Intended for healthcare professionals

Career Focus

Writing a letter to a medical journal

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 15 October 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:s169
  1. Kieran Walsh, clinical editor BMJ Learning
  1. kmwalsh{at}

For people wanting or needing publication, writing a letter to a medical journal is a great way to start. There is a good chance that you will succeed by following some simple rules. If not, you will at least have learnt something and not have wasted much time. Compared to writing up your MD it's a low risk strategy and often more fun.

To start, you should get reading. Concentrate on original papers and editorials but don't just read them passively—cast a critical eye over them. What have the authors missed? Have they made any statements you know are wrong or not backed by references? Did they use the wrong methods? Did they get carried away with their conclusions? If the answer to any of these questions is yes then you have material for a letter.

Next, get writing. But don't waffle—many journals only publish letters up to about 400 words. So get to the point immediately after “Dear Editor.” Stick to the main messages throughout—say what the authors could have done better and why. Support your statements with evidence. But don't get personal; simply say why you disagree with the author. Don't worry about offending him or her, they will usually be delighted that someone has actually thought about their work. As you make your points, think, is this important or am I just splitting hairs? And ask yourself—are my points relevant to the journal's readers? Stick to important and relevant points throughout.


  • Read instructions for authors

  • Keep it short

  • Write the letter immediately—editors aren't as interested in letters about articles that are months old

  • Think up a good title for your letter.


  • Start with, “I read with interest”—editors will groan

  • End with, “More studies are needed”—it's a cliché

  • Give up if you don't succeed first time—put pen to paper and start again.