Making a Bigger Tent: Broadening Publication Options in Pharmacy Education

By: Spencer E. Harpe, PharmD, PhD, MPH, FAPhA

This post is part of an Anniversary Series celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning (CPTL) and the two-year anniversary of CPTL Pulses. In this Series, editorial board members are describing and celebrating milestones in our development and advances in support of publishing in pharmacy education.

“A place for everything, everything in its place” (Benjamin Franklin)

Many of us heard this proverb throughout our childhood. You may ask, “What the heck does this have to do with publishing?” We’ll get there.

Problems with Manuscript “Fit”

About 5 years ago, our fearless leader, Robin Zavod, shared concerns regarding the “fit” of articles submitted to Currents in Pharmacy Teaching & Learning (CPTL). She described increasing difficulty with manuscripts fitting into the journal’s existing article categories. Authors could choose from: Research Article, Review Article, Perspectives & Commentary (P&C), Book Review, and Letter to the Editor. There seemed to be nothing particularly wrong with those, but Robin routinely received negative reviews for some research manuscripts. Some reviewers struggled with a paper fitting into the mold of traditional research. In the spirit of helping authors, Robin recategorized many of these submissions as P&C papers since they described authors’ experiences with some educational endeavor—good, bad, or otherwise. Her concern was the trickle of these experience-type pieces was becoming a raging river.

Discussing this with Kristin Janke, our equally fearless second-in-command, we decided it was time for action. Initially, I saw this as an easily fixable square peg-round hole scenario. Kristin connected me with Claire Kolar, then a graduate student in social and administrative pharmacy at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. After reviewing a volume of CPTL, we identified several distinct subsets of papers within the P&C category. As we looked for similarities within the subsets, we also tried to see how these related to article categories in other journals. This exercise yielded several of the current article types within CPTL, notably Research Notes, Quality Improvement Reports, Interprofessional Education (IPE) Reports, Experiences in Teaching and Learning (EiTL), Live & Learn, and Issues in Pharmacy Education.

Addressing Differences

While educational research is usually hypothesis- or theory-driven, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is more commonly focused on one’s own educational efforts.1 As Bass said, problems are often at the heart of SoTL efforts.2 If we view education as our “practice” and SoTL as the development and evaluation of practice activities, it made perfect sense that reviewers struggled when SoTL papers were submitted as research. This mirrors difficulties in publishing quality improvement efforts, another area where problems are the starting point and the use of a traditional research framework is difficult.3 Robin rightly saw an important contribution to the literature in these submissions, but in the old system, the only way to make them “fit” was to change them to P&C papers.

Did that get authors’ experiences into the literature? Sure.

Was it the best way to frame and present those papers? Not really.

The EiTL category struck a particular chord with me as it tested my initial square peg-round hole assessment. “I have a peg, but there is no hole at all” was a better assessment. Fitting reports of the development and/or evaluation of a new service or practice model into the traditional research framework can be difficult since those efforts don’t fit the traditional definition of “research.”

Allowing for Context

Similar to reports of pharmacy practice activities, SoTL requires a description of context to help readers appreciate the activity and implementation, interpret the results, and determine the possibility of translation into their own educational settings. The importance of context in educational scholarship is not new.4 With the EiTL category, we wanted to provide authors a framework to communicate these contextual and experiential aspects of their educational practices.

The New Family

Four months later, we had a revamped categorization of articles that we refer to as the CPTL Family of Articles (Figure 1) along with author guidance for each category. Providing this information to prospective authors was a key element of our author services efforts.

Figure 1. CPTL Family of Articles

Helping Authors

Back to the opening proverb (I told you we’d get there). A place for everything, everything in its place.

Educational scholarship falls into different phases: preliminary, formulating, describing, testing, evaluating, improving, and reflecting.5 Each requires a slightly different approach to communicating relevant processes and findings. The expanded CPTL family of articles better reflects the breadth of these phases. Each submission has a place where it fits neatly, and there is (hopefully) an article type for each phase of the author’s work.

The important process of reviewing our author guidelines and revising our article categories made our journal’s tent bigger. Now it’s your turn. We ask authors to review the CPTL Family of Articles, determine which best suits your intention, and ensure your manuscript meets the guidance for that article type. Reviewers are encouraged to do the same…asking whether the article fits the journal AND the article type. Our collective diligence to “fit” will help authors tell their stories effectively and reviewers provide useful feedback!


  1. McLaughlin JE, Dean MJ, Mumper RJ, Blouin RA, Roth MT. A roadmap for educational research in pharmacy. Am J Pharm Educ. 2013;77(10):Article 218.
  2. Bass R. The scholarship of teaching and learning: what’s the problem? Inventio. 1999;1(1).
  3. Gregory K. Differentiating between research and quality improvement. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2015;29(2):100-102.
  4. White R. The importance of context in educational research. Res Sci Educ. 1985;15(1):92-102.
  5. Janke KK.Finding the right article type for your scholarly work in pharmacy education. Innov Pharm. 2018;9(1):Article 12.

Spencer E. Harpe is Professor of Pharmacy Administration at Midwestern University Chicago College of Pharmacy. He teaches topics related to healthcare quality, program development and evaluation, quality improvement methods, statistics, and epidemiology. His educational scholarship interests include methods to improve statistics and research education, engagement in research and evaluation activities, and the reporting and uptake of evidence-based practices in education. He is Associate Editor for Author Services for Currents in Pharmacy Teaching & Learning and Deputy Editor for the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association. In his free time, Spencer enjoys travel, photography, and building with LEGO.

Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning


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