In four separate posts, Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll from The Incidental Economist will describe their translation and dissemination process, specifically how they turn academic papers into interesting blog posts. Each of their posts will cover one of these questions:

  1. How do we read research papers?
  2. How do we decide what to write about?
  3. How do we make our posts interesting?
  4. How do we decide where to publish?

This is the fourth post:

How do we decide where to publish a post?

Aaron: Austin and I publish in the same places, and I bet we think about them similarly. However, I also have to provide content to a video series: Healthcare Triage.

Anything I want up super-fast, goes on TIE. This includes any new studies that I want to get my thoughts out on immediately. TIE also gets my newsy rants, when I want to comment quickly on something in the blogosphere. I write like I think at TIE, with the least amount of concern for adapting to the audience. I assume readers at this point know what they're getting.

If I think that what I want to say is more than just about a new study, if I think a real dive into context is necessary, then I consider the Upshot. Those columns are a lot more work. I do a mini-systematic review for many of those, really trying hard to make sure I don't miss any research. That often takes more time than the writing.

I like to comment on new reports and analyses of more HSR-related items over at AcademyHealth. I also can be a bit more wonky over there. At the JAMA Forum, on the other hand, I will write about more medical things, especially if they are policy-oriented. If it's going to affect physicians, then I'm going to JAMA.

A lot of this has to do with the expected audience. AcademyHealth readers tend to be more wonky, HSR-types. JAMA Forum readers include more docs and more of a still-sophisticated, but wider audience. TIE readers tend to be engaged, but even more diverse. But we expect at this point, they like what we like. The Upshot caters to the most public audience, and pieces there have to have wide appeal.

That leaves Healthcare Triage. HCT News (Fridays) usually gets adapted from posts I've done on TIE about individual studies. Traditional HCT episodes (Mondays) often get adapted from pieces I've written for other sites (Upshot, AcademyHealth, JAMA). Otherwise, I write them from scratch. I often get ideas for those from Tweets, emails, or comments. That audience is the most general, although often I'm surprised who watches. Writing a script isn't much different than writing a post (I write like I speak), but I have to be more cognizant of breaking things into manageable chunks for the teleprompter.

Austin: Publishers have editors. They know (or should know) their audience or intended audience. They call the shots and set the style that should cater to that audience. Some editors are very specific and demanding. Some aren't. This drives what works where.

Upshot posts should be evidence-driven, not political or opinion, and accessible to a non-expert audience. I only pitch material to The Upshot if it is relevant to a typical NYT reader. How will it inform or affect his/her life? The editors will come right back at me with this question if I haven't answered it in a pitch. By now I know that and have learned the art of the pitch. I can't remember the last time they rejected one.

If I want to write for researchers or policy wonks, AcademyHealth or TIE is the place. I can use some jargon. It isn't important if the post is relevant to an average person's daily life. It just needs to be relevant to health services or health economics research in some way. Actually, TIE is even broader. Really, I can (and do) write whatever I want there.

If I want to comment on policy or express opinion, JAMA Forum works. It's still got to be substantiated and relatively jargon-free, but I can say what I think is right or wrong, if I wish.

It's rare that I initially write a post for one site and then use a subsequent version of it elsewhere, but it has happened. I make sure nothing goes to waste. Everything I write gets published in some form somewhere. Also, when it makes sense to do so, I'll write about the same work in different ways, for different sites and different audiences. See, for instance, this JAMA Forum post on the cost of Medicare Advantage and this Upshot post on competitive bidding in Medicare Advantage. Some of the same research arises, but in service to a different point.

I've noticed that some of my colleagues tend to think a column is a column and it can run anywhere. That's not so. Style really matters and varies from place to place. Some of my colleagues send me drafts for TIE guest posts and some of them are all wrong. They're not in TIE style (or even blogging style). I tell them. It's my job. I'm one of the editors!

Aaron E. Carroll, MD (@aaronecarroll), is a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. Austin B. Frakt, PhD (@afrakt), is a health economist with the Department of Veterans Affairs, an Associate Professor at Boston University’s School of Medicine and School of Public Health, and a Visiting Associate Professor with the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Both blog about health economics and policy at The Incidental Economist. The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Boston University, Harvard University, or Indiana University.

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Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., M.S.

President and CEO - AcademyHealth

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