If you have something to share with your peers, one of your best options is to write for occupational health journals. OH adviser Catherine Kelsey shares her experiences.
It’s not often that occupational health practitioners are lost for words. In fact, we have a lot to say, but for the most part we only share it with our colleagues, or it becomes a bit of a grumbling session. We tend not to want to make the time and effort to write for publication in professional journals.
There are a number of possible reasons for this: a lack of confidence; limited understanding of the process; or not enough time or space to sit down and write (Williams, 2015). A further reason is that many of us see publication as the domain of academics. But this need not be the case.
Oermann and Hays (2016) argue that clinicians share a responsibility to define both the value of their nursing interventions and the improvements they have made. Writing for publication can make our voice stronger as specialist nurses and enable our knowledge to be shared further.
And who better to do this than those working in everyday practice. This involves not just occupational health nurses, but the whole gamut of allied practitioners, and it is a great platform to get our message across.
Why write for occupational health journals?
The purpose of this article is to inspire and motivate nurses working in OH to write for publication, help to understand the challenges facing new writers and suggest strategies to overcome them. Writing is a great opportunity to share our knowledge, experience and expertise (Price, 2014) and to make a contribution to the future development of the nursing profession (Oermann and Hays, 2016).
It is an important means of disseminating information, sharing innovations, publicising new research findings and, ultimately, supporting the development of evidence-based practice (Oermann and Hays, 2016). So why should we leave it to everyone else?
One of the biggest stepping stones to overcome is making a start.
How to get started
Dixon (2011) warns the healthcare professional aspiring to become published as a first-time writer not to make assumptions about what is considered to be good writing. In the first instance, consider what you want to write about. It helps if you have a keen interest or are passionate about a subject (Wolff, 2012) as it will sustain you through those disappointing hours if your paper is sent back to you for further review.
If this happens, ensure you read the constructive comments of reviewers carefully, particularly if you have submitted your work to a peer-reviewed journal. Seek advice if necessary, make the required changes and re-submit. Don’t let this put you off writing. Most people who write for publication receive a rejection at some point.
Some nurses are naturally suited to writing, while others may find it challenging and give up when the going gets tough. Being committed and motivated is a good quality to have when writing, as is the ability to focus and stay on track.
Stevenson (2016) and Dixon (2011) advise the potential author to think about what it is they want to write about and how they want to progress. They suggest that authors tend to have one of two broad approaches: the gatherer, who collects all the available information, sifts through, analyses the data and then begins to write; and the hunter, who develops a strategy, and if data is required, collects only that which is needed, and then begins to write. Decide which type of author you are.
What to publish?
Have you ever wished that you had captured a change in practice right from the beginning and put it in writing? Have you read an article and thought you could do better or been incensed about someone’s opinion but failed to challenge it? Writing for publication is a way to make your response.
It is first worth thinking about what kind of article you want to write. Options to get your name in print include informal opinion pieces, adaptations of papers written for academic purposes, case studies, reviews (of books, for example), critical analyses of current research and news-led features.
One of the most important aspects of writing for publication in occupational health journals is knowing the style required by the particular journal, how to present your work and the submission process.
Ask the editor to provide guidelines for submission, including advice about the format for the type of article you intend to submit (Price, 2014).
Journals also use different styles for citations and references (Oermann and Hays, 2016), so it is helpful to find out which one is used and stick to it. It is also important that you submit your article to one journal at a time. Many editors will require you to provide confirmation that your article is not being considered, or has not been published, elsewhere (Happell, 2008).
Barriers to publication
Psychological obstacles can put practitioners off writing. “Writers’ block”, fear of rejection or frustration with the process (Oermann and Hays, 2016) could be reasons why occupational health nurses don’t write.
The best advice is not to compare yourself to anyone else, or you won’t ever get started (Wolff, 2012). Instead, seek out someone who has written for publication in the past and ask how they started.
Undeniably, the support of peers has given me the confidence to write for publication. Colleagues have helped me to shape my ideas and create focus; they have encouraged me to persevere and ensured my article has presented a well-balanced view of the literature.
