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Winning the Publications Game: how to get published without neglecting your patients. By Tim Albert. (Pp 89; £15 paperback.) Radcliffe Medical Press, 1997. ISBN 1-85775-183-3 .
For the novice writing a paper is a daunting task. In the future, changes in training of junior doctors will lead to many taking up research at an earlier stage of their career but unfortunately there are few practical books and guidelines to help. For the individual who has already published many papers there may be considerable scope for improvement in quality and as Tim Albert points out in his book, it is not just a question of having an article published but it matters which journal accepts it for publication. For example, it may be relatively easy to have a paper accepted for the Journal of Paediatric Gerontology but it is a certainty that a much more polished article will be required for the BMJ, New England Journal of Medicine, or the Archives. This is not necessarily to do with the scientific content of the research, which may be excellent—clearly there is quite an art in getting the scientific message across to the audience.
For the beginner one of the difficulties is the time consuming nature of the initial drafting process. After 10 hours of scribbles and attempted starts there may be little tangible progress. However, the book gives practical suggestions about dealing with these problems and goes through the various stages of the process to do this in a time efficient manner. What does the editor of a journal want? Looking at the publications game from his point of view is a useful exercise because the way in which the paper is constructed and how the message is given is crucial to the chances of acceptance. It was reassuring to know that even in this day and age there are alternatives to using a word processor for the first draft, which can restrict the flow of ideas. Furthermore, the need for some people to go back endlessly and adjust words and phrases is discussed.
The author of this book, who lecturers on writing techniques, has considerable experience of teaching doctors how to publish. It is an authoritative and useful document written in a clear style which is easy to read; this task can be completed in 2–3 hours. I feel the potential author will be wiser and produce a better paper in a shorter time after reading this book. Why not relax and enjoy the task in the bath?