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How to structure and write a Biographical Account for publication

Begoña Martín Muñoz,1,2 María Gálvez González,1,3 Manuel Amezcua1,4
1Redacción de Archivos de la Memoria, Fundación Index, Granada, España. 2UCG de Cirugía Plástica. HRU Carlos Haya. Málaga, España. 3UGC Torrequebrada. DS Costa del Sol, Málaga, España. 4Facultad de Ciencias de la Salud, Universidad de Granada, España

Mail delivery: Begoña Martín Muñoz. HRU Carlos Haya. UCG de Cirugía Plástica (1ª planta, pabellón B). Avda. Carlos Haya 82, 29010. Málaga, España

Manuscript received by 25.11.2012
Manuscript accepted by 17.1.2013

Index de Enfermería [Index Enferm] 2013; 22(1-2): 83-88








How to cite this document



Martín Muñoz, Begoña; Gálvez González, María; Amezcua, Manuel. How to structure and write a Biographical Account for publication. Index de Enfermería [Index Enferm] (digital edition) 2013; 22(1-2). In <https://www.index-f.com/index-enfermeria/v22n1-2/8388e.php> Consulted by





Characteristics that support qualitative research must necessarily have consequences in presentation and publication of the study. Sometimes they challenge traditional models of scientific papers presentation. That is the case of the biographical account. In the proposal of this article, biographical account draws away from the traditional model of presentation for scientific papers (IMRYD) to adopt an own structure more in line with the expected one in a mainly descriptive biographic design, where the speech of the informant has a predominant place. The objective of this article is to provide a tool that helps researchers to organize and write the final report from a biographical account following the dual scheme: introduction (followed by the bibliography) and the biographical text. This peculiar structure capture the essence of this research design and clearly and coherently shows findings and methodology used for it.
Key-words: Biographical account/ Scientific Writing/ Qualitative Research/ Original Article.









    Health research has experienced a process of movement towards qualitative approaches1,2 that as single or combined methodological approaches are increasingly accepted in investigation of health-related practices.3 The increase of qualitative research in this field is due to the diversity of problems of health situations and illnesses that cannot be addressed using purely positivistic perspectives but must adopt a more holistic perspective that allows for the understanding and interpretation of the realities, meanings, perceptions and experiences of people in a specific situation.4
    Within this framework of ideas, the bibliographical account (RB) has established itself as a qualitative research design that is used to comprehensively describe the lived experience of a single person or a small group of people. Our goal, when we focus on its use, is to expand our level of understanding of reality, based on perceptions, expectations, emotions and opinions of all the characters involved in the process of health and disease. We start from the perspective that there are as many lives as points of view.5 As it is brought up in this article and in publications published by Amezcua and Hueso,6,7 the RB has found affinity with the life story and therefore lies within the so-called biographic methods.8
    The RB then rests on the understanding of subjectivity and tries to reveal the essence of lived experience.9 From the methodological point of view it analyzes the narrative of a person, talking about themselves or about an aspect or event of his or her life. This does not necessarily have to be about a special person (though as an informant they must have some special features) but it has to be part of the phenomenon being studied.10 This type of study does not seek representation, only the observation of a phenomenon, the production of new knowledge that helps us to better understand the meaning of being sick, the responsibility of the care of a person in a position of dependency, etc.
    Regarding the applicability of the RB results, different authors claim that the analysis of the narrative of people experiencing health care can greatly improve the clinical practice of health care officials, as the use of RBs can help personalize health care interventions.
11-13 From this perspective the RB offers a valid method of incorporating the vision of the patient into health interventions.
    In our context, the publication of RB has increased exponentially in recent years, thanks to projects such as the Quid-Innova,
14 the creation of methodological tools specifically for its construction,6,7 the foundation of a magazine related to this type of work, Archivos de la Memoria, and the accumulated experience of a team of evaluators, tutors that make up the panel of the magazine. Archivos de la Memoria has established itself in recent years as an instrument of dissemination of works and bibliographical method and publishes an average of 30-40 RBs annually since its creation in 2004.
   It is precisely this experience in tutoring, assessing, writing and publishing the RB that sensitizes us to the need to improve the wording of the final reports of these investigations. We must recall that the ultimate goal of all research is the production of knowledge, and this necessarily requires the publication of a final report, a written text either in a book, article, etc. The final report must account for, in a clear and consistent manner, the findings and methodologies used for the paper. The lack of interest that the qualitative researchers have put in the writing of these final papers, especially in the detailing of their methodology, threatens the validity of their findings because potential readers will not be able to judge their credibility thereof.
15 Regarding this, Gomez-Martinez concludes "Podemos y debemos ser capaces de desmitificar algunos tópicos que acompañan a la investigación cualitativa por medio de argumentos sólidos que den cuenta del complejo y peculiar proceso de investigación que necesariamente el informe final debe reflejar".16 (We can and should be able to demystify some topics that accompany qualitative investigation through solid arguments that account for the complex and peculiar process of research which the final report should by necessity represent)16 With these words he emphasizes the importance of scientific writing in Qualitative Research (IC).
    The characteristics that support the IC substantially affect every stage of an investigation and in some cases are necessary for the publication and presentation of the study. In accordance with these peculiarities, in this paper we will detail how to write the final paper of a RB, adapting to the needs of this methodology. Our proposal follows the model of Amezcua-Hueso, in fact it is based on a specific report about scientific writing of the RB. It is based on a relatively flexible approach to be taken with reserved correspondence, because the flexibility that permeates and defines qualitative research projects should also permeate the writing of the final paper, without exempting the researcher from meeting minimum criteria.

