ensure these have been analysed and interpreted correctly, including the methods used to generate results. Check that statistics and percentages are calculated accurately throughout.

  • 5. Check for clarity of expression by ensuring that information is clearly articulated.

  • 6. If you are using diagrams, figures or tables from another source you must obtain copyright permission from the original publisher.

  • 7. Keep drafting and redrafting your work, checking that it is logically structured, well written and adheres to academic conventions.

  • 8. When completed, consider sharing your manuscript with a peer and inviting feedback about the content, accuracy and important learning points. Be prepared to revisit your work to make amendments based on this feedback. Ensure your work is proofread for spelling, grammar and accuracy, preferably by another person.

  • 9. When you are satisfied that your article meets your expectations prepare to submit it, double checking that it complies with the journal’s guidelines.

  • 10. Once you have submitted your manuscript, it will be evaluated by a member of the journal’s editorial team who will decide if it is appropriate for peer review. If it is deemed suitable, an anonymised version will be circulated to at least two reviewers for double-blind peer review.

  • 11. Following examination of your manuscript, the peer reviewers will provide feedback to the editorial team, making one of four recommendations:

    • Reject.

    • Requires minor modifications.

    • Requires major modifications.

    • Accept (being accepted without any modification is unusual).

  • 12. Anticipate that the peer reviewers are likely to recommend minor or major edits to your work. You should also be prepared for rejection.

  • 13. Address the peer review feedback as soon as possible, returning your revised manuscript and any comments to the editorial team within the stipulated time frame.

Evidence base

Writing for publication has become increasingly popular among healthcare professionals such as nurse consultants, nurse specialists and practice educators. It is also a common requirement for educators in higher education and, for some, has become an integral part of their role (Peate 2020). For nurses, writing for publication is advantageous for several reasons, including the advancement and articulation of nursing knowledge. Through publication, expertise, research findings and practice innovations can be shared (Montoya et al 2020). By publishing in peer-reviewed journals nurses can increase the visibility, accessibility and distribution of their work beyond their immediate circle of professional peers to other active communities of research, such as the social science community. Writing for publication can therefore help nurses to forge networks and relationships and increase opportunities for peer cooperation and interaction (Murray 2020).

Another often cited benefit of publishing is its association with promotion and career advancement. Publication can enable nurses to establish themselves as experts and develop their professional reputation, both of which can be advantageous in advancing their career (Holland and Watson 2021).

Despite the professional advantages of writing for publication, there are external and internal barriers that can impede nurses’ ability to publish. External barriers include a lack of time to dedicate to writing and publishing due, for example, to heavy clinical workloads and administrative duties (Wood 2018), while internal barriers can include a lack of confidence, lack of motivation, fear of rejection and undue pressure to publish (Aydin et al 2023). Bourgault (2023) explained that writing can be a challenging endeavour for nurses since they are unaware of where or how to start. Additionally, weak writing skills and insufficient knowledge about the writing process, including how to plan and prepare a manuscript for publication, can prevent nurses from disseminating practice knowledge and research (Oermann and Hays 2016). Therefore, many nurses remain reluctant to write, despite growing pressure for publishing to become standard practice for nurses whether they work in academia, research, management or front-line care delivery (Albarran and Dowling 2017).

Planning

Deciding what to write about may be guided by previous work the nurse has undertaken, such as primary research, audits or practice improvement projects. Box 1 shows examples of the types of articles that can be published.

Box 1.

Examples of types of articles that can be published

  • Primary research

  • Literature reviews

  • Theoretical discussions

  • Conceptual discussions

  • Case studies

  • Quality initiatives

  • Practice development projects

  • Practice audit outcomes

  • Change management outcomes

  • Opinion pieces (generally non-peer-reviewed)

Since the aim of writing for publication is to disseminate best practice and diverse evidence (Casey et al 2017), the types of articles shown in Box 1 are important sources of information. Therefore, establishing the purpose and objectives of the intended article is essential. Price (2014) suggested that lack of a clear purpose is often a primary reason why manuscripts are rejected. Determining the main themes and subthemes can serve to guide a manuscript’s structure, content, continuity and applicability (Fowler 2016).

