Readers’ editor: Free pens and memory sticks

David Payne I spent yesterday at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London, talking to readers of the BMJ. The medical school library had organised an open day and a sales colleague had organised a BMJ stand, so I joined him to discuss our plans for the BMJ website with both qualified doctors and medical students.

We’ve set ourselves a very tight deadline to have a responsively designed version of the website live by late summer (one that work as well on laptops and tablets as it does on smartphones), so we’re seizing any opportunity to show our evolving designs to readers so we can ensure we end up with something that makes sense to them.

I was particularly keen to test the new site’s top navigation. Reader feedback since the 2011 redesign is that the site is cluttered, so we’ve dispensed with some of the “channels” and merged others.

Our most popular channels are research and education. We wonder if education is the right name. Some of these articles include Cleveland Clinic CME questions. Would CME or CPD be a more accurate name for this channel? Certainly it’s our longer term aim to include CME questions for more educational content, so our ultimate aim is to rename this channel, but perhaps not by September. The term CME meant very little to the medical students and doctors we spoke to today. Perhaps we should have different names in different countries?

We plan to merge our news and comment channels (which are less popular) into a new “news and views” section to include editorials, analysis, features, opinion pieces, news, and obituaries.

Currently we have a multimedia channel showing our latest videos and podcasts. We’ve decided to add this to our archive channel, as we’re increasingly embedding audio and video in articles, and we think there are smarter ways of signposting this kind of content (including YouTube and iTunes). We plan to replace the Careers channel with a simple “jobs” section linking to BMJ Careers.

There are also some new channels. One of our most popular sections is our advice for authors wanting to get published in the BMJ, so we’ve added a new “For authors” channel offering advice on the kind of research the BMJ is likely to publish. Many others journals have this section. It proved popular when we showed it to doctors at St George’s yesterday.

Another new channel is one we are calling Campaigns. Since the 2011 redesign we’ve launched two high profile campaigns in the wake of some of our investigations – one on overtreatment (too much medicine), and another on open data (calling for negative drug trial results to be in the public domain). We felt these campaigns are a bit buried on the current site, and we want to given them the prominence we feel they merit.


Today’s “testing” followed a simple format. The BMJ stand had free pens, memory sticks, and marker pens alongside leaflets for our various products. Every time a doctor or student asked for one, I asked if they had a free five minutes to look over our designs. All of them said yes.

We gave them various scenarios. The first was to suggest where a summary of the latest NICE gudiance would go. Another was to locate a cohort study published in the BMJ and mentioned on the radio that morning. We also asked them to locate an obituary, access latest article responses, and describe how they find out if the BMJ was the right journal to publish their paper. We were also after general feedback about the designs.

The feedback was fantastic.  Interestingly, some doctors answered “news and views” to the above questions. including the ones about NICE and the cohort study.  We don’t routinely cover new NICE guidance in news (perhaps we should?). Instead we publish summaries as an education article. Neither do we write news stories about our own research.  Again, should we?  These aren’t design questions, but they are great at helping us to establish how we could cover issues differently.

David Payne is editor,, and readers’ editor.