Effective medical writing is a high-stakes enterprise. A project or product may spend years in development, but its success ultimately hinges on how well its value is communicated to the target audience.
Weak phrasing or confusing structure can sink otherwise compelling grant applications, stopping researchers and institutions from getting grant funding. Likewise, journal editorial boards frequently return manuscripts without review for minor formatting errors. Clients are always tough sells; uninteresting or obtuse writing is a surefire way to lose a potential customer’s attention.
The work, money, and time invested in a project can go up in smoke if the writing is bad.
However, quality medical writing doesn’t just help the bottom line. Audiences of all levels benefit from concise, accurate, and engaging medical writing, whether they’re a postdoc poring over the latest case study or a patient reading about their new medical device.
Unfortunately, expertise in a topic does not always equate to expertise in explaining that topic. With so much riding on effective communication, understanding the essentials of good (and bad) medical writing is imperative.
Effective medical writing succinctly conveys a complex message to the chosen audience without insulting their intelligence. The essential details are covered, and extraneous information is cut. Facts and ideas are presented in a logical order that captures and maintains interest from top to bottom.
In contrast, bad medical writing is overly complicated and jargon-dense. It’s hard to follow, weaving in and out of thoughts without a logical flow. As a result, the reader will likely lose focus long before the writer gets to the point. In essence, bad writing disincentivizes reading.
It’s essential to recognize that someone’s writing abilities aren’t indicative of their expertise. Writing is only one part of research or project development. However, readers form their impressions based on the text in front of them. Therefore, entrepreneurs and researchers need writing expertise to ensure their work is presented in the best possible light.
How Do Medical Writers Help?
To put it simply, they write. Organizations and individuals reach out to medical writers when they want effective medical writing that sounds like it comes from an expert, which it does.
Medical writers have the training and experience to produce writing that meets your needs and those of your audience. Generally, this entails a professional degree (MD, MS, PhD, etc.) and experience in the related field. However, a benefit of hiring medical writers is their flexibility.
Although they each have their own specialties, medical writers are expected to write on topics outside of their comfort zone. This requires and cultivates mental flexibility that lets them tackle various subjects. Effective medical writers know the ins and outs of particular formats—including grant proposals, posters, manuscripts, white papers, sales copy, and more.
Perhaps most importantly, medical writers are dedicated to effective medical writing. Researchers, entrepreneurs, and other stakeholders are typically juggling several different roles. Some people can do it all, all the time. The rest of us rely on others with complementary strengths. Medical writers have the skills and knowledge base to fill an often-overlooked gap in expertise so that their clients can focus on other tasks.
There are several mistakes that experts regularly make when writing medical content. As previously mentioned, this is not the case for medical writers. As a result, they understand the common mistakes in medical writing and how to avoid them.
All too often, expertise gets in the way of effective communication. It may seem counterintuitive, but being immersed in a topic can make sharing knowledge more difficult. You’ve experienced this before if you’ve ever received blank stares after relaying your newest findings to your loved ones. Alternatively, you may have politely nodded along as a friend prattled off the deeper nuances of their favorite show you’ve never watched (but it’s next on your list, you promise).
In either case, the party with greater experience didn’t consider their audience’s level of understanding. It’s easy to do, especially when most, if not all, of your colleagues, are on the same page as you.
This is where a medical writer steps in and saves the day. A seasoned medical writer takes note of the gaps in their understanding as they write on a new topic. As someone who just cleared these potential roadblocks, they’re uniquely equipped to guide unfamiliar readers around them.
Every field has its own set of jargon; it’s practically unavoidable. Unfortunately, jargon is a barrier to entry, confusing many who would grasp the material if delivered in simpler language.
Although it can’t be eliminated, jargon must be kept to a minimum to attract and maintain the attention of broader audiences. Once again, a medical writer’s perspective and experience help them identify which field-specific lingo to keep or cut.
Effective medical writing needs to be concise because readers have a finite attention span. It’s not easy getting to the point when every detail matters to you. Identifying and highlighting core concepts is essential for effective medical writers.
The audience is as important as the author, if not more so. Do not put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) without considering the interests, background knowledge level, temperament, and demographics of the audience. Effective medical writing is done at the level of the audience with their knowledge and needs in mind.
For example, if you are writing to patients with a serious health condition, it would be disrespectful to address it with the impartial tone found on a pop-science listicle blog. Likewise, if you’re writing to convince payer organizations to reimburse your company’s new life-saving stroke drug, you don’t want to use the same voice when speaking to other neurodegenerative disorder experts.
Effective medical writing must be tailored to the audience’s interests and knowledge level. Otherwise, it falls flat and could even offend potential readers. Medical writers are equipped to translate the subject material to meet the reader where they are.
