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On being ‘good’ in the medical humanities
  1. Deborah Bowman
  1. Correspondence to Professor Deborah Bowman, Institute of Medical and Biomedical Education St George's, University of London, London SW17 0RE, UK; dbowman{at}sgul.ac.uk

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There are many things that keep a journal editor awake at night. Recently, the question of ‘quality’ or what is ‘good’ work in the medical humanities has been preoccupying both my waking and sleeping hours. What does good work look like in our field?

The question is unavoidable as an editor. Each submission demands consideration of the notion of quality. Every author who submits their work is taking a risk by opening himself or herself to the assessment of others. Whatever the demands of the publishing schedule, we must never forget the effort and the courage that it takes to send work to strangers and seek their opinion. Regrettably, we have to make difficult decisions and reject more submissions than we accept. No sooner had we decided to publish Medical Humanities more frequently (quarterly rather than biannually) than the submission rate increased.

The home page of the journal sets out some pointers regarding what we are seeking, albeit in a limited way. It refers to Medical Humanities as publishing ‘high-quality articles’1 that are of interest to a wide readership. The journal is described as open to ‘all relevant approaches’ and curiously adds ‘as well as empirical studies’. As the editor of the journal that guidance serves, I confess I find it less than illuminating. I am no closer to understanding what might constitute a good submission. While the openness of the guidance is encouraging, it is difficult to understand what might result in a paper being rejected or accepted.

At this point, readers may be wondering why, if that is the view of the …

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