Writing a feature article: Not all articles are alike
Pelletier, Luc R
Although the novice author’s primary goal is to write a manuscript that is accepted, the experienced author may have a different goal–to write a feature article. Not all articles are the same. Editors and reviewers see many “acceptable” articles, but few outstanding, feature ones. It takes special emphasis by the author on both the topic and style to write a manuscript that is selected as a feature article for the journal. The author of this article, an experienced editor, describes the characteristics of a feature article and how it differs from others in his journal.
Once a manuscript has been accepted, the editor has to decide how it will be presented in the journal. Manuscripts that are selected to be feature articles have unique characteristics, which are described below.
Identify Feature Characteristics
Feature articles in most nursing journals are longer than other articles, address an issue more in depth, and provide a broad perspective of a particular issue. For example, a feature article for the Journal for Healthcare Quality (JHQ) is a full-length piece that highlights the application of quality management and improvement principles to a healthcare setting.
Although each editor looks for something slightly different based on the journal’s style and readership, all editors are on the lookout for manuscripts that can be featured in an issue. The sidebar, How Editors Select Feature Articles, describes several editors’ viewpoints.
A feature article typically addresses a topic of special interest to the journal’s readers. Feature articles for JHQ can also address conceptual issues about the art and science of healthcare quality. In JHQ, the manuscript that will be printed as a feature is usually 10 to 20 doublespaced pages long and cites literature throughout to support the major themes or propositions. A full reference list and other resources like Web sites, book lists, and additional readings, are often included.
In comparison, shorter articles, such as JHQ’s “Brief Reports” and “Quality Stories,” are typically only 10 pages long and describe tools used successfully in various healthcare settings.
Study Feature Articles
Prospective authors can study the format of feature articles in a journal by distinguishing them from the other articles. Some clues identify feature articles, even if they aren’t specifically labeled as “features.” For example, in JHQ, feature articles are listed first and in larger type in the table of contents. At least two of the feature articles are offered as continuing education (CE) opportunities. Readers can read the article and complete a series of questions online at the journal’s Web site (www.nahq.org/journal) to obtain CE contact hours.
Focus on Style
Sometimes a manuscript topic is good enough to be selected for a feature, but the manuscript needs more work to reach that level. Here, editors and reviewers play an important role in guiding the author to a revision of feature quality. For example, authors often submit articles in which they have conceptualized projects, yet they have not fully imple-mented them and do not have data to support what they think they’ll uncover when the projects are completed. We typically tell these authors to wait until the data have been collected and analyzed prior to revising and resubmitting the manuscript.
Frequently, clarity is another issue. The article should make sense, have a good flow, provide conclusions supported by the data and literature, and add to the healthcare-quality knowledge base. There are instances in which the authors need to “tighten up” the content, that is, remove lengthy tables and graphs and consolidate some of the information to enhance readers’ understanding of the material. Table 1 provides eight tips for writing a feature article.
When an author asks about the preferred page length of a feature article, I typically tell her or him not to worry about the length, just focus on telling a coherent story. We can always cut extraneous content.
Features should be crisp and clear. Readers should be able to find additional information on the topic if they so choose. Also, readers should be able to replicate studies and research in their own settings by using the feature article that they have just read as a blueprint.
Manuscripts that meet the characteristics of a feature article are sometimes, but not always, printed rapidly. If a special-topic issue is planned, articles relevant to that topic may be published prior to others. If a topic is extremely timely, our editorial team may move it up in the production cycle. For example, the recent focus on patient safety and the Institute of Medicine reports prompted us to publish some manuscripts early.
Now, if I could get my hands on some articles related to Six Sigma in healthcare settings, I’d be a happy man! Those would probably be published quickly because Six Sigma is a hot topic.
Luc R. Pelletier, MSN, RN, BC, CPHQ
Luc R. Pelletier, MSN, RN, BC, CPHQ, is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal for Healthcare Quality, a bimonthly, peer-reviewed journal of the National Association for Healthcare Quality. Mr. Pelletier is a healthcare consultant in Washington, DC.
Copyright Hall Johnson Consulting Fall 2003
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