Friday, August 31, 2007

Medical Writing: Communicating to Different Audiences

I was on a call last night with members of our regional AMWA chapter and an interesting topic came up. How do you convey medical information when you have to write for different audiences (for example, health professionals, lay audience, and researchers)?

This is a common issue for medical writers working in academia or managing large-scale Web sites reaching to these different groups. This is an issue I touch on in my ebook, and that I think can be resolved with finding the right format for each audience and translating the information into that format.

If you have more than one audience, you can either write separate pieces for each audience or find a format suitable to all your audiences.

For instance, when planning the Web site for the National Network for Immunization Information (NNii), we wanted to present the findings of current research on vaccines to both health professionals and parents. (Click here to see an example of what we came up with). Our solution provided background information on the study's topic, a synopsis of the article under self-explanatory headings, and an editorial comment about the strengths and weaknesses of the article.

We thought this kind of format would appeal to busy health professionals with no time to read the whole journal article and, of course, to lay readers, who had the basic content of the article in a non-technical (or semi-technical) language.

As you become more familiar with a topic, it is easy to assume (sometimes unconsciously) that if you know something, your reader must know it also. But not everybody knows what oncogenes or immunodeficiency means--even though for you it is common knowledge. I am not saying you have to define every term, but at least you can find alternative plain-language words for some instances where the technical word is used. It is always useful to have both technical and lay readers review your piece before publication. That will assure your writing is accurate and clear.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Technical Writing for the Pharmaceutical, Medical Device and Biotech Industries

Check out this two-day course in Malvern, PA on September 24 - 26, 2007. According to the organizers, this is what you will learn:

* Understand the mandates for documentation set forth by the regulators, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and other governing bodies
* Know how the reporting process supports products in research, development, and the marketplace
* Understand how documents work in tandem from initial correspondence about a project to an approved protocol, amendments, and final study report
* Know how to produce effective written correspondence
* Understand how to assess and write to the audience
* Know how to organize and deliver information based on the message
* Understand how to structure reports
* Understand the innate structures of English grammar
* Know how to create grammatically sound passages
* Understand how the active and passive voices work and how to choose the most appropriate one for the type of writing you are doing
* Have a working knowledge of punctuation marks and their role in making documents readable
* Know how to review and revise documents
* Understand your own writing patterns and know the answers to your questions about the English language
* Have increased confidence in writing and revising documents

Get more info here.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Online Freelance Writing

By Dave Modie (Guest blogger)

Online freelance writing is a very convenient income-generating option, for both professional and budding writers alike. Dealing with writer's block for one is easier as online freelance writing offers every one the flexibility of writing at his or her own pace and time.

Searching however for credible online freelance writing can be quite tricky as there are scams out there. In order to ensure that you are looking in the right places, the following tips should be considered:

1. Apply for membership to writers' forums and online clubs. Not only will you get helpful writing tips from fellow writers but will also get important leads to writing jobs. This is because some forums and websites post ads looking for fellow writers. In addition, it is more likely that the projects are credible since you are dealing with fellow writers. Creating a network of writers will also prove beneficial in the future.

2. Check out popular sites for online freelance writing. A Google search of vital key words such as “online writing” “online freelance writing” and “writing jobs” usually leads to the most popular ones. These sites are usually devoted to posting advertisements for numerous online writing jobs in addition to providing tons of resources related to writing. Keep in mind though to double check before accepting projects. In addition, some of the sites also allow you to post your original articles of which you will get paid every time it sells. These sites are also perfect for building up your portfolio. A portfolio is important for prospective employers when looking for writers.

3. Check out the job bank sites. Some of the job search banks and websites post openings for online freelance writing and other writing jobs. As competition for online freelance writing can be quite tough owing to its increasing popularity, it is wise to have them bookmarked. Check them often as jobs could come and go in a flash. Applying early will give you an advantage. Make sure to have your resume and writing portfolio always on hand.

