Thursday, September 27, 2007

Scientific Editing in the Internet Era: A Business Opportunity

The Southwest Chapter of the American Medical Writers Association invites anyone involved in scientific or medical publications—including scientists, doctors, writers, and editors—to attend a talk on the emerging industry of virtual scientific editing.

Dr. Susan Marriott, professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, and Walter Bigford, information systems expert in Houston, will describe the advantages and pitfalls of virtual editing and how they set up and operate their scientific editing and proofreading site Bioscience Writers (

The event will take place Monday, October 29, 2007, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Shanghai River Restaurant (2407 Westheimer, Houston, TX 77098). The cost, which includes dinner, will be $16 for AMWA members and $19 for nonmembers and will be collected at the door on the day of the event. To register for this event, please RSVP to Ruth SoRelle at by Thursday, October 25.

For more information on this event, please contact Ruth SoRelle or visit the chapter website at

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Can an English Major Become a Medical Writer?

Two people in the last two days have asked me the same question. Can they become successful medical writers without a science or medical background?

Yes, they can. Medical writers usually fall in one of two categories: scientists or doctors who loved to write and writers who loved medicine.

I was a journalist who loved science, so I decided to get a master's degree in science journalism, where I took both writing and science courses. And this is an important point. Not having a medical background does not impede you to become a medical writer, but you will have to get some science training eventually to be competitive. It doesn't have to be an advanced degree necessarily, but you will have to know what you are writing about.

If you want to become a freelance health writer and have no science training, you can join AMWA and obtain its new Science Fundamentals Certificate, for example.

Many employers, especially in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, do require their medical writers to have a strong science background. However, if you are willing to learn and are resourceful, you can be a successful consumer-health writer at a hospital, university, organization or as a freelancer.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Medical Writing: The Technic and the Art, by Morris Fishbein, M.D.

This little book had been in my office for months and I didn't know about it. A former editor in my department left it in one of my bookshelves and just now I've discovered it. This is from the second edition, printed in 1950.

It may be old, but the advice certainly is current. I love the section on verbosity:

"Verbosity is a blemish in the writing of most people--one that makes reading tedious, mars diction and wastes space. This fault can be overcome easily, but in most instances not efficiently until after the paper has been written. Unless you have tried it, you will be astonished at the number of words, phrases, clauses, sentences and, occasionally, paragraphs that can be deleted without affecting the meaning. Deletions of unnecessary words always improve grammatical construction and style of expression and facilitate reading with understanding."

Fishbein provides many "horrible examples," as he calls them, of verbosity in medical writing. But I'll better end this post now before it turns into logorrhoea (another word for verbosity).

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

American Medical Writers Association Annual Conference

For those of you who are not AMWA members, here's a good reason to join: their great annual conference. AMWA's conference offers dozens of workshops and open sessions in all areas of medical writing--they close quickly, so take a look before registration closes. The upcoming conference is in Atlanta, from October 11-13, 2007. Find out more information here.

For those of you who are going, I would love to meet you if we haven't already. I am going to be leading two breakfast roundtables (on Thursday and Friday) and will be speaking at two open sessions.

The roundtables are:

Writing about Vaccine Safety: Striving for Accuracy in an Emotional Environment (still open as of September 5)

Traditional Publishing vs Self-publishing: Creating Your Own Publishing Company (this one's closed--only 9 participants per table!)

The open sessions (these ones do not close) are:

OPEN SESSION 11 - Vaccine Safety: Dealing With Uncertainty

Communicating Public Health Policy During Periods of Uncertainty About
Vaccine Safety
Diego Pineda, MS, Moderator
Science Writer, Immunizations for Public Health (i4ph), Galveston, TX

Missing Information and Immunization Policy
Martin G. Myers, MD
Executive Director, National Network for Immunization Information
(NNii), Galveston, TX

Managing Uncertainty: Rotashield and Thimerosal Case Studies
Walter A. Orenstein, MD
Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

OPEN SESSION 36 - Medical Writing in Developing Countries: Challenges, Successes, and Initiatives

An AuthorAID Perspective
Barbara Gastel, MD, MPH, Moderator
Associate Professor, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX

A Chinese Perspective
Zhang Jian
Lecturer, Peking University Health Science Center, Beijing, China

A Colombian Perspective
Diego Pineda, MS
Science Writer, Immunizations for Public Health (i4ph), Galveston, TX

I hope to see you there!