Structure of a Bibliographic Account

    According to the guide to writing scientific papers published by UNESCO,17 a scientific paper can be defined as a document containing a clear, concise and complete description of an investigation. Therefore, as with other manuscripts, the RB should report on the subject and the objectives planted in the study, the methodology used to carry it out, the main results and the relevance of these findings. On the other hand, and due to the biographic characteristic of this research, it should contain a part that includes the narration of lived experience of the informant, expressed in their own words.19 Schematically, the RB is structured around two main sections that make up the body of the article: the Introduction (followed by references), and Bibliographic text. Previously, and as in other items it includes a preliminary part which includes the title, authors, institutional affiliation, mailing address, abstract and key words. Optionally, it may include some attachments, such as vocabulary, diagrams, illustrations, etc. (See Table 1). Entering in greater detail to help the authors with their writing, we will explain each section in detail.

Tables 1, 2 and 31. Title. R. Day defines it as the smallest amount of words that adequately describes the contents of the article.18 Keep in mind that this is the first information that appears in the summary of the journal, in the bibliographic databases and other electronic resources and can determine whether the article is read; for this reason some authors consider it the most important phrase of the article, which requires effective and reflective writing.
    A good title should fulfil these requirements:
    -Be informative. The main purpose is to briefly describe the research completed.
18 You can choose to reflect on the theme of the research completed, the question on which it is based on, or even expose the final conclusion.18 Table 2 illustrates this information using variations of the same title.
    -Brevity. Long titles are hard to understand, which is why we recommend that the title not exceed 15 words.
21 This requires the elimination of vacuous expressions such as "study", "analysis", "issue" or other similar words.18
    -Be attractive. It should interest the reader and get their attention, which is why this aspect should not be overlooked. In the RB, slightly "journalistic" titles are admitted, provided that they meet the other requirements. "When the family lives, words are useless. The model of shared care in the terminal phase of critical care patients" or "The future for me is tomorrow itself. The account of a young man suffering from a rare disease" are examples from the literature. In these cases the authors have brought to the title an elegant expression obtained from the bibliographic text itself, which summarizes the storyline of the informant.
    -Syntactically correct. Improper use of language can change the meaning of the text. It is necessary to use the lexicon in a way that facilitates understanding and does not lead to misinterpretation. Additionally, it is not advised to use acronyms and abbreviations, unless they are commonly used.
    In terms of the structure, even though the format "title-caption" or "broken title" is not well received by some authors,
18 in the RB it is used frequently. 71% of the articles published in the journal Archivos de la Memoria during the years 2011-2012 are using this format. The objective of the title is to be attractive and aesthetic, while the subtitle focuses on the informative aspect. Table 3 shows some examples from this magazine.

