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Guidelines for Author Inquiries

Journal editors often answer inquiries from prospective authors regarding proposed manuscripts. Pharmacotherapy receives numerous emails each year with questions about the journal’s interest in a particular topic, usually one designated for a review of therapeutics. The quality and specificity of these requests vary widely. They are sometimes as brief as “Would you be interested in a review of … drug X used for disease Y, or an update on the … <enzyme> inhibitors?” It is difficult to reply properly to such inquiries containing minimal information. A simple response of “no” is unsatisfactory and unhelpful to a future author. To avoid these quandaries, Pharmacotherapy includes in its masthead, under Scope and Purpose, four questions for authors to address when emailing the editorial office about possible review articles. Readers of the ACCP Report may also find additional comments on these four questions helpful when preparing inquiries for Pharmacotherapy or other journals.

The first item for authors to address is, Describe how broadly the topic will appeal to the readership. Although a journal masthead contains a description of the types of articles considered appropriate, this information is usually not very specific. Authors who describe the content of their proposed manuscript assist the editor in evaluating whether it falls into areas the readership would find valuable. Journal editors can be expected to have a broad knowledge of their field, but authors writing on a specialized topic that appeals to only a small proportion of the readership may assist editors by providing comments about its broader value. Pharmacotherapy has a substantial readership outside the United States, so potential authors should note, when appropriate, the value of their topic to an international audience. Submitting an abstract with an inquiry provides editors with the most helpful information.

The next item asks the inquirer to provide a brief bibliography of any similar reviews published in Pharmacotherapy or the biomedical literature in the past 2 years. Most journals try to minimize or avoid duplication of content that has been published recently in that journal or that is readily available in other journals. It is rarely convincing for the inquirer to state that “Journal X has published a review on this topic, so wouldn’t your journal like to publish my review of the same therapeutic issue?” Journal editors are busy, like all professionals, and an inquiry is likely to be viewed more favorably when it contains relevant references, minimizing any need for the editor to search the literature for similar publications. Thus, specific references to this effect from the inquirer are helpful, such as “It has been 5 years since Pharmacotherapy has published a review on this topic, and no similar reviews have been published in other journals during this time, despite multiple advances in the field.”

Third, if the proposed review is drug related, Will the review focus on one agent or compare drugs within a class? Reviews of therapeutics focused on a single drug are less useful in providing new insight into pharmacotherapy than are reviews that place a drug in the context of available alternative therapies. A new drug that is the first in its class would be an exception. Even for a new drug, however, reviews should provide content beyond what is available in the product labeling and more than a summary of the results of pivotal trials. Manuscripts that identify gaps in the literature when a new drug is marketed, provide detailed critiques of existing data, or discuss unique aspects of how patient needs will be met are most likely to receive an editor’s encouragement for submission.

The fourth question to address is, What research or clinical experience do the authors have with the topic? Pharmacotherapy’s mission is to improve human health through the dissemination of pharmacotherapeutic scholarship. The journal does not exclude any category of authors. Students and residents routinely submit manuscripts for consideration, some of which are published. However, the logic behind this fourth question is that manuscripts that include coauthors who have the perspective of direct experience with the subject matter are most likely to provide authoritative reviews that are highly effective to a sophisticated readership.

A final issue is, When should an inquiry be sent to an editorial office? The answer is, Whenever an author is uncertain about a review’s suitability. When the above four questions are addressed in an inquiry, a journal editor can evaluate the fit of the proposed article for the specific journal. Pharmacotherapy and other journals are increasingly moving to invite more submissions of reviews, rather than relying on unsolicited submissions. Information from these four questions allows an editor to determine whether, and where, similar reviews may have recently been published and therefore whether the proposed content is already available to the readership. A properly written inquiry may allow an author to avoid days or weeks of delay after submitting a manuscript only to have the review rejected. Alternatively, a properly written inquiry may yield an editor’s assurance that the submission will be welcomed by the journal and considered for publication. The well-written inquiry is likely to result in a prompt and specific reply.

You can find advice like this and more in the newly released Publishing Biomedical Research and Reviews: Guidelines and Advice for Authors by Dr. C. Lindsay DeVane.