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Growing the veterinary voice
  1. Adele Waters

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HAS anyone ever told you that you are a good writer? Are you the sort of person who has always got an opinion or something to say? Are you prepared to take a line, even if it's not going to win you friends?

If so, you sound like just the sort of person who could write a column for this journal.

This week the Veterinary Record team is inviting you to compete to become a columnist. If you are picked, you will join a small pool of new columnists writing about veterinary practice and the profession from their point of view. You will also get paid.

To enter, please submit a column of 700 words on a topic of your choice by July 14. E-mail your column marked ‘column competition’ to bva.editorial@bmj.com, and don't forget to provide full contact details.

A column is basically a short essay or argument with some opinion thrown in, so choose an interesting topic and then tell us what's the problem, why it matters and what needs to change.

This week, we launch our first column on p 619. This will give you an idea for how to structure your column. It's written by Adrian Pratt, a vet with a commercial background who now runs a veterinary business consultancy. Importantly, he isn't short of an opinion or two. You can also get advice about working with the media from veteran vet columnist Pete Wedderburn in this week's careers section.

For other readers who may not want to write a column, you can give feedback or offer suggestions for topics using the same e-mail address given above.

It is now four months since I became editor of this journal, so you are probably due a progress report. What has changed and what changes are afoot?

You may have noticed that the old Gazette section has gone – instead we cover interesting events that BVA officers have attended in our news section. The BVA officers are listed on the contents page.

We have changed our approach to obituaries – instead of including them within the Gazette section, they have their own page and, we believe, this provides a more respectful treatment.

You will have probably noticed, too, that our news stories tend to be original and follow the traditional form of writing news, with the key findings in the first paragraph.

As a team, we have also decided to spend more time with vets. The thinking here is that we will deliver a better product for you if we better understand what you do and the daily challenges you face. Since March, we have welcomed an EMS student every month to our offices and we have gone out to visit vet practices across the UK.

We are busy planning further changes too. Later this year Veterinary Record will undergo a redesign to refresh its look and feel. It will be informed by some in-depth research carried out with vets across the UK on their reading habits and what they want from this journal.

Vets told us they want this journal to be more browsable and engaging. They were clear about their challenging cases and workloads, so we need to come up with a design that satisfies a quick professional update at work or a more considered read off-duty. There will be better use of images, fewer words on each page, helpful boxes, and more bullet points to provide shortcuts.

The vets we interviewed also told us they liked the idea of being connected to the profession – they would like to hear more vet voices, read more debate and controversy, as well as personal stories from ‘people who get us’. That's why we are launching this column competition – so we can find those vet voices.

I am very aware of the high regard in which this journal is held. The BVA says members consider the journals their number one benefit. Clearly, there is nothing wrong with our current offer and we will not make change for change's sake.

But, like any successful journal, we must connect with our audience and reflect its changing interests and needs. Since I took up this post I have received feedback and suggestions in letters and e-mails from vets across the UK. Based on this, as well as the other sources already cited, we need to shift the perceived personality of this journal from being ‘academic and obscure’, which is how some vets regard it, to something more progressive – authoritative and helpful.

We also need to up our game to offer compelling content online, as well as in print, and work on this is in progress. At the end of the year, when we launch our redesigned journal, we will also change the journal's name to Vet Record to reflect what the profession and the veterinary industry have called it for years.

In my first editorial (VR, February 18, 2017, vol 180, p 160), I promised we would respect your time – we would aim to give you information as clearly and helpfully as possible, to be precise and concise. That ambition remains.

I fully expect some people to dislike some of the changes we make. Also, we may not get everything right first time so it will be good to hear negative opinions as well as positives – it keeps us on our toes and I believe healthy challenge can only lead to a better result.

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