Thursday, 23 September 2010

Writing for publication

In July 2010, I realised a five year long ambition - to actually attend a training session on Writing for Publication. It's been a standing objective on my annual appraisal since I began working as a Clinical Librarian. Once, I signed up for a course only for it to be cancelled. Another time, I totally missed one by virtue of not reading a conference programme properly. In fact, I was so convinced I would never manage to achieve this at my last but one appraisal, I set about looking at things from a different angle - more on that another time.

But this Summer, I finally managed to find a session and go to it - at the Health Libraries Group Conference 2010, run by Maria Grant, Editor of HILJ, and Andrew Booth, from ScHaRR.

This came back to mind today for two reasons. One, I just received the post, and found this:
On the back was the writing objective I set for myself in the session. I've written "Project: MSc dissertation (and article?) - systematic review of PDAs. Audience: Examiners! And hopefully clinicians/librarians. Timescale: End of Sept for dissertation; end of year for article". And I've already achieved the dissertation part, which makes it all the sweeter. I have an Outlook reminder to start thinking about the article part next week. I love it when this happens, it makes me feel efficient.

I was in the group that did the "nutshelling" practical, which basically meant sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and just writing down what I wanted to say. There's meant to be no going back & crossing out, you just write and get over the fear of having that blank sheet in front of you! Editing can be done later. I've used it to draft this post today too; I've found it very helpful indeed.

I have had some other recent experience of writing for publication. Back in May I was asked to write a chapter for a new Facet Publishing book on Web 2.0. It was incredibly daunting, but with a bit of nutshelling, and a lot of research, I've just about managed it. It was another learning curve, using the style guide and instructions for authors and trying to make my point clearly. Between the chapter and the dissertation it's also meant I've got to grips with Refworks which has been really useful.

Another thing I have learned from the process of writing the dissertation, the chapter and this blog is that writing regularly is the key. Even if you do screw up that piece of paper & toss it in the bin.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Bye bye Bloglines

I have to admit, I switched to Google Reader a couple of years ago, but I do think the demise of Bloglines should be lamented. I found it incredibly useful when I did use it, and I can't actually quite remember why I switched anyway. I do remember it being fairly easy to export all of my RSS feeds, so hopefully anyone having to make the switch now won't find it too onerous.

It appears RSS feeds are on the way out, but why? Twitter is fine, but:
1. I had to get special dispensation to be allowed to use it at work.
2. It's a bit of a jumble with professional/personal crossover, and I don't want to deal with more than one account.
3. Sometimes it just moves too damn quickly! I'm not permanently plugged into it, I have other things to do.

I like the option to dip into my RSS feeds two or three times a week and find everything there, just waiting for me (I also really liked being able to publish useful stuff on my own Bloglines blog, but I didn't think anyone else was looking, so wondered what the point was). I've built up my RSS feeds over time, and don't know where else I would be able to find that wealth of information just waiting for me to read it when I'm ready. The Krafty Librarian agrees.

Google Reader does a decent enough job for me to keep up with all of my feeds in one place, although as the Health Informaticist points out, it has an annoying habit of asking me to upgrade my locked-down, NHS-issue IE6 browser on a regular basis. I'd love to dear, but I can't!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Protocol Harem

I recently put out a request to the Clinical Librarian mailing list for literature search protocols and I promised to share what I found. Life then took over with a pile of literature searches and the small matter of finishing my dissertation for an MSc in Health Services Research.

So, a bit of background. I had noticed that the whole library team were using very different approaches to how we went about doing literature searches, and presenting the results back to the requesters. Don't get me wrong, I think a variety of approaches is absolutely fine, we've spent time all doing the same search before and then discussing how we went about it, and my general anecdotal finding is that everyone finds the major relevant studies no matter how they combine the terms. Scoping something out first may be your thing, or you might, like me, jump straight in at Medline and throw words at it and launch into a full search. I realise my route probably isn't perfect, as with a therapy question you really ought to check for the highest level evidence on the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews first (and it was nearly my downfall when I interviewed for this job - luckily I remembered in the nick of time, yet I've still not learned).

I thought we needed a bit of a plan at least, to make sure that people requesting searches get an equitable service. And the response I got to my request for literature search protocols was really quite good, since clin-lib doesn't get a lot of traffic and you can never be sure who's out there in the ether.

Some of the protocols are web-based, which I think is a really good idea. You're advertising exactly what your requester can hope as service when they ask their question. One such protocol is from the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG). It's simple, succinct and explains clearly what you can expect. Elaine Garrett, from the RCOG told me that it's based on the ATTRACT protocol

A more detailed protocol is actually on the NHS Evidence "For Librarians" section, from the Thames Valley Health Libraries Network (updated link). This is really comprehensive and would definitely be of use to the novice searcher as well as the expert. I also received protocols from the Library & Knowledge Service at Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which is very similar in the depth of detail to the Thames Valley version, and also another similar one from the Medical Library at the Royal Free Hospital, so thanks to Lisa Lawrence and Ruth Muscat respectively.

The main points to note from all of these is preparing for the search, making sure the question is understood, documenting the process (standards about the format are an issue we've been trying to iron out), searching the right resources for the question (in the right order? I'm undecided about the order being important), and presenting the results clearly back to the requester. We haven't yet decided whether to adopt a formal protocol at UHL, but we're looking at the way we all do searching, which I hope to share in the future.

There are so many factors at play in every single request for information that I'm not sure a definitive search protocol that could be applied to every single question exists. I view the protocols more as guidelines for searching, or as an aide memoire, but I would be interested to know what colleagues and readers of this blog think.