2. Authorship. This section has been causing more and more controversy as a source of unethical behaviour. Authorship by coercion or authority, in which a superior demands his or her inclusion without having done substantial work on the project; the honorary author, motivated by the desire to entertain, cajole or legitimize the work; that of mutual support, consisting of an authorship exchange with a friend or colleague, without either of them having participated in the work of the other; the ghost, in which the author recognized is a well known researcher, even though he may have only revised the work. The ghost author involuntarily causes the opposite effect because it excludes a legitimate author from authorship. These are all fraudulent practices that should be banished from scientific writing.22
    For merited and responsible authorship, the guidelines from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE)23 should be followed. This institution provides the following criteria for signatories of a scientific journal:
    a) Participation in the conception of the idea, study design, data collection, or analysis and interpretation of data.
    b) Drafting of the article or the critical revision of an important part of its intellectual content.
    c) Final approval of the version to be published.
    We also suggest that an author signs all their scientific work in the same manner. The variability of the bibliographic name as well as the wrong choice diminishes the visibility of the author and makes it difficult to retrieve documents in electronic databases. The appropriate approach is to put the full name (no initials), followed by the last names, which is what we recommend. However, we are aware that some authors recommend modifications based on more or less widespread uses: if the first last name is unusual it can go without the second (Rosa Panduro), if not it is recommended to put both last names together, united with a hyphen (Begoña Martín-Muñoz).
    When authorship is shared, the order of mention should follow the degree of contribution of individual authors to the research and development of the manuscript.

3. Institutional Affiliation. It is important that the professional category as well as the institution that each author belongs to be stated, indicating unit, department, city and country. This allows the determination of certain bibliometric indicators as well as giving information about the researchers.

4. Mailing Address. Sometimes readers want to contact the authors to clarify confusing points or to delve deeper into a point. Because of this, the mailing and electronic address should be added. In regards to the first, we recommend using the institutional address instead of a personal one to protect privacy.

5. Abstract. This section is very important since it is another essential part of the manuscript indexed in bibliographic databases, will be read by many consultants and will be crucial in whether they decide to access the full article or not. It is a shortened version of the article so it must contain its main information. The abstract should be self-contained and self-explanatory, i.e. the text alone should allow the understanding of the basic aspects of the investigation.
    In the RB we suggest a narrative abstract instead of a structured one, of no more than 250 words, with at least the following content: general theme of the study, design rational, brief description of the informant, and the main contents of the bibliographic text.
    The abstract must be written after writing the article body, since only then will there be a global vision that allows the extraction of relevant and essential information.
24,26 In writing this it must be taken into account that it should be written in the past tense and that it should not contain abbreviations or bibliographic references.18

6. Keywords. Between 3 and 10 keywords or descriptors that identify the main topics of the article can be noted. Their importance is that they can be used in automated search systems, facilitating the retrieval of the document. Preferably, these words should be found in the thesaurus of Medical Subject Headings (MeSH). They must be added after the summary, in alphabetical order.

