The correspondence on this page traces the rejection by the Lancet of our research into 'evidence based writing' and our subsequent unsuccessful appeal.
I publish it here because showing how the paper went through peer review will help readers to judge for themselves the usefulness, or otherwise, of the research.
Rejection from The Lancet'
Many thanks for submitting your Research Letter entitled 'Towards evidence based writing'. We sought external advice, but I am afraid that our decision is against publication here. I enclose some comments from my adviser which I hope prove some help, but editorial priorities also contributed to our decision.
Comments from reviewer (anonymous)
This letter presents a novel way of looking at an author's ability to publish related to writing style rather than manuscript content. It is an interesting idea - knowing your audience is an important part of any form of presentation; written or verbal.
Firstly, one would hope that the discerning journal editor would place greater emphasis on manuscript content than writing style. The latter is relevant but meaningless in the absence of the former. As a peer-reviewer, for example, the number of paragraphs is irrelevant to a recommendation for or against publication. There are many other (more important) factors that contribute to the ability to successfully publish a manuscript. The contribution of each factor needs to be considered in the light of all the others.
An important question is whether or not it is the journal editors or the authors who change a manuscript to suit a particular journal's style. Is the style of the published article, therefore, a reflection of the original submission or of editorial licence? The study currently reported is a retrospective review of published manuscripts and we cannot answer this question using the information to hand. We also know nothing about the manuscripts submitted at the same time and subsequently rejected.
I am not sure the content of this letter helps authors to 'know' their audience any better. When writing a manuscript a decision is made somewhere along the line as to which journals might be appropriate. The criteria used by authors to select journals was described in a study by F Frank (Authors' criteria for selecting journals. JAMA 272 (2), 163-4, 1994). The top five criteria identified were:
We can conclude from the current study that journals have different styles. Whether or not knowing this can help authors to successfully get their manuscripts through the peer-review process and published is debatable.
Our letter to the Lancet appealing the decision
Thank you for your prompt response to our research letter. I read with interest the comments from your reviewer. Having spent many happy hours in training courses advising writers to appeal if they can make a logical and sensible case that the reviewer has misinterpreted the paper, I thought I would take my own advice.
I would therefore formally ask you to reconsider your decision.
Response from the Lancet
I have discussed your appeal letter with the Deputy Editor . . but I am afraid that our decision remains the same - against publication here. We take your points about our reviewer's comments, but are unpersuaded that our editorial priorities need change in this case.
'Beautifully written ... a rare good autobiography'
A cub on the moor: a short talk on life as a country reporter in the 1970s. Available for Rotary Clubs, Probus, U3A and other groups.
Winning the publications game: the groundbreaking book on writing scientific papers