4. Subscribe to e-magazines. To give you an idea on the e-magazines, search for them online. Some e-magazine subscriptions are for free, if not, are only for a minimal fee. Just like some of the sources mentioned above, e-magazines offer excellent tips and resources for writers on online freelance writing. In addition, they have regular job postings for writers. Contributions to e-magazines are sometimes paid. And even if contributions are not paid, your efforts are not lost because your contributions will be part of your portfolio which can be accessed by prospective employers on the lookout for online freelance writers.

Remember, the Internet can be quite a “jungle”. If you do not know where to look and where to go, you can easily get lost. Be persistent and be patient. There is definitely an online freelance writing job for you.

Dave Modie is a HR expert on freelance writing opportunities and freelance jobs He knows how to find good writer jobs and become the best writer freelance. Article source here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Web Site Writing and Editing

I was just told about an online course on Web site writing and editing. I know the instructor, MeLissa Houdmann is very good at this (I receive her newsletter). Although not specifically targeted to medical writers, the principles taught apply to all types of writing.

Offered through The Christian Pen, the course's six lessons are:
  • Understanding the Internet, its history and its undeniable potential.
  • Writing compelling content for an Internet audience.
  • Editing an existing Web site to meet the goals of the client.
  • Implementing basic search engine optimization tactics.
  • Learning fundamental HTML codes.
  • Putting these techniques to work on your Web site!
And it is only $75 for non-members!

Register here.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Book Reviews for Journals

The deadline approaching for the publication of my vaccine safety book, my co-author and I are readily thinking about sending out review copies for the media and some medical journals.

Have you noticed that most journals have a 'book reviews' section? As medical writers we tend to focus on research articles, and our bylines are usually subject to collaborating on other people's research and helping to write a paper.

But another way to get published in a medical journal is by submitting book reviews. Look for a new book on a medical topic and write to a journal's book review editor, offering to prepare a review of the book for the journal.

A great article that talks about this is A Strategy for Reviewing Books for Journals by Barbara Gastel (BioScience Vol. 41, No. 9, 1991). According to Gastel, book review editors tend to appreciate when someone offers to review a book.

“Calling their attention to little-publicized but valuable new books can be especially useful. And anything that helps editors expand their pools of qualified, willing, reliable reviewers is likely to be welcome.”

A good book review should describe the book contents and evaluate its strengths and limitations. Here are some tips for writing a book review:
  • Describe the stated purpose of the book and whether it was met or not
  • Provide information about the context of the book—for example, is it about a new treatment or does it follow up on previous works?
  • Discuss the qualifications and expertise of the author
  • Note any special features of the book such as illustrations, exercises, or glossaries
  • Tell who will benefit more from the book—health care professionals or patients?
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Consumer Health Query Letters

One of my students recently asked me an interesting question: What makes consumer health queries different from other types of queries?

On the surface, queries sent to a consumer health publication should follow the same rules as any other query.

However, I think there are two special considerations for a consumer health query:

1. The query must reveal your knowledge of the consumer health writing market in general and of the queried publication in particular. This has to do with knowing what the "hot topics" are in the market and coming up with an original angle for your story. Editors receive hundreds of queries every week and your query will compete with other potential articles. If your story is about a rare disease and the next query in the stack is about a new treatment for diabetes, yours will probably be rejected (understanding that there is limited space for publication).

Editors want articles that sell magazines. In other markets, this would not be much of a problem. Think for example about a magazine on agriculture--an article about a rare plant disease would probably have good chances of being published because there is not so much competition and readers are less selective.

2. Your knowledge of the topic. Your knowledge of the health topic of the story (and to some extent your degree) is also important because health articles must be authoritative. In other markets, your knowledge of a topic can be addressed in the query with a couple of lines saying you have published on related publications or have written about the same topic before. In consumer health writing, however, you have the chance of emphasizing your medical/scientific education and professional experience. This can give the editor a good reason to pick your query over another.

To learn more about query letters in general read The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock; for an in-depth look at consumer health query letters see the Consumer Health Writing Home Study Course.