5 Strategies for Writing Medical Articles | News | Loyola Medicine
Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Loyola researcher shares 5 strategies scholars use in writing medical review articles

MAYWOOD, Ill.  Review articles in medical journals inform and enlighten physicians and other readers by summarizing the research on a given topic and setting the stage for further studies.

In an article in the journal Academic Medicine (published December 2014), William McGaghie, PhD, of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, identifies the five main strategies scholars use when writing review articles: narrative review, systematic review, scoping, critical-realist and open peer commentary.

These different approaches to synthesizing research “are not necessarily better or worse than one another, just different, ” Dr. McGaghie writes. Each tradition involves hard work and requires “polished writing to convey its message with clarity and simplicity.”

Dr. McGaghie is director of the Ralph P. Leischner Jr. MD Institute for Medical Education, vice chair, Department of Medical Education, and professor of medical education at Stritch.

Writing a review article involves a type of scholarly work called integrative scholarship. The late educator Ernest Boyer, PhD, wrote that integrative scholarship puts isolated facts in perspective, makes connections across disciplines and illuminates data in a revealing way. Integrative scholarship, Dr. Boyer wrote, is “serious, disciplined work that seeks to interpret, draw together and bring new insight to bear on original research.”

Research integration involves seven steps: formulate the problem; search the literature; gather information from studies; evaluate the quality of studies; analyze and integrate the outcomes of studies; interpret the evidence; and present the results.

Dr. McGaghie identifies the five traditions of writing review articles:

Narrative review. Until recently, this was the most common, influential and widely endorsed approach. An author or authors stakes out an area of published writing and aggregates the evidence based on expert opinion or judgment. Data are abstracted from the reviewed articles and compiled into evidence tables. An “expert” summarizes his or her understanding of the issues in a review article.

Systematic review. This is a distinct, reproducible research method requiring a testable hypothesis or focused research question. The literature search is systematic and comprehensive; articles are selected for inclusion according to criteria set in advance. As in narrative reviews, data are compiled into evidence tables. Data then are interpreted in the context of all relevant studies.

Scoping. This is a relatively new strategy. The intent is to produce a quick, narrative, descriptive account of the scope of current literature addressing a key research question.

Critical-realist. This is a hybrid of the narrative, systematic and scoping review methods. It relies simultaneously on both professional judgment and rigorous methodology.

Open peer commentary. In this approach, a journal solicits or commissions an article that is provocative, controversial or at the leading edge of science or scholarship. The peer-reviewed article is followed by commentaries that may endorse, refute, amplify or refine its methods, substance or conclusions. The author of the target article has the final say in the form of rebuttal, summary remarks and comments.

Dr. McGaghie writes: “Reviewers and editors should recognize and respect the five integrative scholarship traditions and also be ready to embrace new approaches to research synthesis such as network analysis now on the horizon.”

Dr. McGaghie’s article is titled “Varieties of integrative scholarship: Why rules of evidence, criteria and standards matter.”

About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 94 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 133,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.