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Best Practice Spotlight - Writing Review Articles

19 Sep 2017 12:38 PM | MSHP Office (Administrator)

Diane McClaskey, RPh, BCPS: Assistant Director of Experiential Education-UMKC at MSU

Sarah Cook, PharmD: Clinical Pharmacist at SSM Health St. Joseph’s Hospital – St. Charles

Whether a pharmacy student or resident desiring to set themselves apart or a practicing pharmacist desiring to contribute in a broader way to the medical community, writing review articles for publication in a medical journal may be a desirable opportunity.  Megan Musselman, PharmD, MS, BCPS, BCCCP is a Clinical Pharmacist Specialist in Emergency Medicine/Critical Care at North Kansas City Hospital and has generously shared her best practices for developing, writing, and successfully submitting a literature review paper.  We hope this information will be helpful to those contemplating and actively working on research articles.  If you have any questions regarding the topic, please sent them to Sarah.Cook@ssmhealth.com and they will be forwarded on to Dr. Musselman. 

What is the best method of choosing a topic for a review article?
When choosing a topic for a review article, it is best to choose an area you have interest in and to identify an audience you are familiar with.  If you are interested in the topic, it will help you keep momentum as you work your way through the process.  In addition, if you identify a target audience, it helps you streamline your outline and appropriately highlight specific areas of that topic.  Oftentimes, the best review articles developed are secondary to your own review of the available literature when trying to answer a question that applies to your practice. 

How should you start the process of writing a literature review paper?
Start by conducting a thorough literature search and downloading relevant papers.   When conducting your search, keep track of your search terms so they can be replicated, if needed.  Tips for a successful search include using different keywords and database sources (i.e., Google Scholar, Medline, Scopus).  Additionally, look through the references of the articles that you have selected to find any additional literature that may pertain to your topic.

What are important steps to take while reading and evaluating the available literature?
When choosing and evaluating literature, be up-to-date but don’t forget the older studies.   Be careful using other published reviews as a frame of reference for your current review; it can sway your evaluation and critique of the available studies on the topic.  Try to maintain objectivity when writing your review, reducing any bias on the subject matter.  Most importantly, take notes while reading.  This will help you remember which literature you used when drafting your publication.  Nothing is more frustrating than when you cannot remember which body of literature you used for a specific section of your paper.

How do you choose which journal to pursue for publication?
It is always good to research which journals are out there that are tailored to your specific topic, and most importantly, which journals take review articles.  Some journals do not accept review articles and other journals only accept review articles from authors they have invited to write the review.  Also, it is usually a good choice to choose a journal that you are familiar and read often.  This will make formatting easier.

What is the next step once you have identified your target journal for submission?
A good review should have the following elements: it is worth the reader's time, timely, systematic, well written, focused, and critical. It also needs a good structure. The structure is usually dictated by the journal’s specific requirements.  Overall, a general introduction of the content and, toward the end, a recap of the main points covered along with take-home messages makes sense in terms of structuring reviews. For systematic reviews, there is a trend towards including information about how the literature was searched including which database, number of keywords, and time frame used to conduct the search.

What is necessary to effectively write a literature review article?
A good review does not just summarize the literature.  It takes it a step farther and discusses it critically, identifies methodological problems, and points out current gaps in the literature.  One thing to keep in mind when writing your review is to ask yourself if your publication will provide the reader with the major achievements in the reviewed field, the main areas of controversy or debate, and what outstanding research questions still exist.  While focus is an important feature of an effective review, this requirement has to be balanced with the need to make the review relevant to a broad audience. 

What are some successful tips to ensure final acceptance of your publication?
Normally all journals are peer-reviewed.  After your initial submission, feedback will be provided on ways to improve your publication.  Feedback is vital to writing a good review, and should be sought from a variety of colleagues and disciplines.   While the feedback process is vital to the final product being exemplary, it is oftentimes hard to be open-minded to the criticism.  Keep in mind that this may lead, in some cases, to conflicting views on the merits of the paper and on how to improve it, but such a situation is better than the absence of feedback.

Finally, if you have a best practice which you feel others in the state would benefit from reading about, please contact me – Sarah Cook, Vice Chair of the MSHP Newsletter Committee – at Sarah.Cook@ssmhealth.com.  

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