By Sarina Schrager, MD, MS, Editor in Chief, Family Medicine, and the Family Medicine editorial team.
As the official journal of STFM, Family Medicine aims to publish papers that will advance the art and science of academic family medicine. The journal is interested in curriculum designed for medical students and residents, projects that impact resident and faculty work life, as well as policy papers that comment on issues related to the discipline. The journal is also interested in papers describing DEIA initiatives developed in departments, residencies, and medical schools. We publish research, narratives, and commentaries. The editorial team wants authors to be successful and has come up with the following list of common errors to avoid when submitting a manuscript.
Not following the author instructions. There is nothing that annoys an editor more than a paper that is formatted incorrectly, submitted in the wrong category, doesn’t meet the word count requirement, or when authors submit a paper that is outside the scope of Family Medicine. Please read and follow the author instructions before you submit a paper, available here Family Medicine Author Information (stfm.org).
Submitting a paper that is outside of the scope of the journal. Reviewing the author instructions can help you understand the goals and aims of the journal. Family Medicine is focused on education in primary care and does not publish clinical articles. Some papers about quality improvement will be within the scope of the journal, if the project is done in a residency clinic or has an impact on learners, for example, but much QI that is focused on clinical improvement only is not in the scope of the journal. If you are unsure whether your paper is within the scope of the journal, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does not fill a gap in the literature. This may seem obvious, but the editors suggest doing a thorough literature search before you start your research project so that you can make sure that no one else has done the same study. If there are similar studies in the literature, think carefully about what your work adds. Is your study in a different population? Do you use different methods to measure the same outcome? Are you confirming the results of a previous small study? If you are just doing the same study that others have done, then we may not be interested in accepting the paper. We suggest that you be very clear in your paper what your study adds to the existing literature.
Lack of a cohesive narrative through your paper. For example, does the title of your paper describe what you did in your study, or what results you found?Does the methodology of your study answer the questions you propose in your objectives? Do your conclusions arise directly from your results? Be careful about editorializing (i.e. making large generalizations from limited data or data from a limited sample). The editors frequently see a mismatch between the objectives of the study or research question, the data collected and the conclusions. We recommend that you think through these questions before you start writing.
Lack of robust evaluation of your data. This mistake is by far the most common error that the editors see with original research submissions or brief reports.When you are starting to plan your study or your curricular change, it is important to think about how you are going to evaluate your intervention. The Kirkpatrick levels of evaluation (The Kirkpatrick Model (kirkpatrickpartners.com) provide a template to use when thinking about the outcomes of your study. The Kirkpatrick Model describes how learners or participants change after your intervention.
- Level 1 evaluation looks at the reaction to the intervention. Did the participants enjoy the educational activity? Did they think it was relevant to their work? Family Medicine does not publish papers with only Level 1 evaluations.
- Level 2 evaluation measures how much participants learned during the intervention. Pre and post-tests immediately after a seminar are examples of level 2 evaluations. Family Medicine will occasionally publish otherwise well-done studies that only use Level 2 evaluation, but most of the time these papers will be rejected.
- Level 3 evaluation is looking at whether the educational intervention changed the behaviors of participants. For example, after a seminar about lung cancer screening, you could measure how often residents ordered low dose lung CT scans.
- Level 4 evaluation measures results of outcomes. This is the highest level of evaluation. In the previous example, you would be looking to see if rates of lung cancer deaths decreased, or if rates of early diagnosis of lung cancer was affected.
Obviously, these higher levels of evaluation are harder to measure. Family Medicine prioritizes papers that use Level 3 or 4 evaluations.
Special consideration for narrative submissions. The editors of Family Medicine believe that stories about family medicine education and the clinical experiences of faculty and learners are vitally important to enhance the discipline. As such, we seek narrative submissions, both poetry and essays. The biggest mistake that we see in narrative submissions is Telling not Showing. What do we mean by that? Telling the reader that a patient was scared is much less effective than describing the nervous movements of her hands, for example.Describing how you feel with a sentence like, “I was happy” is much less compelling than describing a characteristic, “like my face hurt from smiling so much” or “my heart felt light”. Here is more information that can help you when you are writing narratives. (Show, Don’t Tell: The Simple Guide for Writers (jerryjenkins.com))
Again, the editors of Family Medicine want to hear about your work. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, strong papers are all alike, but weak papers are each weak in their own specific way. We hope that this blog post helps authors consistently submit strong papers in the future.