Anecdotally, revalidation has opened the doors for networking groups to re-establish themselves in occupational health. These provide peer support, encourage the sharing of ideas within professional practice and create new opportunities for learning.
One such group is the West Yorkshire Occupational Health Group, which provides opportunities for networking and the sharing of clinical expertise.
There may be experienced writers in your local group who have the time and willingness to support fledgling writers; you won’t know if you don’t go.
Getting published in peer-reviewed journals
When working with editors, one of the most important aspects of writing for publication is that you act professionally and you meet your deadlines. If something comes up to delay your progress, and let’s face it, it often does, then make sure you discuss this with the editor and set a realistic, revised deadline. If you don’t think you can achieve a newly agreed deadline or your heart isn’t in it, then say so.
Formal peer-reviewed journals represent the highest level of validation of published articles. The process of peer review as cited by the publisher Elsevier (2016) can be single blind, double blind or open review.
In single-blind review, the reviewer knows who the writer is, but the writer doesn’t know the reviewer. In double-blind review, the paper is anonymised to both parties. In open review, the reviewer and author are known to each other.
However, don’t let this process put you off. Noel O’Reilly, editor of Occupational Health & Wellbeing, says: “OH nurses who succeed in having their articles published in a peer-review journal will certainly enhance their credentials.
“However, they often struggle to find the time or acquire the funding needed to undertake in-depth research, and I can recall only one OH nurse who has achieved publication in a peer-review journal.
“While I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage others from submitting to a publication such as, for example, Occupational and Environmental Medicine – the official journal of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine – there are routes with lower hurdles for sharing good practice. Occupational Health & Wellbeing has no formal peer review but the publication’s advisers – all senior OH practitioners – are on hand to advise on readiness for publication.”
Occupational Health & Wellbeing offers support to any practitioners wishing to achieve publication. Anyone with an idea for an article or a finished paper they would like to adapt for publication should email the editor with a short proposal in the first instance. The editor will look at drafts and offer guidance on how to revise articles for publication.
“If you have a good story to tell, or some significantly new information to share, then many editors will be willing to support you to get the article ready for publication,” says O’Reilly.
Professional publications have specialist sub-editors employed to put articles into the house style and ensure they are grammatically correct and accurate. However, before a substantive change is made to an article, the editor will contact the writer to discuss before going to print.
My first experience of writing for publication was both challenging and exciting. I was fortunate to work with someone who was willing to guide me and support me. I have been published in three journals, some peer reviewed, some not.
The peer-review process is not what matters most to me as a fledgling writer, it is the satisfaction of developing a new skill and gaining the confidence to publish as an author.
If you think that writing for publication is not for you then don’t complain if every month you see the same names in print. Seeing new names and faces is exciting, and journals such as Occupational Health & Wellbeing are here to encourage this and to help you realise your potential.
If, as occupational health specialists, we are to continue to gain strength as a profession, then we need to be much more vocal about our position and reinforce our professional links. So come on, don’t hide your light under a bushel. Writing for publication is not for everyone, but with a little time and effort, it could be for you.
Catherine Kelsey is a specialist community public health nurse and secretary of the West Yorkshire Occupational Health Group.
Dixon N (2011). “Writing for publication for the first time – try the hunter style”. International Journal of Physiotherapy & Rehabilitation; 1 (2), pp.38-45.
Elsevier (2016). What is peer review?
Happell B (2008). “Writing for publication: a practical guide”. Nursing Standard; vol.22(28), pp.35-40.
Oermann MH and Hays JC (2016). “Writing for publication in nursing”. 3rd edition. Springer Publishing Company: New York.
Price R (2014). “Writing a journal article: guidance for novice authors”. Nursing Standard; vol.28(35), pp.40-47.
Stevenson E (2016). “Writing for magazines in the UK: how to get paid to write”. Rosegate Publications: Hampshire.
Williams B (2015). “Support nurses in writing for publication”. Nursing Times; vol.111(5), pp.15-17.
Wolff J (2012). “Your writing coach: from concept to character, from pitch to publication”. 2nd edition. Nicholas Brealey Publishing: London.