Emphasizing the Wrong Points
It doesn’t matter how much your text rambles if the focus is misaligned with the target audience’s interests. While you and colleagues may be fixated on underlying mechanisms, clinicians browsing your report likely care more about the clinical outcomes of your subjects.
Knowing the focus of a given audience is important at every level of writing, from drafting to editing. Hiring a medical writer lets researchers focus on what is important to them without shortchanging their audience or other stakeholders.
Choosing the right points to emphasize is one struggle; stringing them together in a way that makes sense is another beast entirely. Concepts must be connected such that each builds upon the one before it. If this flow is broken, the audience will have a more challenging time following and may end up reading in circles.
Effective medical writing does not make you dizzy. A well-trained medical writer can untangle ideas in even the clunkiest of text. In doing so, they can provide writing that gives readers a clear understanding of the material, not intellectual vertigo.
Depending on the target audience, formatting can be a nonissue or a deal-breaker. The average lay audience will not be concerned about the casing of your article’s headings. Similarly, the clinician reading your white paper probably won’t be appalled if your references are Vancouver style instead of APA.
Submit a manuscript to a journal without checking their guidelines, however, and you can nearly guarantee a rejection and an admonishing email from the editors. Likewise, funding bodies usually do not accept any deviation from their designated format. So if you want to be published or paid, you must follow the rules to a T.
Unfortunately, these expectations are not always clearly communicated. For example, a journal may have one set of guidelines on its website and another on its submission portal. However, experienced medical writers know how to find and integrate these conflicting sources to prepare a paper that won’t be dismissed at first glance.
Using the Wrong Tone for the Format
The ideal effective medical writing tone doesn’t just depend on the audience; the format is just as important. For example, a clinician may read a journal article, a white paper, and sales copy on the same day. If the white paper is as blatantly advertorial as the sales copy, they’re likely to raise an eyebrow. If the journal article is written in the same tone, the reader would (and should) dismiss it entirely.
Finding and striking the perfect tone is difficult, even for the experts. However, medical writers are uniquely prepared to meet the changing demands of each assignment, no matter the format or audience.
Most of the pitfalls above relate to the audience. However, the writer’s time and effort matter too. Inefficient writing practices can bog down the process for authors, wasting time and energy. This effect is perpetuated down the line, affecting others in the organization.
Any medical writer will tell you that developing effective medical writing processes does not happen overnight. Instead, it takes months and sometimes years of practice to nail down.
Most researchers and entrepreneurs are already stretched thin and don’t have that kind of time to waste. They need professional-level output from square one, which can be achieved by hiring a talented and experienced medical writer to do effective medical writing for them.
While each writer has their own specialties, a well-staffed medical writing agency can provide a bevy of services tailored to a client’s needs. These services include the following:
Composing original documents is a standard task for most medical writers. Accomplished writers can start from scratch or work based on a pre-existing outline, depending on the needs and vision of the client.
Suppose you already have something written, but it needs some help. Whether it needs a few tiny changes or a total rewrite, a competent medical writer can get the job done. This can be super helpful for tedious tasks like fixing broken citations or adapting a paper to a prospective journal’s style guide.
Maintaining a steady flow of original news articles and blog posts helps drive traffic to one’s site. However, this can be time-consuming and tedious. A medical writing agency can help pair your team with the perfect writer for your subject matter and brand tone.
In some cases, a client may not need new articles written daily. Instead, they may need carefully curated content for their website or newsletter. The ability to carefully select relevant sources is baked into the medical writing profession. So why not put that talent to use?
For better or worse, social media mastery is essential in the modern biomedical sciences landscape. However, one misstep can spell doom for a brand. Many medical writers specialize in creating meaningful social media content that drives engagement.
One fruitful interview may provide hours of content. Unfortunately, many listeners or viewers won’t sit through all of it. Putting together an abridged version that captures the energy and key points of the conversation helps reach a much wider audience.
Video and audio editors are suited for the job, but what if they’re not well-versed in science? A competent medical writer can identify the essential points, trim away the excess, and provide the video and audio editing team with timestamps to make their job easier.
An effective slide deck or poster presentation requires careful consideration of graphic design and content curation. Medical writing agencies have writers and designers on hand to prepare eye-catching presentation materials with content tailored to the format, time frame, and audience.
Every writer has strengths and weaknesses. The best way to ensure you find a writer that fits your team’s needs is to seek out a trusted medical writing agency like The Med Writers.
Our writers cover specialties ranging from neurodegeneration to cancer biology and psychology to pharmacology and have experience in multiple formats. We work carefully with clients to deliver the content they need within their time frame.
Contact us today to find out how The Med Writers can help your team!