Over the past few decades, the amount of knowledge and understanding within the medical community has skyrocketed. Improvements in research, technology, and drugs have changed our lives for the better. With that comes increased publishing of medical information.
Modern medicine, and the modern world, have changed the way we consume information about medical conditions. Access is no longer restricted to researchers or medical professionals. There’s an abundance of medical information online.
If you’re writing about a medical condition, ensure your writing is accurate and credible. Chances are, you’ll have more information at your disposal than you’ll need. But this scenario can do more harm than good unless you keep one thing top of mind—cite your sources!
Here are 5 reasons to cite your sources when writing about a medical condition.
5 reasons to cite your sources
1. Avoid Plagiarism
Yes, this was hammered home in every essay writing class from grade school to university. But it’s not unheard of for professionals to slip up on this, too. If you don’t cite information you’ve found elsewhere, thus misrepresenting it as your own, it’s dishonest. Not only that, it can be easily found out.
The consequences can be dire. All schools and many professional committees have academic integrity guidelines. If you’re a student, you could fail a course or face expulsion. If you’re a professional, you could be asked to resign from your job or be hit with legal repercussions. In both instances, your reputation is damaged, if not ruined.
This is particularly true in academia. The backbone of any successful academic career is being published. One instance of plagiarism means zero chances of being taken seriously in the future. Talk about a career killer.
2. Boost Credibility
Perhaps you’re writing about a medical condition in order to get published in a medical journal. Citing your sources proves you’ve put in the work to see what’s out there on the topic. Then, you’re better poised to offer your unique perspective. What you have to say is more credible when you’ve provided context.
And here’s where more is better. Research the particular condition you’re writing about, but expand to include closely related conditions. Your words will carry more weight when you’ve demonstrated the depth of your knowledge.
3. Be Responsible (and kind)
Giving credit where credit is due isn’t just a catchphrase. To use another well-known quote: Treat others the way you want to be treated. In other words, citing the work of others shows that you respect their time and effort. Would you be okay with someone representing your ideas as their own? If the answer is no, you’re in good company.
4. Build a Personal Library
Tracking and citing your research helps you build a personal library of information on the topics you’ve written about. Research is long and arduous. You’ll want to keep track of what you’ve found in case you need it again.
Research needs review sometimes, too! Marketing or educational documents may need to be checked and updated. A skilled copywriter with a medical background can ensure these documents are up-to-date with current discoveries. You want to be able to pass on your sources if giving your writing about a medical condition to a medical writer to update, edit or help you publish.
5. Share Sources
Another good reason to cite sources is to share them! When others read what you’ve written, they can access a body of research through your citations and annotations. Research connects people and information together, like a puzzle. The more we share, the more we discover.
How to cite properly when writing about a medical condition
Now that we’ve covered why, here’s how to properly cite sources. Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab boasts one of the most comprehensive online research and citation guides.
Here are a few of its recommendations:
When quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing
A quote matches the source material word for word and must be attributed to the original author.
Paraphrasing condenses source material into your own words but must also be attributed to the author.
Summarizing broadly sums up the main points of source material into your own words. Again, you must attribute its source.
The bottom line? Attribute and cite if the information comes from a source, whether you’re directly quoting it or not.
When using statistics
Don’t calculate or interpret statistics you don’t fully understand. This is where a copywriter who’s also a doctor or scientist can be invaluable. The Med Writers has medical writers with training in statistics and data sciences on the team to do accurate statistical analyses.
Consider your audience—will they understand these statistics? You may need to add supporting information in the article, use footnotes, or appendixes. Using graphs, tables, or infographics can help readers digest the numbers.
Don’t use other people’s statistics unless it’s from a peer-reviewed source. Otherwise, you might end up citing numbers from a poorly executed survey that claims to apply to a generalized audience when it’s impossible to verify.
When choosing the correct citation style
Where to go for the best information about citing sources or formatting papers? Purdue University recommends finding your discipline’s style manual. Most now include easy-to-use guides for citing electronic sources like websites or social media.
For medical writing, here’s the American Medical Association’s Manual of Style. Their site has an Updates page that tracks new and relevant additions to the manual, like COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 abbreviations and reporting races.
Purdue’s Online Writing Lab also offers in-depth examples of healthcare writing as it relates to research and citation. Check out their sample of how a research report geared towards academics can be rewritten into a magazine article for the general public.
There’s also an example of patient education materials. Not only is the Works Cited & Resources page available, but there’s guidance on Organization & Style and Design & Distribution.
Citing sources when writing about a medical condition helps you avoid plagiarism, boost credibility, act responsibly, build a personal library, and share with others. There are many resources to help writers cite properly, like your discipline’s style guide.
Another helpful resource is a medical writing company like ours. The writers on our team have medical backgrounds and are well-versed in research and citations. Are you having trouble organizing your research? Or do you need assistance creating accurate citations? Contact us to get professional help writing about a medical condition.