Choosing which journal to submit a manuscript to is another important decision to make at the planning stage. Elements such as a journal’s reputation, impact factor and target audience can influence this choice. In a survey that examined the variables influencing whether or not a manuscript was likely to be published in nursing journals, Northam et al (2014) found that a lack of relevance to the journal’s aim and scope coupled with suboptimal presentation of the information were two main reasons for rejection. Higher acceptance rates were found in journals that published more issues per year than others, those with specialty editions and those reporting original research (Northam et al 2014).

Ensuring that the content of a manuscript fits with the journal’s focus, subject content and frequency of publication are among factors that can increase the likelihood of publishing success (Abbott 2016).

Writing

Most publishers request a specific format for articles that guides the content and structure: for example, the content and structure of a primary research article would be background, methodology, findings or results, discussion, limitations, implications for practice and conclusion. Thistlethwaite and Anderson (2021) recommended that at the writing stage, the nurse could undertake a review of related articles from their chosen journal, which would provide them with guidance and increase the likelihood of publication. Holland and Watson (2021) offer guidance for nurses wishing to publish, beginning from the inception stage of writing through to the preparation and submission stages.

Drafting and redrafting the manuscript is essential to assist with clarity and coherence. Drafting ensures that the aim, ideas, arguments and main points of the article are presented logically and clearly (Price 2014). While content is more important than the accuracy of spelling or grammar during early drafts, redrafting enables the nurse to address grammar or spelling inaccuracies and to check other elements such as referencing. Jalongo and Saracho (2016) recommended that proofreaders and friends or colleagues who can offer constructive criticism are useful resources for strengthening the article at this stage of writing.

Submitting

In most journals, it is standard practice to upload the manuscript via an online submission platform, including the title, abstract, references and details about the author, as well as any tables or figures. Some journals may request additional information at this stage, for example key learning points, time out activities and reflective exercises.

The nurse must ensure their manuscript adheres to the journal specifications, such as style, presentation, referencing style and word count at this stage – this can assist in the smooth passage of the manuscript through the publication pathway (Baker 2022). It is also imperative that all sources of information are acknowledged accurately. For example, it is not enough to merely reference the original source of a previously published illustration or diagram, as permission from the copyright holder is also required (Pierson 2021).

Revising

Likis and Swett (2019) stated that although the peer review process can appear arcane to those who are inexperienced in submitting a manuscript for publication, it is a simple and uniform process that applies across academic journals. Following peer review, the article may be accepted outright, rejected or accepted pending revision. Revision is a crucial step in the publication process. It is rare for articles to be accepted at first submission; consequently, most submissions require revision of varying length and complexity (Kim et al 2019).

Some manuscripts may be rejected even following revision. Box 2 shows a list of possible reasons for rejection of a manuscript.

Box 2.

Possible reasons for rejection of a manuscript

  • Unclear focus

  • Insufficient depth of discussion and/or reporting

  • Lack of supporting references

  • Use of obscure references

  • Subject is not sufficiently topical

  • Manuscript is not aligned with the journal’s aim and scope

  • Failure to adhere to publishing guidelines

  • Lack of originality or failure to add to the body of knowledge

  • Inaccuracies in subject content

  • Inadequately written manuscript, including grammar, syntax and spelling errors

Responding to peer review feedback should be a constructive process that requires the nurse to keep an open mind (Southgate 2022). In addition, although on occasions responding to feedback can be time consuming, it is a crucial step in the publication process. Cook (2016) advised that when a manuscript has been returned for revision, the nurse should address peer reviewer recommendations as quickly as possible and resubmit to increase the likelihood of acceptance.

Although not an exhaustive list, types of revisions include the need to strengthen a theme or subtheme, substantiate opinions, include up-to-date references or address unclear writing. In some cases, a nurse author may opt to disregard some of the reviewers’ suggestions; in this instance, the author must be prepared to justify their decision and include this information when resubmitting the edited article (Price 2014). The ultimate decision to publish the amended manuscript will be made by the journal’s editor. If an article is eventually rejected, the nurse author may need to approach a new journal.

Writing for publication requires a well thought out approach that encompasses planning, writing, submitting and revising a manuscript. Effective planning lays the foundations for acceptance and publication, while productive writing strategies ensure a clear and engaging manuscript. Adherence to submission guidelines and thorough revisions following peer review are vital for increasing the likelihood of acceptance. For nurses, navigating these intricate publishing stages has several advantages, including sharing their expertise and knowledge with the wider nursing community.

