Whether you are a consumer/user/patient, carer or family member, clinician, or a researcher… if you have some experience with mental health… you probably have some information that you have learned along the way about improving mental health opportunities for others in the future. And information from all of these sources contributes to the pot of all known knowledge about mental health. Sharing the gems of knowledge we have can be challenging (and a bit scary sometimes too!) But, sharing makes a useful contribution. This blog is about one way to contribute to the convincing tried and tested evidence end of the knowledge spectrum…
These days in mental health conferences in particular we are seeing more people with lived experience speaking, and being included in conference discussions and agendas – respect is growing, the environment is becoming more inclusive. Clinicians are also increasingly being included, and asked to share their practice rich knowledge. Meanwhile researchers and scholars have a long experience in speaking and writing about mental health topics, however, they are becoming increasingly challenged to do so using some co-design and co-creation principles. The collaborative and inclusive shared environment of knowledge production (evidence) to improve, prevent illness, promote health and well-being and to support recovery is slowly changing and hopefully becoming stronger and more informed as a result.
Some of the traditional formats for knowledge exchange have a procedure for selecting and screening information. The abstract, a very brief and concise overview that summarises a longer discussion, makes a first impression, and is the first hurdle you encounter if you want to present your ideas to mental health professionals, and have them taken seriously. The abstract is a hard hitting pitch to your reviewers who will ultimately decide if your argument is convincing enough, and accurate enough to be included in a peer reviewed context such as a scientific conference or a journal.
Peer review is widely considered to be the ‘gold standard’ of ensuring that ideas, have sufficient merit, have been obtained in an ethical fashion, are organised and analysed using a reliable, logical and trustworthy processes, and can be considered dependable and credible. Of course it has its limitations… but it is how the scientific world revolves at the moment, and if you want to add your voice and your ideas to the scientific mental health audience – this is the process your ideas must undergo to show they are indeed valid!
For conferences, a call for abstracts is sent out up to a year before the conference date. Three common conference presentation styles are: a Poster; an Oral paper; or as part of a Symposium.
For most journals you can submit a full manuscript anytime, and you will be asked to include an abstract. You will be asked to follow the authors instructions and these must be adhered to very closely – otherwise, your submission will simply be rejected – no one will read it at all. Don’t be overwhelmed though… just go through the step by step list, do as they ask… and things can proceed very smoothly.
When you submit your paper – your abstract is your ‘sales pitch’… Manuscripts and abstracts usually are sent to experts in the field – but only about 4 people in the first instance. You have to gain the interest of (usually) 3 peer reviewers and an editor or scientific chair person. The reviewers are called ‘blind’ – but only because they are not given your name or details, and theirs are not revealed to you! They are asked to critically analyse your submission and to make a judgement on whether it should be accepted and presented to the wider mental health audience (conference delegates or journal readership). It is complicated, and a big responsibility for the reviewers and editors – because they are to some extent the guardians of the evidence on which good practice is based. So – we want it to be a very rigorous, process so we can all trust it as much as possible, for the public good. It is a very serious business. What is more, is that reviewers don’t get paid for this work… it is volunteer on top of their other responsibilities, as a service to their discipline. So, don’t cheese them off with a half baked abstract!
So – here is the How To guide!
- You have 250 words (average) and that is all. Automated functions will only allow a certain number of words or characters and you simply can’t enter anymore than what the programmed file will allow. 250 words is common – you will soon find that when you start writing, they get get used up very quickly.
- Your 250 words must be captivating, interesting and thoughtful! (Remember your reviewers are volunteering to review your work… they have probably opened your file after dinner at night… after a long day at work… they are hoping to open something that will be inspirational – something new… now is not the time to let them down!)
- Make sure that you are reporting what you have actually done... not what you hope to do, unless you are presenting a protocol.
- Use key words that will help your work to be found in the literature searches of others in the future!
- Make sure you acknowledge your co authors and affiliations.
- Make sure your ideas are aligned to your audience – a good fit – you need to match the right audience, with the right time and the right ideas.
- Use a framework like this to organise your ideas and communicate them effectively (you don’t need to use heading but you can):
- Background/ Significance
- Make sure your work can be reviewed as recent, relevant, and reliable. (Don’t let it get too old… and don’t slice the salami too many times).
- Make sure the topic of your abstract matches the conference themes.
- Make sure you have a tight, concise and well argued discussion. Get a trusted mentor to read it through and critique prior to submitting.
Remember – if you get rejected – don’t lose heart… try again, look at the feedback, try to work on a new more convincing draft, seek feedback from someone with more experience than you, find a mentor… and of course – the reviewers aren’t infallible… sometimes they get it wrong, and you have to wear it. You will have to muster some resilience, be brave – refine… revise… rework... and try again another time.
Getting your idea across to Your Reader is an art form!
Some days it can seem like just one paragraph is a mammoth effort… and that Your Reader is a million miles away!
The trick is to carefully determine who your audience is… and be mindful of preparing your writing specifically for them. Get to know Your Reader!
- What are the characteristics of Your Reader. Can you profile Your Reader? You will want to know exactly where your target lies and how to capture their literary attentions.
- Why would Your Reader be bothered to read your text? Communicating clearly and engagingly with Your Reader is your primary focus.