7. Introduction. In the RB, the introduction contains everything that the author has to say about the bibliographic text that supports it, without overcoming it. This means that the text of the introduction (followed by the bibliography) must be provided without putting the literal text of the informant in the backseat; in a bibliographic and descriptive research paper this text should receive a pre-eminent position (the text is monument, not the words of the researcher). In quantitative terms we suggest that the introduction does not exceed a quarter of the content of the article.
    Although the introduction should not be structured with subparts, it should contain sufficient data that the reader understands the investigative process. In this sense it parallels the logic of the IMRYD (Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion)
27 format although with some adaptations that we note below.
    Theme of Study. This attempts to focus the reader on the topic being covered, justifying the choice, noting its importance and the perspective from which it comes from. This should include the results of the literature review, critically providing references to insure an interesting text supported by meaningful and current documents.
    Aim of the Study. Expressed in terms of obtaining new research departing from the research question that motivated the study.
    Methodology applied. This part should describe exhaustively how the work was conducted. It should report the following:
    -Study design, noting that it is a bibliographic account and justifying this choice.
    -Selection of the informant. Clarify the reasons that led the researcher to choose this informant, the process of selection, the relationship that may exist between informant and researcher, circumstances in which it was proposed they participate and other relevant information.
    -Description of the informant. The bibliographic text, i.e. the narration of the experience, will not be understand adequately if it is not put in context. It is necessary to understand the characteristics of the informant, providing information on age, sex, profession, background and other personal topics related to the study, that are relevant and enrich this description. What should not be done is reveal the identity of the informant; therefore it is useful to use a fake name.
    -Information collection techniques. Although not the only method used, the most common is the qualitative and in-depth interview. Besides signalling the method of interview used, this section should delve into a greater level of detail, clarifying the methodological strategy followed in its development: thematic categories introduced by the researcher, recording or other method of information collection, reactivity control (possibility that the result is altered by the recording procedure, the presence of the researcher or other people, etc.), environment or context in which they are conducted, duration and number of meetings, etc. It is also interesting to reflect on how the interview passed and the informant's attitude during the interview.
    -Method of analysis used. While the quantitative analysis of the interview is standardized, the qualitative analysis is not, because there are different analytical courses and a great diversity of practical proposals.
28 The selection of the type of analysis depends greatly on the theoretical-methodological orientation of the work and the nature of the data.29 Amezcua and Hueso7 propose a system while analyzing bibliographic texts based on the content analysis approach which draws on the methodology of Taylor-Bogdan.29 Most Bibliographic Accounts published in Archivos de la Memoria adhere to this proposal to adapt perfectly to the characteristics of this type of research. The author, regardless of their decision, should specify in this part of the manuscript the type of qualitative analysis used.
    -Ethical principles. We must ensure that the ethical principles governing human subjects in bio-medicine have been respected (Helsinki Declaration).
30 At least, the paper must indicate the voluntary (informed consent) and confidentiality of the data. The most important part of the bibliographic text is the narrated knowledge, and the reflection and abstractions procured by the informant but, besides in rare exceptions, there is information that must be omitted, such as the identity of the people and places that appear. Moreover, this information could cause damage to others who have not authorized its presence. For this reason, it is appropriate to obscure this data, simply eliminating it or substituting it for simulated names.
    Subject categories found. This section attempts to expose the themes of the story that emerged. It should not be limited to a mere listing of thematic categories discovered in the analysis; the deep understand of the lived experience of an informant requires reflective text, both critical and interpretive. This part derives directly from the interaction between the researcher with the data, the deep knowledge of these facts and an adequate qualitative analysis. In the system proposed by Amezcua and Hueso,
7 the "interpretation of results" phase produces an explanatory discussion, a structured and coherent story line, constructed from the categories of analysis, which outlines the interpretations that the researcher makes from the data. It is this discourse that goes beyond the simple reading of the bibliographic text, of the anecdote, to delve into the meaning and significance. All this provides the reader with a thorough understanding of the experiences of the informant, and can be illustrated with literal words.
    Main Conclusion. The exploratory nature of the RB does not seek to establish inferences, but it is expected that the author use his or her immersion in the bibliographic text and analysis to make a conclusive statement that answers the question that was posed.

8. Bibliography. This section includes the list of documents that have helped plant the research and document the article. The writing should be guided by the instructions to the authors of the journal chosen for publication. In health sciences, most journals have adopted the so-called Vancouver rules, which follow the system of order mentioned in the text. In this format the citations are included consecutively, according to their appearance in the text, with Arabic numerals superscript, while references are ordered in the numerical order in which they appear above.
    The number of citations is often limited by the rules of the magazine. For a RB it would be appropriate to include at least five documents and no more than twelve.
    Additionally, they must be current. Unlike biomedical research, in which it is advisable to include articles published in the last five years, in qualitative work scientific production produced in the last ten years can be considered current.

9. Bibliographic Text. This is the essential part of the RB, the heart of the manuscript. It provides the narrative of the informant, not just as a product of an interview, but structured in different thematic categories resulting from the analysis. To write the bibliographic text correctly, and returning to the proposal of Amezcua et al.,7 the researcher has to have previously prepared the data, discovering emerging themes and following a structure of coding and text structuring. Data preparation requires: a) literal transcription of the data following standardized criteria b) removing text unrelated to the topic of study, repetition and meaningless expressions (crutches) c) punctuate it so as to provide fluent and understandable reading and d) enrich the text by nonverbal language and clarification of the researcher.7
    To discover emerging themes the researcher has had to be familiar with the data, read it repeatedly, question it (what is the informant talking about?), thus identifying the themes that once grouped together lead to broader concepts called thematic categories.
    Each category has a very concrete meaning that is explained or defined from the data. The thematic categories are used to codify the original data (the text transcribed from the interview or interviews) which produces a new text in a different order, more in line with the research interests, which is what is included in this section.

