Learn about careers in Medical Writing

Versatile PhD: Careers in Medical Writing

Next week, I will be a panelist on the Versatile PhD forum for a discussion on “PhD Careers in Medical Writing”.

The discussion is free and open to all. I, and 3 other panelists, will answer any question about a career in medical writing.

The discussion will take place all week, between October 17 and 21, and anyone can drop by and participate during that time.

Find more information and join the discussion at Versatile PhD.

Please join us and ask away. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

Why publication guidelines were made

Sugar versus butter

Ah, times have changed. An article in JAMA Internal Medicine reveals the practices that led to the 1967 publication of a 2-part literature review on “Dietary Fats, Carbohydrates and Atherosclerotic Disease.”

In short, the review articles were written with heavy involvement from the Sugar Research Foundation, which has since become the Sugar Association with a mission to “promote the consumption of sugar through sound scientific principles while maintaining an understanding of the benefits that sugar contributes to the quality of wholesome foods and beverages.”

From a the perspective of a medical writer acquainted with publication guidelines, the current article lays out a troubling path to publication for the 2-part review. Continue reading Why publication guidelines were made

Quick (and easy) ideas to improve your writing

Helpful tips

Recently, an investigator came to me frustrated with the quality of scientific writing that was being produced by his laboratory members. At least a few times a year, I hear the same comment: “My team members are wonderful scientists but terrible writers.”

Most investigators think that they have to put up with the terrible writing, but I don’t think so. After a brief conversation, the investigator and I identified a few easy ways that he could help his team (and himself) improve the scientific writing produced by their laboratory.
Continue reading Quick (and easy) ideas to improve your writing

Do you use these 50 terms in psychology writing?

illustration of brain regions studied in mental illness ACC, amygdala, hippocampus, prefrontal cortex

Psychology and psychiatry often study phenomena that are “open concepts,” which necessitates precision in the language used to describe the phenomena. This is the argument posed by the authors of a recent paper that describes 50 terms that are commonly used in psychological and psychiatric scientific literature and that the authors believe are incorrectly used.

The 50 terms are broken down into 5 broad categories. Some of these terms apply to scientific literature in general and are not specific to psychology and psychiatry.
Continue reading Do you use these 50 terms in psychology writing?

GPP3: New guidelines for publishing company-sponsored medical research

Pellet of Lymphocyte Cells Created in the Centrifuge

Companies that sponsor medical research should pay attention to an updated guideline that was recently released. The document, Good Publication Practice for Communicating Company-Sponsored Medical Research“, more commonly known as GPP3, is the third iteration of the guideline, which goes back to 2003.

The guideline covers all types of documents published in peer-reviewed journals (original research articles, short reports, reviews, letters to the editor) and presentations at scientific congresses and meetings (oral presentations, posters, abstracts).
Continue reading GPP3: New guidelines for publishing company-sponsored medical research

Are ICMJE authorship guidelines leaving people out?

The most widely referenced and followed guideline for authorship of scientific publications is that issued by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). In it, the ICMJE recommends that authorship be determined by:

  • Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
  • Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
  • Final approval of the version to be published; AND
  • Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

The ICMJE states that

All those designated as authors should meet all four criteria for authorship, and all who meet the four criteria should be identified as authors. Those who do not meet all four criteria should be acknowledged.

A recent study looked at challenging authorship scenarios and asked clinical investigators, medical journal editors, publication professionals, and medical writers to decide who should be granted authorship status in these situations and how confident they were in their decision.

Results of the survey study showed several cases where there were higher levels of disagreement between the groups surveyed than other cases. Continue reading Are ICMJE authorship guidelines leaving people out?

Tips to prepare a scientific manuscript that gets published

Recently, I gave a webinar on publishing a scientific manuscript for the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). [An archived version of the webinar is located AMWA On Demand Webinars.] In the webinar, I reviewed topics including selecting a compatible journal, online resources for literature searches, and writing strategy.

