TOP 10 TIPS FOR WRITING A MEDICAL TEXTBOOK
BY GUEST BLOGGER ZESHAN QURESHI OF THE UNOFFICIAL GUIDE TO MEDICINE
Read Zeshan’s Case Study
ENGAGE WITH TEXTBOOKS YOURSELF AS A REVIEWER.
By critically analyzing an existing publication, you will gain insight into the writing and publishing process. This can be achieved by reviewing a new title for a student journal, or more formally as a student panel member for publishing companies.
Engagement with the textbook should go beyond just the written words to include developing an understanding of the graphic design and layout.
ESTABLISH A PARTNERSHIP WITH A PUBLISHER OR DEVELOP A REALISTIC SELF-PUBLISHING MODEL.
To get a book from conception to the hands of your readers will often require the assistance of a publisher, or substantial personal financial investment to cover the production of the book.
A publisher will take on these costs, and give you advice throughout. However, the major disadvantage of submitting to a publisher is that they may not be willing to accept your idea, and if they do, they are likely to limit your creative control over the product.
HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS OF CONTRIBUTORS.
Textbooks often require a considerable time commitment. Those that work with you must recognize this and be willing to commit to a potentially unpredictable workload.
Furthermore, they may not be fully aware of the process in terms of book submission, such as copy editing, proof reading, and graphic design. It is important to ensure that everyone is briefed about the process and what will happen with their work.
START SMALL WHEN DELEGATING ROLES TO NEW COLLEAGUES
By starting with small roles initially, editors can develop an insight into what they might be able to expect from junior contributors. Small roles to delegate initially might include inviting contributors to offer feedback on current textbooks. This allows an initial measure of their commitment and ability to contribute.
Reviewers who show promise may then progress to become authors. This could be facilitated by providing them with templates to draft short sections of textbook chapters. Authors who show promise could be offered the opportunity to co-edit subsequent textbooks.
COLLABORATE WITH SENIOR COLLEAGUES.
It is helpful to ask seniors to approve the factual accuracy of the text at various stages along the production process. The value of bringing this strength of knowledge to an inexperienced junior writing group cannot be underestimated.
Senior clinicians may also be involved in undergraduate courses, and influence recommended reading lists. They are also considered a more authoritative voice by libraries, fellow academics, and medical students.
DEVELOP AN UNDERSTANDING OF EFFECTIVE LEARNING METHODS
Understanding how adults learn effectively is invaluable when compiling textbooks. Depending on personal interest and time commitments; this theory could be studied simply by reading one of the core texts on medical education, attending a short course, or even working towards a postgraduate qualification in medical education.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR RECENT STUDENT LEARNING EXPERIENCES.
Juniors are, or have recently been, medical students themselves, and can harness this strength in their writing. They are well-placed to understand curriculum content, and to identify student difficulties. Juniors are likely to write with a focus on broader concepts, directly relevant to their clinical practice, rather than the minutiae of a given subject.
However, this needs to be balanced against the risk that junior contributors might focus on material needed for passing exams. Do not neglect areas relevant to clinical practice, which are less well-represented in medical school examinations.
SEEK INPUT FROM JUNIORS AT EVERY STAGE.
It is important to ensure that each element of the approach to the textbook is appropriate to juniors. The target audience are arguably best-placed to identify and communicate gaps in learning that current text books are failing to address.
Involve juniors in every aspect of the development process, including suggesting new titles, reviewing content, graphic design and approving the final printed text pre-release.
CATER TO MODERN LEARNING MODALITIES
Undergraduate medical teaching has gone through dramatic transition over recent decades, with a move away from traditional lectures and learning factual material by rote towards simulation and e-learning.
Textbook material can be engaged within e-books and in online formats, and so the content should reflect this. Examples include embedding videos in text, allowing students to discuss content in online forums, and having hyperlinks throughout the text to improve navigation.
ENSURE ALL WORK IS ORIGINAL AND HAVE ZERO TOLERANCE FOR PLAGIARISM.
Give clear plagiarism guidelines to all contributors and make it explicitly clear to authors that plagiarism will not be acceptable. We suggest that anti-plagiarism software, such as TurnItIn (www.turnitin.com), should be used to identify plagiarism.
Such software, and any legal advice, is not free, so factor this as an essential cost to ensure credibility and prevent future litigation. If using clinical photographs, consider generating a standardized consent form and also ensure appropriate permissions are obtained.