10. Annexes. This is an optional section that can contain a variety of materials that for their special configuration do not fit in the previous sections.
    -Vocabulary: some informants use words coming from dialect, foreign languages, slang, jargon, etc., whose meanings are not part of the common domain. Because of this it can be useful to develop a vocabulary section that explains the meanings of these words, which is placed at the end of the bibliographic text. The reader must be told of this resource, by annotating in italics the words of the bibliographical text that will be included in the vocabulary section.
    -Drawings and diagrams: these can be maps or conceptual guides to help the reader understand the thematic structure of the speech of the informant as well as biographical schemes that show relevant bibliographic trajectories and other resources that help clarify the content of the RB.
    -Personal materials: photographs, drawings, documents like letters or diaries that can be reproduced easily as illustrations. Due to the personal value that these materials can have, researchers should digitalize them or work with copies, thus avoiding that they be damaged or lost during the editing process.

Other relevant aspects and dilemmas of the RB

    Experience in the management of the production of bibliographical accounts in the last decade has allowed us to address a number of problems that appear in this research when it is applied to a very specific topic such as health. We will describe the most common problems so that they serve as an orientation or at least as reflection for those who are faced with the necessity of writing this type of article.
    -The shared authorship. Who should sign the RB: the researcher, the informant, or both? Certainly, in terms of numbers of words, the author's contribution seems unbalanced in comparison with the contribution made by the informant, which motivates some people to question whether it would be more appropriate that both should appear as authors. In this sense we must clarify the contribution of each. It is true that the informant gives his speech, which constitutes the bulk of the text, which accounts his experience (and are thus non-transferable) in a phenomenon or unique experience. But the researcher does the transcription, selection and arrangement of text, as well as the critical component, the result of a process that begins well before the contact with the informant. It could be argued that both the researcher and the informant take ownership, but on the other hand this would undermine one of the principals governing the rights of the informant, confidentiality. Without doubt we are facing an ethical dilemma unique to the bibliographical design, and as such it will be the researcher who decides the best course in each case.
    -Confidentiality. Many informants have no problem with their name appearing on the RB. However some dilemmas come up when informants do not exercise their rights to confidentiality: claims made by third persons and entities that are linked to the story and are clearly identified through the identification of the informant, the informant having expressed regret over the effects the publication of the RB has had or relatives of the informant having expressed displeasure over the fact that it has revealed intimacies that affect the family. These are just some examples that recommend extreme measures to ensure the confidentiality of individuals and institutions mentioned by the informant, beginning with their own identity. When this is not possible (because of relevant career paths or express wishes of the informant), the researcher should attach to the manuscript a form of written consent, allowing for the name to be used in publication. This is a fact that should be stated in the introduction.
    -Personal Exaltation. Some researchers (especially young researchers) are captured by the personality of the informant, to the point of feeling obligated to show their admiration using adjectives that highlight certain traits or personal values. The text then takes on a certain hagiographic tint, which should be avoided in the interest of academic rigor. Let the words of the informant produce emotion in the reader, the author should only act as a facilitator, appearing in the analysis as neutral and objective as possible.
    The RB has entered the health research landscape on the hand of its design qualities, sharing the dilemmas and opportunities of the methods and techniques that are specific to it. Given its brevity and simplicity of implementation, the RB shows great potential to contribute to the research of humanistic nature, transcending from the discourse of the desirable to the discourse of the possible. The methodological structure of these designs irrefutably contributes to its adoption by the scientific community and facilitates the understanding of materials that break with the rational-technological tradition that characterizes health research and brings us closer to critical and interpretive paradigms. The correct writing of the RB will validate the unquestionable truth of the discourse of citizens when they talk about their health.


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