The ideal author, is a ‘rare bird’, who:
• is available;
• is a clear and rigorous thinker;
• is knowledgeable about the topic;
• can analyse data critically;
• writes clearly and concisely;
• knows and understands the audience;
• is willing to change a text after it has been reviewed;
• has time to write articles and respond to editorial queries.
All of these qualities rarely exist in one person. Collective work is unavoidable even if the team is small. Both editors and external reviewers can help to improve an author’s work.
Many drug bulletins have found it difficult to identify external authors, for a variety of reasons. Specialists in a field may be out of touch with the everyday work of a clinician. They may not be able to set aside enough time to produce a good quality article. Some may have the title of ‘expert’ or ‘specialist’ but have not taken the time to update their knowledge. Others do not bother to thoroughly read and analyse the literature, even when the bulletin provides the references. They do not necessarily have experience in systematic appraisal of the evidence from clinical trials. An expert may not be used to accepting the criticisms of a rigorous review board. Finally, many have ties to the pharmaceutical industry, which may be using them as ‘opinion leaders’.
It is better to select a few reliable external authors than many who will produce inadequate articles generating difficult re-editing and possible conflicts. Many editors of ISDB bulletins prefer to write draft articles themselves in-house. Instead of asking external specialists to write the articles, they ask them to act as reviewers. Once an author who is skilled and available has been chosen, it is important to provide support and direction, especially if you would like the author to finish the article and to write for the bulletin again.
• When you commission the article provide clear and concise instructions for authors. Simple general guidelines can be found in the Healthlink Worldwide publication “How to produce a newsletter”.5 But specific instructions adapted to your bulletin will be even more useful.
• Provide the author with complete documentation for the article, explaining in detail how and when the literature searches were carried out, and what other strategies were used to search for extra references. It can be risky to leave an author to search for references as s/he may be too confident in their own knowledge and less thorough in seeking other sources.
• Junior authors should be helped by support from a more experienced editor when needed.
• When an article has been accepted and published, the authors should receive acknowledgement, and payment or other rewards (see below).