The Editor’s Podcast: Publishing in Academic Journals

In this podcast, Dr. Lloyd Novick, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, shares information about publishing in academic journals, including the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. This information may be useful to students and others interested in writing a scientific article for a peer-reviewed academic journal.

Read this Episode’s Transcript:

Recognition must be given to those who embark on a career in public health. As future leaders and experts, you’ll be required to share your knowledge and experience as you navigate the field. Wherever your career takes you, your practice should be informed by sound evidence. In the following podcast, Dr. Lloyd Novick, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, shares general information about academic journals as well as the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. 

Camelia Singletary, MPH: Welcome, Dr. Novick.

Dr. Lloyd Novick: Thanks, Camelia.

CS: Dr. Novick, can you define what an academic journal is and why the exchange of peer-review ideas in this format is so important?

LN: Yes, an academic journal provides an opportunity to publish scientific work. This is important so that others in the field can learn about this science. And it’s particularly important for our journal, the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, because we wanted to bring the latest advances in practice to our readers, many of whom are actually practitioners of public health. Most of our articles, certainly our scientific articles, which can be research articles as long as 3,000 words or research or practice briefs which are shorter, 1,500 words. All of these articles are peer reviewed by other experts in the field. The advantage of peer review is others can learn from other experts who do this review voluntarily whether this scientific work deserves to be published. I will say that in addition to the scientific articles we publish, and we publish about 15 of these scientific articles in each of our regular issues. In addition to those, we are also interested in obtaining commentaries from experts in the field. Commentaries are different. They’re shorter, generally about five printed pages, and they represent a perspective or opinion. Those do not get peer reviewed. Those are reviewed by our editorial staff. I generally review the commentaries.

CS: The journal has recently celebrated its 25 year of publication. Can you talk about how the journal got started?

LN: Well, it got started back in 1995. I was approached by a publisher of journals. The current publisher is Lippincott, Williams, and Wilkins. This publisher–his name was Mike Brown–was interested in a journal that would address public health practice, the practical aspects of public health. He saw a gap in the field, and he was certainly correct about that. Many public health journals concentrate only on the pure science related to public health. Our journal brings out articles that illustrate advances in practice. So he was correct. Our journal has become popular because we reflect the practice of public health.

CS: Who is the intended audience for the journal?

LN: When we started it, we wanted practitioners to read it, people who actually practice public health. And indeed, our journal, all of the members of ASTHO–that’s the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials–the state health departments throughout the United States and its territories, they get our journal. They subscribe to our journal. Also, NACCHO, which is the National Association of City and County Health Officials, is a sponsor of our journal. And all members of the [Big Cities Health Coalition], those are health departments that serve several hundred thousand people. All of them subscribe to our journal. As things have evolved, however, since academics are very interested in publishing, many of our articles are actually authored and read by people in academia, or academics co-author articles with people who practice in the field. I want to mention one of the benefits of a scientific journal. It’s not only to promulgate and disseminate new advances in the field, new science in the field, but also when an individual sits down and writes a scientific article, that individual benefits. His work actually improves because he is subjecting that work to outside scrutiny, and he knows that by doing so, he or she has to meet exacting standards. So I encourage individuals to write. Individuals certainly can write, and I would guide prospective authors to our website where we have a tool for scientific writing. It’s called “Writing in Boxes,” and it makes starting out to write a manuscript simple and straightforward.

CS: In addition to the journal, there’s also a companion site, JPHMP Direct, that is used to make information a bit more palatable to not only students but to anyone who happens to visit the site, and this includes practitioners or people who are just interested in public health. Can you talk a little about JPHMP Direct?

LN: Yes, this was started several years ago. One of our sponsors is the de Beaumont Foundation, which is a public health oriented foundation, and they provided us with the resources to start that. And we now have that, including you, Sheryl Monks, and our associate editor, Justin Moore, who spend a lot of time getting messages out. It’s really a social media vehicle that gets short messages out about public health, refers to our articles, does other things like provides instruction to those who wish to write a scientific article. And one particular project of mine and my colleagues is we’ve started a series called Backstories in Epidemiology, which is telling the stories of epidemiologists in the field trying to solve mysteries when disease outbreaks occur. It’s based on a public health classic that was published 50 years ago called Eleven Blue Men, and I would recommend Eleven Blue Men to anyone who is interested in public health. The author of that was Berton Roueché. 

CS: If you could give three quick tips to student writers, what would those tips be?
LN: Well, the first tip is don’t be intimidated by the idea of writing an article for a scientific journal. And again, I would refer people to our website where we have a toolkit for writers. One of the ways to get started is to work with a group of your colleagues, a group of three is ideal. And the first thing to do is to write a quick summary of what you want to put in the article, something that’s about 200-250 words. Then the parts of an article are the introduction, the methods, the results, and the discussion. So what I’ve done when I’ve worked with two of my other colleagues, we’d write the summary and then we’d ask one individual to write the introduction, one individual to write the methods, and another individual to write the results that we were talking about. Now you might ask, well how can you do all that before you have enough information? Well, you can write them roughly. You can even write results roughly. You can make up the tables in dummy format before you actually have the results. The same technique can be applied to writing a commentary or an opinion piece. Talk with your colleagues about the topic, solicit opinions, and then give assignments to each other to start out in writing the commentary. In writing the commentary, make your argument, show that you understand the opposing arguments, make the points that support your argument, and come back to a conclusion. A commentary does not have to be as heavily referenced as a scientific article. Many of our scientific articles have between twenty and forty references. For a commentary, I generally prefer it to be written by two, perhaps three authors, to be 4-6 double-spaced pages, and to have no more than a dozen citations. 

CS: Excellent. Thank you so much, Dr. Novick, for sharing this information about academic journals. And thank you for your continued effort to bridge the gap between research and practice.

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Lloyd F. Novick, MD, MPH is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Public Health at the Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University. Previously, he was chair of this Department. He has served as the Commissioner of Health and Secretary for Human Services of Vermont, Director of Health Services for Arizona, and Director of the Office of Public Health for New York State. Previous academic positions include Professor and Director of the Preventive Medicine Program for SUNY Upstate Medical University, Professor and Chair of Epidemiology at the University of Albany School of Public Health, and Clinical Professor and Director of the Teaching Program in Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Vermont, College of Medicine. He is the Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. [Full bio]

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