The first draft should be developed around the central questions identified when an outline was prepared for the topic, using the results of the literature search to see if you have the information you need. Constantly keep the reader and target audience in mind and aim to produce a draft that is as concise and clear as possible, avoiding ambiguity. The Healthlink Worldwide guide to good writing5 is a useful reference on wording, length of sentences and priorities for information presentation. Aim to build the article logically and make it easy for the reader to understand how and why you have drawn your conclusions.
The ISDB experience in training sessions is that an article should not be too long if it is to be easily understood by readers. You may be able to split a long article in to two parts. Box 7.4 presents a few tricks drug bulletin editors use to simplify technical explanations.
As an author, during the writing phase you are on your own. The first step in quality control is up to you. Reread and check the draft carefully before sending it out for review. The cleaner the draft, the more relevant reviewers’ comments will be.
Box 7.4 A few ways to simplify complex articles
• Include less important facts as footnotes.
• Use boxes for practical tips, information aimed at specific readers, or to highlight a risk for patients.
• Use titles and subtitles to summarise information and provide clear conclusions. This allows readers to skim an article for key messages.
• Be obsessive about cutting and shortening sentences, especially on very technical topics such as analysis of clinical trials.
• Avoid superlatives. A therapy is rarely THE absolute best choice in any circumstance. Instead, provide clear therapeutic strategies and facilitate choice.
• Separate clear description of facts from editorial comments.
• Use the right verb tense to distinguish between things that are already known and things that should still be tested.
• Ban words that are too technical and avoid unnecessary use of abbreviations.
• If you use tables or graphs, make sure that labelling and headings are simple and clear.