Writing to publish, according to regulatory guidelines for drug submissions or reporting guidelines for randomized controlled trials, meta-analyses, or systematic reviews, was the hot topic in a series of workshops held recently in Taiwan. In this article, I will share some highlights from these workshops.
Participants of the first workshop were investigators at the National Health Research Institute (NHRI) working in all aspects of phase studies for drug approvals; participants of the second workshop were clinical investigators in pulmonary oncology learning how to write and review meta-analyses comparing anti-cancer biologicals. The best and brightest medical researchers of Taiwan actively participated in these challenging workshops.
Learning the basics of writing a research paper
At the NHRI, principal investigators of research for drug submissions had the opportunity to practice writing three critical sentences in a paper: statement of aim, opening sentence in the discussion, and concluding statement. They also learned how to structure an introduction and edit a table of demographic and clinical characteristics by following the sample table provided in the CONSORT 2010 Explanation and Elaboration: updated guidelines for reporting parallel group randomized trials (BMJ 2010;340:c869).
Analyzing and rewriting sections of a research paper
The second workshop was a probing analysis of one paper: Network Meta-Analysis of Erlotinib, Gefitinib, Afatinib and Icotinib in Patients with Advanced Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer Harboring EGFR Mutations (PLoS ONE 2014;9(2): e85245). Clinical investigators in pulmonary oncology were provided the necessary tools and strategies to analyze the objective in the introduction and opening statement in the discussion of the paper according to examples presented in The PRISMA Statement for Reporting Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses of Studies That Evaluate Health Care Interventions: Explanation and Elaboration (PLoS Med 2009;6(7):e10000100).
Teams were engaged in the difficult task of rewriting sentences by added requiring elements of PICOS (descriptions of Participants, Interventions, Comparator (control) group, and Study design), as recommended in the guideline.
All activities were ambitious in their goals, considering that these clinical investigators first language is not English.
Answering participant questions in Q&A session
The question and answer session was practical and vigorous. There was a frank discussion on the preliminary handling of submissions by journals. One participant had an immediate rejection, only after a few hours of the submission, and wanted to know how to proceed after that; another had concerns about possible misconduct in reviewers of his paper.
These were challenging topics. On the subject of how to recommend reviewers, I did advise participant to attend international conferences and meet researchers in their field. Besides that, they should join these international academic societies and participate actively by joining guideline committees. There, they will meet experts in their field who they can later recommend as reviewers of their paper.
Participants of both workshops asked how to improve their writing over the long term, especially how to make the paper “charming and appealing” to reviewers and journal editors. I had recommended that they start a study group to coincide with the length of their research project, which usually lasts around 3 years.
(This article is authored by Mary Nishikawa, who was also the faculty for this workshop.)