Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Medical Writing Self-Study Workshops

From time to time I post announcements about medical writing workshops around the US. But I realize, most of you cannot attend for various reasons (timing, cost, location, the dog is ill, etc.). So let me suggest that you try the AMWA Self-Study Workshops:
According to AMWA, "each self-study module includes a workbook with examples and exercises, as well as a CD-ROM featuring an interactive PDF of the workbook. Self-study workshops can be used to acquire credit in AMWA's core certificate program (2 credits for , 1 for Punctuation, and 1 for Sentence Structure)."

Note that I haven't taken them, but I have heard good things from people who have. If you are one of them, let me know about your experience and leave a comment. Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 28, 2008

More on Networking for Medical Writers

Following up on the latest post, there are networking opportunities other than medical writing conferences. For instance, networking on the Internet is become more popular every day.

Last year, I started the Medical Writing Network, as a place for medical writers to interact, share ideas, and even find jobs. I'm glad to see it has taken a life of its own in just a few months. With 93 members as of today, the network is bringing together medical writers from all over the world (interestingly, many are from India--I guess medical writing is booming there).

Anyway, just check out the network's site if you haven't yet. You can participate in the forums, ask questions, create your blog postings, upload videos, photos, and search the job postings.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

How to Network Effectively With Editors, Prospects, and Fellow Writers

By Bob Bly (Guest blogger)

Networking is a high-tech-sounding name for a simple activity that has been going on for a long time: doing business through personal contacts. Writer and self-promotion consultant Ilise Benun defines networking as “a timely exchange of selected bits of information about your business that you offer when someone is ready to hear it.”

The purpose of networking is to meet as many people as possible who can, in some way, help advance your career. Networking expert Donna Fisher estimates that 70 percent of jobs, for example, are found through networking.

Writing in Success, Steve Fishman defines networking as “the single-minded pursuit of useful contacts at every convention, seminar, or neighborhood barbecue. To the networked, every stranger represents an opportunity, the chance to find prospects, reach targets, or meet friends.”

Why network? There are several benefits. First, writing is a solitary activity, and loneliness can be a problem. One way to cope with isolation is to force yourself to get away from the keyboard every now and then. It can be mentally stimulating and refreshing to have lunch with a group of writers or attend an evening lecture sponsored by a local business club. You meet new people, make friends, and exchange ideas.

Forming a “network” — a group of people you know and who know you — can open up many new doors for you. For instance, at one luncheon I met a man who recently opened his own printing business. We established a good rapport, and he now does most of my printing for me, paying closer attention to my jobs than other printers I had found through local Yellow Pages ads.

Networking builds a base of “people resources” you can count on to help you with many situations. Now I can turn to my card file and find artists, writers, printers, photographers, lawyers, accountants, computer consultants, Web site designers, and many other professionals who can be of service to me or my clients. I know I’ll get immediate attention from these people because we’ve already established a personal relationship, no matter how brief.

Often, I will refer one person in my network to another person who can help. For example, an audio-visual producer called and asked if I knew someone who could direct a corporate video for her. I was able to give her the name of an independent director I had met. The referral ended the producer’s search and put some money in the director’s pocket. And, although I’ve never asked for it, I’m sure both of these people would be glad to return the favor some day.

Networking can also lead to more business for you. Most often, someone you meet through networking may keep your card and someday give your name to a prospective client. Or, sometimes you meet a potential client directly. In either case, the more people who know your name, the better. The advantage of networking over advertising is that people you meet through networking are more likely to remember you because of the face-to-face contact.

Are you, like me, a reluctant networker? One way to get started in networking is to join several clubs or associations. Paying the membership dues somehow makes you feel as if you should at least attend a meeting or two to get your money’s worth.

Another way to force yourself to network more is to call up a colleague and invite him or her to attend an upcoming event with you. Do it several weeks in advance. Making the commitment early helps to prevent you from backing out at the last minute.

Some additional networking tips:
  • Determine the mode of attendance with which you’re most comfortable. Some of us are most comfortable going to our first meeting of a group accompanied by a friend who is already a member. I am most comfortable networking at events where I am an exhibitor or speaker.
  • Don’t be a wallflower. Walk over to people and make conversation.
  • Get a drink from the bar and hold onto it, even if you don’t drink. Having a glass in hand can help shy people overcome nervousness.
  • Do not sell while networking. Your purpose is to make contacts, not to get a client to sign a purchase order.
  • Listen more than you speak. Focus on what others are interested in. “When you have your attention on something other than yourself, your self-consciousness will disappear and others will be more likely to remember and appreciate you,” says Fisher.
  • Dress in proper business attire. Your comfortable, well-worn “writing clothes” are not appropriate for a business gathering.
  • Don’t rush out the door as soon as the event is over. “The best contacts I’ve made have happened after an event — in the bathroom, elevator, lobby, or even on the street,” notes Benun. “That’s when people’s minds are open to it. That’s when their defenses are down.”
  • When you get home, follow up by sending people a short note that says, “It was a pleasure meeting you; let’s keep in touch.” You might also enclose another business card, a brochure about your services, or a reprint of a recent article you wrote.