Following the webinar, there was a Q&A session in which I was asked some great questions by the audience. Here is a condensed version of the questions and my answers from the webinar on publishing a scientific manuscript:
 
Continue reading Tips to prepare a scientific manuscript that gets published

The CMPP credential

You may be wondering what the CMPP designation means in my professional title. It stands for “Certified Medical Publication Professional” and is implemented by the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP).

After hours of studying and a lengthy test covering topics such as gap analysis, authorship, publication misconduct, journal selection, and reporting guidelines, I was pleased to learn that I passed the exam. From ISMPP:

The CMPP credential certifies the following:
  • Expertise as a medical publication professional
  • Commitment to ethical and transparent data dissemination standards
  • Leadership in upholding and fostering integrity and excellence in medical publication
  • Proficiency in good publication practices

What does that mean for me and my clients? Well, I am regularly looking for ways to continue and expand my education and the CMPP certification helped push me toward that goal. My clients have another concrete measure by which they can evaluate my experience and an assurance that my work meets best-practice standards.

Favorite editing tips and resources

Over my career in scientific writing and editing, I’ve found many helpful lists, tips, and resources that I’ve gathered here for your reference.

At the 2014 AAAS meeting, Barbara Gastel presented “Editing Your Own Papers and Proposals: How to Wow Reviewers and Aid Readers.” See the handout [pdf] from this session that includes editing checklists.

Here’s an editing checklist [pdf] from Grammar Girl that comes in handy when writing or editing your own work.

Ten writing tips for ESL academic authors from Text and Academic Authors.

Rookie Mistakes That Even Veterans Make” [pdf] was presented by Bill Walsh of The Washington Post at the American Copy Editors Society meeting in 2014.

Last but not least, see what happens when medical writing and editing go wrong with the Dizzy Awards 2012.

Why hire a medical writer?

Professional medical communicators (writers, editors, or developers) are skilled at clearly communicating science. Since they are intimately familiar with style guides, reporting requirements, and proper English usage, professional writers can efficiently process your scientific data into a coherent document.

This still life depicts a white ceramic coffee cup in the background, which was placed next to a stack of books. The uppermost book in this stack was opened to the last page read, bookmarking the reader’s place in this text. In the foreground was a computer keyboard atop which a pair of reading glasses had been placed.
Image taken by Amanda Mills, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To someone outside the field of medical communications, the value of a medical writer is not always obvious. You might ask yourself “Why should I work with a medical writer when I can write up my data?”

A good medical writer will add these qualities to your project:

  1. Efficiency – The writer specializes in creating documents that are logically organized, readable, and scientifically thorough. A professional medical writer can complete the job in a shorter amount of time than someone who does not write for a living.
  2. Eye for detail – The writer will take care of endless details that most authors are unaware of but publishers and regulatory bodies take seriously.
  3. Adherence to guidelines and requirements – The writer will seamlessly implement any formatting or content requirements in your document, which will go a long way to facilitate the publication or approval process.

 

Want data to back up these claims?

A survey of journal editors showed that “poorly written, excessive jargon” topped the list of problems seen in manuscripts, with most editors reporting that it happens “frequently.” This was followed closely by “inadequate or inappropriate presentation” as the second most common problem.
From Byrne DW. Publishing Your Medical Research Papers. 1998.

A recent study showed that authors and editors are not adhering to reporting guidelines in manuscripts that present data from animal studies. “As many as 55% (95% CI 46.7%–62.3%) of studies, however, included analyses based on what we consider to be inappropriate statistical tests.”
From Baker D, et al. “Two Years Later: Journals Are Not Yet Enforcing the ARRIVE Guidelines on Reporting Standards for Pre-Clinical Animal Studies.PLoS Bio, 2014)

“When professional medical writers help authors prepare manuscripts, these manuscripts are less likely to be retracted for misconduct, are more compliant with best-practice reporting guidelines, and are accepted more quickly for publication.
From Wolley KL, et al. “Poor compliance with reporting research results.” Curr Med Res Opin, 2012.

 

Top 10 attributes of a good Medical Writer, courtesy of SIRO Clinpharm