SGIM Forum

Medical Education: Part II

Writing Sprints: A Collaborative Approach to Efficient Publication for Clinician Educators

Dr. Merriam (, Twitter @sarahbmerri) is a clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, assistant director for degree granting programs in Medical Education, and senior educational consultant for women’s health services, Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Ufomata (, Twitter @ElohoUfomata) is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and an advisory dean and co-leader of Social Medicine Thread for the curriculum committee. Dr. Spagnoletti (, twitter @spagcl) is a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, associate chief of the division of general internal medicine of UPMC, director of the degree granting programs in medical education, and director of the Academic Clinician Educator Scholars Fellowship in general internal medicine.

Scholarship is a promotion requirement for clinician educators (CEs) typically achieved through collaboration.1 However, barriers to collaborative efforts, such as time, motivation, individual expertise, and inequities in work distribution, exist. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified some of these barriers and has required collaboration at a distance.

The sprint method, first described for the purpose of idea generation and prototyping business innovations,2 has been adapted for use by teams of clinician-researchers to mitigate barriers to research study planning and manuscript preparation.3, 4 The writing sprint is defined as a collaborative, novel method to write academic papers as a team, in order to synthesize ideas.4 This method ensures that all authors have substantive contribution to the final work while allowing for maximal efficiency and time-management. Incorporating a writing sprint in manuscript preparation is efficient and fosters networking, cross-institutional collaboration, and group cohesiveness. The sprint framework may be particularly useful to educators who might otherwise feel that they lack the bandwidth or expertise necessary to publish their work. It may also represent an effective way to leverage knowledge and mentorship of senior authorship, beyond the editor role.

The use of this method was classically described for secondary analyses in research;4 however, the use of this method to produce scholarly work common to CEs (e.g., perspective pieces, review articles, innovations) has not been previously described. In this article, we outline a straightforward 10-step approach for CEs to employ writing sprints, based on available literature and on our own experience.

Once an idea for a written piece by three or more authors is conceived, the primary author and the senior author (if applicable) should do the following:

  1. Identify the members of the writing team (i.e., the coauthors) and establish authorship order.
  2. Define goals and objectives for the written piece, outline its major sections with key references and disseminate to coauthors for feedback.
  3. Distribute the final outline to coauthors and assign sections to each author.
  4. Ask coauthors to prepare for the sprint (i.e., generate ideas based on the outline, review references, perform a focused literature review).
  5. Utilize an online scheduling tool to find a sprint meeting time conducive to all coauthors. Sprints should ideally last 2-3 hours on average, depending on the length and complexity of the proposed piece.
  6. Choose a sprint method depending on topic complexity, manuscript length/type, and size of authorship group. If a large group is collaborating on a nuanced perspective piece, it may be beneficial to break into smaller sprint subgroups of 3-4 members and utilize Method 1, as discussed below. Alternatively, if a small authorship group is writing a more straightforward manuscript, Method 2 may be more effective.
    • Method 1: Each author/subgroup works on one section for the duration of the sprint.
    • Method 2: Each author/subgroup contributes to all sections. Each coauthor drafts one section and, after 30-45 minutes, the drafted section is passed to another coauthor to continue the writing.
  1. Plan to conduct the writing sprint on an online meeting platform with capability of screen sharing and breakout rooms.
  2. Set the stage at the start of the sprint by 1) reviewing the goals, objectives, and agreed upon outline and 2) clarifying the steps of the sprint writing process. Once the sprint begins, periodically check in with each author/subgroup to keep them on task and on time.
  3. Refine and format the written products of the sprint into a cohesive manuscript. This is ideally done by the primary author following the sprint.
  4. Obtain approval from the entire authorship group before submitting the final manuscript.

Within the past year, the authors have utilized this process successfully to write a four-page perspective piece with co-authors from nine institutions,5 utilizing three hours in sprint. Through this virtual sprint experience, we refined the simple 10-step approach. In addition, this current article was written via sprint in two hours. We believe that the paper sprint presents a unique opportunity to foster distance collaboration for clinician educators in an increasingly virtual world due to the coronavirus pandemic. This can help to improve scholarly productivity for clinician educators, enhance collaboration effectiveness, and improve the richness of idea generation in the produced works.


  1. Knapp J, Zeratsky J, Kowitz B. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days. New York: Simon & Schuster; 2016.
  2. Sinah SS, Engler TA, Nallamothu BK, et al. Sprint to work: A novel model for team science collaboration in academic medicine. Perspect Med Educ. 2018 Aug;7(4):281-85.
  3. Ryan A, Kerppola M, Verhey-Henke A. Paper Sprint Manual. University of Michigan School of Public Health Innovation Studio. Published July 2017. Accessed December 15, 2021.
  4. Lubitz et al. Guidelines for promotion of clinician-educators. J Gen Intern Med. 1997 Apr; 12(Suppl 2): S71–S78. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.12.s2.10.x.
  5. Ufomata E, Merriam S, Puri A, et al. A policy statement of the Society of General Internal Medicine on tackling racism in medical education: Reflections on the past and a call to action for the future. J Gen Intern Med. Jan 2021;36:1077-81.


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