Combine long-term planning of articles with short-term flexibility for each bulletin. A good way to avoid delays and interruptions in publication of the bulletin is to let editors plan to have a few articles on hand without having the production of a new issue constantly in mind. The aim is to build a stock of articles, ideally the equivalent of two or more bulletins, and to separate the planning of each bulletin issue from the production of articles. However, there is a danger with this, in that an article may become out of date if the publication is delayed too long. In that case, a literature search for recent references may be needed.
How long is too long to keep an article on hold? This varies, depending on the topic. In AIDS research, for example, it may be as short as several weeks. In some domains with little research activity it could be more than a year. Bulletins often have policies in place about how long to keep articles on hold or when to carry out an extra literature search to make sure they have missed no important new studies. For example, the French bulletin la revue Prescrire tries to publish all articles within three months of completion, but still after updating references when necessary. The experience of the German bulletin arznei-telegramm is that more articles need to be produced than will be needed. Articles not published in the month they are completed are usually published in the following two months.
With an ongoing stock of articles, the preparation of individual issues becomes easier and more flexible. You may choose to mix longer and shorter articles or more specialised or general topics to make the bulletin more readable. The articles may also be selected to reflect a main focus for each issue, such as misleading promotional campaigns, epidemiological reports, the time of year, international or local debates on treatment strategies or drug policy, etc. Specific articles or alerts can be included when they are in the news. Editorials can also act as position papers on topics of current interest.
Writing an article is only the first step. Do not underestimate the time needed to put together the articles, adapt their presentation and size, design a bulletin issue, and check over the text to verify that no mistakes have been made. A precise timetable is needed to help the printer meet publication dates and to organize distribution.
An easy approach is to develop an annual plan for these steps, to guide everybody involved in the process. Annual planning should take into account bulletin and printers’ staff holiday times and public holidays. Planning varies from bulletin to bulletin according to how it is produced. For example, if the printer does the layout, time must be allowed between layout and printing to let the editor check the printer’s work.