Scientific writing is a critical part of medical training. We use case reports, clinical trials, and basic research to advance the practice of medicine and to share new ideas across the field of neurology. However, writing a manuscript can be a daunting task and a novice writer may not know where to start. For a resident or fellow, the first manuscript is often a case report which means the first step is to find a great case. What makes a great case? Atypical presentations of common illnesses are worth publishing so that all clinicians can recognize the full spectrum of the diagnosis. For similar reasons, rare entities, particularly if there is a new genetic diagnosis, should be published. Case reports that include a series of patients are more impactful and can often be accompanied by an analysis of trends or varied responses to treatment. When trying to decide if your patient case should be considered for publication, it is important to review existing literature. How many case reports have already been published on that disease? How is your case different from previously published cases?
The Resident and Fellow section of Neurology offers several unique manuscript formats based around case reports. For example, the Clinical Reasoning section uses a sample case to teach the logical approach to a specific patient presentation. Similarly, the Pearls and Oy-sters section uses a sample case to highlight high-yield facts and common mistakes related to the diagnosis of interest. Finally, Teaching NeuroImages combines an image with a key teaching point to reinforce pattern recognition of a diagnosis. Thus, a great case for the Resident and Fellow section will likely include a teaching component.
Having identified a clinical case, it is time to start writing. Having a mentor is very helpful, but also variable. How is the manuscript structured? What information should be included? What writing style is appropriate? A lot of this information can be found in the Information for Authors section (http://www.neurology.org/neurology-journals-manuscript-classifications/neuro). However, the Resident and Fellow Editorial Board thought additional tools could make it easier for new authors to overcome all the first-manuscript hurdles in order to just start writing. We have therefore created 1-page Author Guides (http://www.neurology.org/rf/author_guides) with writing tips for each of the three most common Resident and Fellow section categories. These guides are based around published articles in their respective categories so potential authors can see examples of the specific principles the guide focuses on. The goal of these guides is to provide general advice for anyone getting started on a case report with just a few pieces of advice to point you in the right direction. Avoiding common mistakes will allow the reviewers to focus more on the case itself and increase your chance of getting published. We also plan to make similar guides for each of the other sections. We hope these new tools are useful, and are excited to hear your feedback and see manuscripts from more first-time authors. Writing may still feel challenging, but remember that in the end, the best way to get better at writing is to write.