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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 63  |  Issue : 9  |  Page : 691

Letter writing: Reviving the lost art

Editor, Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, Chairman, Managing Director, Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital Pvt. Ltd., Wadala (W), Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication3-Dec-2015

Correspondence Address:
Sundaram Natarajan
Editor, Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, Chairman, Managing Director, Aditya Jyot Eye Hospital Pvt. Ltd., Wadala (W), Mumbai, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0301-4738.170994

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How to cite this article:
Natarajan S. Letter writing: Reviving the lost art. Indian J Ophthalmol 2015;63:691

How to cite this URL:
Natarajan S. Letter writing: Reviving the lost art. Indian J Ophthalmol [serial online] 2015 [cited 2023 Dec 11];63:691. Available from: https://journals.lww.com/ijo/pages/default.aspx/text.asp?2015/63/9/691/170994

One of the most important sections in any medical journal is “Letters to the Editor.” Letters essentially are of two types. The first is where author(s) can present short, concise observations – information that may not fit the criteria for a full-fledged manuscript, but findings that are nonetheless relevant enough to warrant publication. This could be a research report, a short series, a report of an adverse drug reaction, a new hypothesis, or as? Pandey et al. have put forth in this issue: A letter that brings to light, points of interest that are relevant to clinical practice.[1],[2] While some believe that submitting clinical observations or research in a letter is a “backdoor entry” to publication;[2] I believe each letter must be examined, evaluated, and published on the basis of its merit; solely at the editor’s discretion.

The second type of letter is a critique of a previously published paper. These comments could be observations, clarifications, analysis of the paper, or critical remarks pointing out, for example - flawed methodology or incorrect interpretation. They should be objective, constructive, and not unnecessarily negative or overly critical. While every publication that is printed in the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology passes the scrutiny of the editor, the section editors, and the hawk-eyed reviewers; I believe that even after publication, the paper undergoes yet another metaphorical “peer-review” - by the readers; the result of which is seen in the letters to the editor where readers often seek clarification with incisive and pertinent questions. There have been manuscripts in ophthalmology in the past that has evoked many responses, and the resultant communication being extremely beneficial for the readers. One case that comes to mind is a study that was published by Eagle et al. where the authors reported about inadvertent eviscerations of eyes that had previously undiagnosed intraocular uveal melanoma.[3] In the months that followed, no less than five letters to the editor were written and the correspondence that followed has helped evolve a consensus on the management and surgical treatment of uveal melanomas. Today, the primary treatment of large facial and periocular infantile capillary hemangioma is oral propranolol. The first results of oral propranolol in infantile hemangiomas were published in a letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008. That letter has since changed the way hemangiomas are treated and has been cited nearly 1500 times - such is the power of a letter![4]

However, I find that on occasions, some letters lack the tact and respect that is necessary while writing a letter to the editor. It is good to remember that a letter can be a double-edged sword: One never gets an opportunity to reply back to a response to one’s letter. Replying to a condescending, slanderous letter with biased opinions is far easier than replying to one that is written objectively, backed up with sound data, and appropriate references. On the other hand, at times, the authors’ reply too is unreasonably aggressive with the author taking offense when none was intended in the first place.

To paraphrase Al-Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather:

“It was never personal, it is strictly scientific

Letters should not be a way to increase one’s “publication count.” Before writing a letter, one must ask some questions to oneself: “Will this letter help us understand the matter at hand better? Will the correspondence bring out points that are relevant? Does this carry a clear message with vital new information that justifies publication?” Only if the answer to these questions is “Yes,” then submitting it would make sense. I am sure that the readers of the Indian Journal of Ophthalmology know that they have the power to question the scientific value of any manuscript published, but at the same time, they must do so responsibly.

  References Top

Pandey N, Chandrakar AK, Garg ML. Tests for color vision deficiency: Is it time to revise the standards?. Indian J Ophthalmol 2015;63:753-4.  Back to cited text no. 1
Peh WC, Ng KH. Writing a letter to the editor. Singapore Med J 2010;51:532-5.  Back to cited text no. 2
Eagle RC Jr., Grossniklaus HE, Syed N, Hogan RN, Lloyd WC 3rd, Folberg R. Inadvertent evisceration of eyes containing uveal melanoma. Arch Ophthalmol 2009;127:141-5.  Back to cited text no. 3
Léauté-Labrèze C, Dumas de la Roque E, Hubiche T, Boralevi F, Thambo JB, Taïeb A. Propranolol for severe hemangiomas of infancy. N Engl J Med 2008;358:2649-51.  Back to cited text no. 4


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