BOB BLY is the author of 40 books including the just-published Secrets of a Freelance Writer: Revised Second Edition (Henry Hold & Co.). For a free catalog of Bob’s books, tapes, and reports for writers, contact: Bob Bly, 22 E. Quackenbush Avenue, Dumont, NJ 07628, phone 201-385-1220, fax 201-385-1138, email:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Medical Writing in Canada

The latest issue of the AMWA Journal published the results of the AMWA-Canada Rate and Salary Survey 2005. Canadian AMWA members felt the results of the US AMWA Salary survey did not reflect the Canadian market, so they did their own.

Although participation in the survey was low, the results may be useful to Canadian medical writers (rates are given in Canadian dollars).
The mean gross annual income of freelances was $72,467 (range, $25,000 to $165,000), whereas the mean gross annual income of employed respondents was $68,156 (range, $45,000 to $96,000). When the number of hours worked per week was taken into account, the standardized hourly rate of freelances was $54.91 (range, $19 to $138). However, when the hourly rate was calculated to include nonbillable hours, the effective freelance hourly rate was $42.08 (range, $14 to $122). The standardized hourly rate of employed biomedical communicators was $34.25 (range, $19 to $53). (AMWA JOURNAL . VOL. 22, NO. 4, page 181, 2007)
The article also provides rates for specific freelance jobs and products (information not included in the US survey). AMWA members can access the article at

Friday, January 18, 2008

Getting Started in Science Writing

By Melissa Barton (Guest blogger)

Science writing is one of the most exciting niches in journalism--science writers get to travel, meet intelligent and interesting people and report on new developments from the dramatic and groundbreaking to the quirky and peculiar. Science writers may specialize in one of the traditional natural and physical sciences--biology, geology, physics, and chemistry--or write about anthropology, archeology, medicine and health, engineering, space and planetary science, mathematics or the environment.

Breaking into the science writing field can be daunting due to the scarcity of mid- to low-range markets, but the field is rewarding. You don't have to have a science background to be a successful science writer. John McPhee, famous for his lyrical geology articles in The New Yorker (some of which are collected in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Annals of the Former World), studied English, not geology. If you do have a science background, that can help you, but overcoming your training to use technical language may be an obstacle.


While almost every writers' organization seems to offer travel writing courses, science writing courses are rare. Health and medical writing courses are most commonly taught, but colleges and universities occasionally offer more general science or environmental writing courses. Be sure to look carefully at the instructor's publications before deciding whether to take the course. Seminars on science, environmental and medical writing are sometimes offered at regional or national conferences. These courses and seminars can be a great introduction to the field or help you polish your skills.

Some science writers, particularly those aiming at a staff position, may find a graduate degree is the way to go. Graduate degrees are expensive, however, so consider your options carefully. Some respected science and medical writing graduate programs are offered at MIT, Columbia, University of California--Santa Cruz and Boston University.

Professional Organizations

Several professional organizations provide networking opportunities and resources for science writers. Many offer discounted student membership, and some resources are available to nonmembers.
Joining local and regional organizations can also be a great way to network.

Read All About It

In addition to the basic freelance writing books, these books for science writers provide more specific information about everything from finding stories and markets to tips for conveying complex technical information clearly.

Ideas Into Words: Mastering the Craft of Science Writing, by Elise Hancock (2003)

This slim book leans more towards craft than marketing, and provides a solid and enjoyable introduction to how to write about science.

A Field Guide for Science Writers (1st ed.), eds. Deborah Blum and Mary Knudson (out of print)
A Field Guide for Science Writers (2nd ed.), eds. Deborah Blum, Mary Knudson and Robin Marantz Henig
These two editions have very different content, and both are a mine of information for the aspiring science writer. They cover different markets and types of writing in detail, with contributions from leading science writers.

Finding Markets

Everyone knows about the big general science magazines like Discover and National Geographic, which are prestigious and pay well, but are also hard to break into. Mid-range specialized magazines like Archaeology and Astronomy may be better targets for some, but they don't have equivalents in all science disciplines.

Fortunately, many magazines accept science stories with the right angle. A forestry magazine might be interested in an article on how a study on bird ecology impacts forest management. Alumni magazines frequently publish articles about science by professors or alumni of the institution. Ecotravel is a booming trend frequently covered by travel magazines.