Short gripping and rich grabs are important handles for Your Reader
Your Reader probably reads in short grabs… most use the punctuation to guide them… but generally it is a grab of 5-10 words at a time…Then, Your Reader pauses to comprehend… and then they go on… and read a bit more… to the next few words… so every few words needs to be rich and meaningful.
Experiment: Pause for a moment now… reflect on how you read new text…? Will Your Reader have a reading pattern like you do… if so, write like you read! If not, adapt to match your writing style to suit Your Reader.
Aim for sentences with about 7 words or less! That way, Your Reader stays engaged, enthralled and most of all – awake!
- Use punctuation to guide Your Reader through the narrative pathway you have carefully designed.
- Make sure that your sentence construction is complete, and that you don’t leave the story line hanging… with an unfinished idea.
- Make sure that what you have written will convey the message you want it to convey, and that it is not possible to misconstrue the content.
- Don’t use sarcasm or double meanings in text… unless you are an expert story teller (most of us are not).
- Ideally a paragraph will be about 200- 300 words long, depending on Your Reader, and the complexity of the ideas, or depth of discussion in your paragraph. (Don’t worry – references are not included in the word count)!
- Use a referencing style that is acceptable to Your Reader. For example, a numbered referencing system might help to keep the text more readable for some audiences, while other readers want to see names and dates of references in text. Use some referencing software such as Endnote, so that your referencing is consistent throughout.
- Each paragraph needs to tell a concise and discreet part of the larger story that you are telling to Your Reader. Make sure your join the dots!
- Remember: The first sentence sets the scene for the paragraph. It indicates the big idea you are dealing with, and it outlines the topic or main theme for the discussion you are about to outline.
- Then, add one, two, three… (or reluctantly/ cautiously …maybe four) supporting sentences. Include evidence to back up your main topic/ main idea or main theme.
- The final sentence should conclude the paragraph. Summing-up the idea in a convincing crescendo. So Your Reader will have a ‘Arhhh’ moment, capturing the essence of message. Your Reader will want to feel as though they understand your idea. If Your Reader completes reading the text of your paragraph and then feels ‘dumb’, doesn’t get the gist of your idea… or is bored by it; then your haven’t conveyed a convincing message yet. Re draft, and try again!
- Each paragraph in the body of a piece of writing needs to contain three distinct elements: an idea, enough convincing evidence and a summary.
- And remember Your Reader is probably reading on an electronic device – computer, iPad, smartphone… so, write for the screen not the page!
Here are some two resources to help you structure a paragraph for your #300words this week!
- Paragraph-writing fact sheets for academic writing. Getting back to the basics.
- Writing a thesis – a great writing guide here: http://betterthesis.dk
Acknowledgement – The Burger Image for this blog is from the following writing resources team…. check it out – handy tips! http://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/paragraph_hamburger
Have you hit a writing roadblock already?
Here is how to fix it!
- Read more widely – find some new sources about your topic… a different journal from a different publisher than the one you usually select from! Broaden your horizons – just be sure that you are not selecting from a weak or unreliable source or publisher. Try a different database…
- Ask your librarian to help you with a search for relevant sources… they will probably be able to surprise you with a new search strategy… they are experts in finding the right literature to match the right question.
- Review the reference list of your already gathered literature… are there some articles that you have overlooked that might also be helpful.
- Visit the WHO mental health website they have some interesting mental health publications that might widen your approach to the topic.
- Ask yourself about the setting/context you are writing about… is it local, regional, national, or international. Do you need to expand a little further… Discuss in the local context in a wider setting perhaps, then compare and contrast between your setting in the context of a wider geography/demography.
- What is the clinical relevance of your writing. Is there a clinical implication you can state and discuss.
- Surf a little on reseachgate! Search about your topic area… are their some interesting authors you can follow, have they shared some resources that are useful to stimulate your thinking further?
- Check out the twitter action about current healthcare conferences… search a relevant # You can find them here:
- https://www.symplur.com/healthcare-hashtags/conferences/ Do something else… try again tomorrow! But, DO try again! Some days are not as easy to be sufficiently creative as other days.. for lots of personal, professional reasons… or just because the ideas have not percolated sufficiently and processed enough yet in your own mind. Time will fix that – be patient with yourself, don’t give up and just be kind enough to yourself : take a walk… outside… listen to some outside nosies… feel some outside air on your face… view the skyline… stretch… come back to it all again tomorrow – or the next day!
- Talk to a trusted colleague… ask for their tips about overcoming writing block. And, above all – you should know that this is normal! Even the best and most prolific authors have moments of self doubt, block and believe it not …. they too can be stuck for words! So, you are in good company!
If your trying to write… there are soem great tips on this blog link below… writing at an academic level – and especially for publication doesn’t come easy. It is a craft that needs to be carefully honed and fine tuned…. Reading others tips about ‘how to’ is always a useful part of the learning and fine tuning process…
Nurses (traditionally) have not been keen academic writers – but that is slowly changing. We need to publish (at a high level) what it is we do, how we do it, and our evidence to support the way we do things… I challenge nurses everywhere to give it a go… write when you can. Share your knowledge… please!