References

  1. Abbott JH (2016) How to choose where to publish your work. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy. 47, 1, 6-10. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2017.0102
  2. Albarran J, Dowling S (2017) Getting published: a practical guide. British Journal of Cardiac Nursing. 12, 5, 228-231. doi: 10.12968/bjca.2017.12.5.228
  3. Albarran J, Hayhow R (2019) Getting published: planning an effective writing strategy. In Dobinson C, Wren Y (Eds) Creating Practice-Based Evidence: A Guide for SLTs. 2. J&R Press, Havant, 339-364.
  4. Aydin A, Yürük SE, Reisoğlu İ et al (2023) Main barriers and possible enablers of academicians while publishing. Scientometrics. 128, 623-650. doi: 10.1007/s11192-022-04528-x
  5. Baker KG (2022) Unleash your inner author: getting published in a professional nursing journal. Nursing. 52, 10, 36-39. doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000872468.88171.f9
  6. Bourgault AM (2023) Clinical nurses encouraged to write for publication. Critical Care Nurse. 43, 2, 8-11. doi: 10.4037/ccn2023262
  7. Casey D, Clark L, Hayes S (2017) Study Skills for Master’s Level Students. 2. Lantern Publishing, Banbury.
  8. Cook DA (2016) Twelve tips for getting your manuscript published. Medical Teacher. 38, 1, 41-50. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2015.1074989
  9. Fowler J (2016) From staff nurse to nurse consultant. Writing for publication part 7: structure and presentation. British Journal of Nursing. 25, 1, 66. doi: 10.12968/bjon.2016.25.1.66
  10. Holland K, Watson R (Eds) (2021) Writing for Publication in Nursing and Healthcare: Getting It Right. 2. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.
  11. Jalongo MR, Saracho ON (2016) Writing for Publication: Transitions and Tools that Support Scholars’ Success. Springer, Cham.
  12. Kim SD, Petru M, Gielecki J et al (2019) Causes of manuscript rejection and how to handle a rejected manuscript. In Shoja M, Arynchyna A, Loukas M et al (Eds) A Guide to the Scientific Career: Virtues, Communication, Research and Academic Writing. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken NJ, 419-422.
  13. Likis FE, Swett B (2019) Demystifying the journal submission, peer review, and publication process. Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health. 64, 2, 145-148. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12978
  14. Montoya V, Schafer Astroth K, Decker V (2020) Nurses need to publish scholarly articles: overcoming reticence to sharing valuable experience. Nephrology Nursing Journal. 47, 2, 153-162. doi: 10.37526/1526-744X.2020.47.2.153
  15. Murray R (2020) Writing for Academic Journals. 4. Open University Press, London.
  16. Northam S, Greer DB, Rath L et al (2014) Nursing journal editor survey results to help nurses publish. Nurse Educator. 39, 6, 290-297. doi: 10.1097/NNE.0000000000000086
  17. Oermann MH, Hays JC (2016) Writing for Publication in Nursing. 3. Springer Publishing Company, New York NY.
  18. Peate I (2020) Turning your assignment into an article for British Journal of Nursing. British Journal of Nursing. 29, 3, 178-179. doi: 10.12968/bjon.2020.29.3.178
  19. Pierson CA (2021) Ethical and legal aspects of publishing: avoiding plagiarism and other issues. In Holland K, Watson R (Eds) Writing for Publication in Nursing and Healthcare: Getting It Right. 2. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 175-190.
  20. Price B (2014) Writing a journal article: guidance for novice authors. Nursing Standard. 28, 35, 40-47. doi: 10.7748/ns2014.04.28.35.40.e8582
  21. Southgate A (2022) Writing for publication: responding to peer review feedback. British Journal of Nursing. 31, 3, 180. doi: 10.12968/bjon.2022.31.3.180
  22. Thistlethwaite JE, Anderson E (2021) Writing for publication: increasing the likelihood of success. Journal of Interprofessional Care. 35, 5, 784-790. doi: 10.1080/13561820.2020.1798899
  23. Wood C (2018) Writing for publication: sharing your clinical knowledge and skills. British Journal of Community Nursing. 23, 1, 20-23. doi: 10.12968/bjcn.2018.23.1.20

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