Don't discount other ways to make ends meet--writing about science for nonprofit organizations, private labs, and businesses is the bread and butter of many science writers, if less glamorous than being a staff writer for Discover.

Break In!

As with any other writing niche, science writers can break in with good, timely writing and perseverance. So research those markets, start sending queries and don't give up!

Melissa Barton is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in science and travel writing. She's written about science and health for magazines like Geotimes, Student Health 101, the Colorado College Alumni Bulletin and for nonprofit and government organizations. Visit her online at Rosetta Stones Freelancing. Article source here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Consumer Health Blogs

One aspect of medical writing that I haven't seen much material on is writing consumer health blogs. You know, there are a lot of books on the craft of medical writing (style, grammar) and the basics of scientific writing (how to write a journal article, regulatory documents, etc.). But what about health blogs?

Let me take a crack at this, then.
  • Health blogs should provide short articles on specific topics. Ideally, they should include pictures or photos and links to expert sites for more information. For example, a writer may create a cancer blog with varied articles, but link to their photoblog, providing cancer and cancer related photos.
  • Health blogs should allow the reader to interact with the writer/blogger through either a forum or email.
  • Health blogs must avoid giving a reader the impression that the articles are giving a diagnosis or sound medical advice. Always include a line or phrase advising the reader to seek the advice from a doctor or medical professional and to discuss the article with them. Remember: giving the wrong impression in this area could result in very serious consequences for the writer, the publication and the reader (s).
Blogging about a health topic you are familiar with may be easy for you at first (you have all this information you want to share!), but it requires commitment (to post every day or every week some fresh material). Check these 20 tips for good blogging.

To see what bloggers around the world are posting about your health topic, do a search on

Finally, you may want to skim over the legalities for bloggers.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 14, 2008

AMWA Southwest: John P. McGovern Medical Writing Award

The AMWA Southwest Chapter is pleased to present the 2008 John P. McGovern Award to Dr. Stuart Yudofsky, D.C. and Irene Ellwood Professor and Chairman of the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Baylor College of Medicine, and chair of the psychiatry department at Methodist Hospital. He is responsible for overseeing academic activities in psychiatry at the Menninger Clinic, Ben Taub General Hospital, the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Texas Children’s Hospital.

Please join us for the annual John P. McGovern Award banquet at the Holiday Inn Astrodome at Reliant Park to honor Dr. Yudofsky, who will discuss “The Impact of Stigmatization on the Mentally Ill.” The registration fee for the banquet is $30 for members and $35 for nonmembers.

January 29, 2008
6:30–9:00 p.m.
Holiday Inn Astrodome at Reliant Park
8111 Kirby Drive
Houston, Texas

More information here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Technical Writing in the Pharmaceutical and Allied Industries

This is a course intended for professionals in the pharmaceutical and allied industries who must write or revise documents that are integral to product development and production. January 23-25, 2008, New Brunswick, NJ. More information here.
Check also these courses:

INDs, NDAs vs CTDs Global Regulations

Writing When English is Your Second Language

Friday, January 11, 2008

National Press Week: Travel Fellowships for Medical Writers

Each summer, The Jackson Laboratory joins with Johns Hopkins University to host Press Week, held in July during the second week of the world-renowned Short Course in Medical and Experimental Mammalian Genetics. Press Week gives science writers and journalists from across the nation a chance to hear first-hand from some of the world's leading researchers and clinicians about the latest breakthroughs in the rapidly advancing fields of molecular biology and medical genetics.

The Jackson Laboratory is sponsoring four $1,000 fellowships to enable graduate-level science writing students or relatively new science writers working at smaller media outlets to attend Press Week 2008 in beautiful Bar Harbor, Maine. Applications are due March 31, 2008, and fellowship recipients will be notified by April 30.

More information here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

MS in Biomedical Writing: The Experience of an Online Student

By Jennifer Withers (Guest blogger)

A degree in medical writing is an efficient way to gain the knowledge needed to become a professional medical writer. In my experience as a student in the Master of Science program in Biomedical Writing at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia (USP), everything I've learned in every course I’ve taken has been directly applicable to my career target. And the fact that the degree can be completed online has made it possible for me to stay where I live, keep my job, and avoid uprooting my family. However, to succeed in the online classroom, those of us who are used to a traditional “brick-and-mortar” setting may need to adjust several aspects of how we learn:

Self-discipline. In the often solitary online learning environment, you may need to be somewhat more self-disciplined and self-motivated than you would in a traditional classroom. You’ll need to do more than just complete the assignments: expect to do some self-directed learning if you want to make the most of your Biomedical Writing courses.

