Composing website of the week

On Monday morning I look at what in the coming week's journal, and find a theme to write a column with a web angle. How do I choose the theme? Well, in consultation with the other editors I find articles in the BMJ that seem likely to have related web material, and that I am interested in writing about. Defining interest in this sense is hard work, but it seems to be closely related to motivation, and also novelty. I suppose I want to link things that I don't know about to things that I do. As well as creating links from the BMJ to other resources, I try to include one didactic point about the use and abuse of the internet as a medium for communication each week.

The first ever column I wrote (http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/316/7143/1542) gives my attitudes to time management when reviewing a potentially infinite resource.

I also have a standard email that I send to people who send me URLs on spec:

"Website of the week is a weekly column linked to a topical issue in that week's BMJ. In practice this means I am unlikely to mention your site in my column, though I'd like to thank you for bringing it to my attention."
These days, I try to recruit the assistance of the author of the paper to which the column is linked. Naturally, they get the same amount of time as me: I send them an email as I start my work, and if they respond within the three hours or so that it takes to write the column, then I may include their suggestion. The standard email reads:
"Dear
I write a column each week in the BMJ that puts a web angle on a theme in that week's journal.
This week's theme is x. If you had to commend BMJ readers to just one site that treats on this topic, what would it be?
A quick answer would be more helpful than a comprehensive one: just a single URL would be great. I'd need to have it this afternoon for it to be helpful.

You might ask why I allocated three hours to the task. It's because the reviews section of the journal had a budget that allowed me to be paid 85 pounds each week for the column (I was freelance) and that's about what it was worth. I consoled myself that this rather low rate of pay enabled me to boast at parties that I was "paid to surf."

Now there is a rota among BMJ staff for the task, which is good as it offers a broader range of perspectives, and is useful training in advanced pragmatic use of the internet. After all, if you want to be able to write, first you must read. A lot.

Some general comments I wrote about how to search the internet are here (though Ask Jeeves has sold its soul to the devil of commerce these days.)

Naturally, you'd like a link to my columns here: it's not easy for me to link to them in any way other than through the BMJ's regular information structure. A search on "Carnall, D" should bring up a slew of them. Add in a key word to pull in a particular topic.

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Updated 15 November 2000
Comments? dcarnall@bmj.com