Medical Writing: 10 Ways It Differs from Other Types of Writing

medical-staff-working_w725_h482 pdiMedical writing is a very specialized type of writing.  For that reason, the people who engage in it have a healthcare background, completed a degree in the life sciences, or have received special training/education which makes them qualified to engage in this profession.  Having the right qualifications, though, is only part of the equation.  What medical writers produce, in fact, differs from other types of writing (i.e., journalism, creative writing, corporate communication, etc.) in the following ways:

  1. The welfare, safety and even lives of readers may be affected by medical writing.  Because of this, medical writers have to make sure that what they impart is, at the very least, in line with what experts in medicine and the life sciences believe or advocate or what studies have shown to be accurate.  That doesn’t mean that medical writing is always 100% accurate but it should mean that what was put out is based on verifiable research results or the educated opinion of qualified experts.
  2. It must provide references to reputable sources of information.  In journalism, on the other hand, writers may often give “from a reliable source” as a reference.  That is simply too vague an approach for medical writing.  Sources given in medical writing must be verifiable, directly attributable to distinguished venues (universities, government agencies, etc.) and based on actual research or studies.
  3. There is no room for creativity in medical writing.  A novelist, for example, may invent facts and figures when telling his/her story.  Medical writers, on the other hand, have to be able to account for every piece of information given.
  4. Good medical writing is always succinct and to the point.  There is no attempt, for example, to dress up the text with florid language.   Neither is there an attempt to ever say more than is necessary to convey the thought(s), assertions or facts.
  5. Medical writers are not out to express personal opinions, as is the case in persuasive or narrative writing or (to use a more glaring example) “letters to the editor”; ergo, medical writing is ideally never personal or subjective.
  6. Medical writing always requires intense research–the only exception being when established experts in their fields (i.e., professors, physicians, nurses, etc.) write off the top of their heads, answer questions or lecture on the topic(s) in question. The views and thoughts of such persons, in other words, are considered reliable research “sources.”
  7. Those who want to produce this type of writing must be suitably qualified for the job.  In other words, just being a good writer is not enough to enter this profession. Medical writing, consequently, is expected to be produced by people verifiably qualified to produce it.
  8. Medical writers usually need continuous training and education.   This helps ensure that what they put out is in line with modern theories, the latest discoveries and the most current study results.
  9. Medical writing requires the use of specialized terminology in line with what experts in the field are using at the time the writing was produced. While an article written in 1940, for example, may have contained language appropriate for that period in history, it would probably be too outdated or scientifically irrelevant today. This is not to say that books, reports and articles written by medical writers in the past have lost all value—it means, however, that both their language and scientific content have to be evaluated differently than something written today.
  10. Medical writing helps advance the medical profession and the life sciences by informing scientists and non-scientists of current trends and developments; making sure new discoveries are disseminated quickly (thus ensuring quick dissecting and elaboration); helping everyone use medical products, equipment and procedures properly; assisting in the training of new professionals being brought into the industry; helping to streamline studies and research projects; making sure standardized language rules are used when communicating medical/life science information; etc.

Conclusion

Although there may be additional differences between medical and other types of writing, the ones listed here should be enough to illustrate that medical writing is not the type of communication which anyone can just arbitrarily delve into without proper training and education. In fact, whereas anyone may at his own discretion label himself “poet” or “copywriter” or “essayist,” the term “medical writer” is reserved for the very select few who meet certain specific criteria.

Medical writing, furthermore, is not meant to entertain, amuse or titillate the senses but, rather, accurately inform others of pertinent, well-researched and hopefully beneficial information.

Copyright, 2014. Fred Fletcher. All rights reserved.

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