Technology. Online learners need to be comfortable with trying new technology—a characteristic necessary to succeed in medical writing anyway. You can expect USP faculty and staff to choose user-friendly online tools (for example, ANGEL, GoToMeeting, Skype) and answer questions about them, but not to provide formal training in the use of these tools. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with the applications, be proactive about making sure you can access the online information for your courses each semester, and seek assistance when necessary.

Time. Although the time requirements for course work in the program at USP are, in my experience, about the same as those in traditional graduate courses, the program has greater schedule flexibility. In courses that have prearranged teleconferences or online meeting times, you may be offered a choice of several times and dates, and you won’t have as many mandatory meeting times as in a traditional course. Some courses have flexible assignment deadlines. And you won’t waste precious hours commuting. On the flip side, the loose schedule makes it easy to fall behind unless you religiously set aside study time each week.

Human contact. USP’s virtual classrooms offer ways to develop relationships with instructors and other students, but it’s up to the student to reach out and take advantage of these opportunities. My instructors have been at least as willing and available as traditional-setting instructors to be contacted by e-mail, by phone, or in person for one-on-one time—and even to provide advice after graduation. Also, some courses in the program offer the choice for local students (and those willing to travel) to attend classes on-site, while remote students attend via teleconference.

You can learn more about the Biomedical Writing program at USP here.

Jennifer Withers is a freelance medical writer and editor in Dallas, Texas. She expects to complete her Biomedical Writing degree in May.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Medical Writing Freelance Jobs

I've known of Web sites where freelance jobs are posted for bidding for a long time. I've even recommended looking into sites like and in my ebook.

Today I stumbled into another site that provides the same service, and that I hadn't seen before, Unlike the others, where you have to dig deep to find medical writing projects, this one seems easier to use, and more visually appealing.

Check out the page for freelance medical writers. Who knows? You may find your next project there!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Effective Medical Writing Workshop

For those of you interested in regulatory writing, there is a workshop in California called, Introduction to Effective Medical Writing. The details and link are below.

The Hilton Hotel, Orange County/Costa Mesa, CA -- Jan. 28 & 29, 2008 -- $1750.00

Check at the bottom of that page for other medical writing workshops.

Note: I do not benefit financially from anyone signing up for this workshop. The announce is FYI only.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Writing for the Soul Writers Conference

Jan. 31 to Feb. 3, 2008, at the five-star Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. Host Jerry B. Jenkins. Keynoters: Lee Strobel and Robin Jones Gunn. Featuring seminars and workshops for writers of all levels of expertise. Appointments with top editors and agents also available.
(866) 495-5177.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Interesting Book for Medical Writers About Complementary Medicine

A couple of days ago, a colleague lent me a book he thought I would enjoy, Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine by R. Barker Bausell.

I've never been interested in alternative medicine and have always been quick to dismiss it. But since some extended relatives and acquaintances keep asking me about it (for some reason, we medical writers are often regarded as "physicians" by our friends), I thought it would be a good idea to read the book. Good decision.

Bausell is a biostatistician from the University of Maryland, formerly involved in clinical trials assessing the effectiveness of acupuncture and other treatments. In his book he makes the case that complementary medicine treatments are not more effective than any other placebo.

The book's logic is enlightening and the prose engaging. Bausell's criteria for what makes a good clinical trial and his notes on publication bias are particularly useful for those involved in medical writing. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2008 Medical Writing Resolutions

Every December, my wife and I write our "next year's project" with the goals we want to achieve in every area of our life (spiritual, family, career, and personal). The 2008 project, I confess, hasn't been written (we just got back to the country yesterday). But we'll get to write it soon.

Now, all this made me think about my medical writing goals for 2008. Looking back at the 2007 project, I did meet the goals of leading some sessions at the AMWA Annual Conference and writing a book. While I think about my goals for 2008, I want to encourage you to write your own medical writing resolutions for this year and to review them every once in a while. Below are some "sample resolutions" that you can fit to your needs.
  • Publish 5-10 health-related articles in consumer health publications
  • Attend the AMWA Annual Conference (or a chapter conference)
  • Enroll in a medical writing certificate or graduate program
  • Submit my CV to medical writing recruiters
  • Write a book in my area of expertise (or collaborate with an expert)
  • Increase my number of freelance clients by 20%
  • Leave my job and become a freelancer (or vice versa)
  • Create my own Web site and market my writing/editing services
  • Start a blog on my area of expertise
  • Go to medical school (not recommended for everyone!)
  • Increase my rates (for freelancers)
  • Obtain a salary raise (check out this article about getting a bigger raise)
If you are up to it, I suggest you add completion dates in advance to every goal and write down specific actions you need to take to accomplish them. Finally, share your goals with people that can help you achieve them. This will boost your success chances greatly.

P.S. May I suggest a great book to start your 2008 project? Read  The Success Principles by Jack Canfield.