Medical writing is a niche discipline. As a result, the authors of papers, manuscripts, and articles on medical subjects do not always have this level of expertise. Fortunately, because medicine is niche, certain standards and styles can generally be followed, depending on the type of writing, to make a piece more targeted and professional. Here are four techniques to incorporate into your medical writing to produce better work.
Keep the Introduction Short
The introduction is a highly underestimated part of any manuscript. It needs to both effectively explain the necessary information to the reader and be engaging without being too conversational. Given the concise and rigid style, there isn’t a lot of room for flowery language and personal touch, so making sure the paragraph or two is readable and comprehensible is a top priority. In this type of writing, long, non-objective texts are tedious and difficult to read. A reliable rule of thumb is to keep the word count of the introduction 10% or less of the word count for the entire manuscript.
Don’t Be Nebulous
Unsurprisingly, many of the things to remember to make an excellent introduction also carry over into making a good paper overall. What is surprising, however, is the resistance many medical writers feel when researching subjects in which they are not experts. When writing a scientific, fact-heavy article, detailed research is almost always required regardless of prior knowledge. Specificity with terms and statistics makes a paper more informative, making it more professional. For instance, rather than saying the name of a rare disease and that it is rare, give the number of people affected each year, and even additional information that contextualizes the info. As with any other published work, medical papers shouldn’t be wordy, but given the terrain, they should be technical. Finally, following basic grammar rules well can keep a paper form being nebulous. Often papers will be edited after submission, but taking responsibility for grammar in an article is more professional.
Write for Your Audience
Even in the topic of medicine, there are various levels of reading, and therefore, there must be corresponding levels of writing. Keeping in mind whether the piece is for a clinical or consumer audience will dictate the formality and technicality of the writing. That said, clinicians are human too, and making a paper too dense will be difficult even for someone with advanced knowledge to read. The best way to get better at writing to an audience is to take feedback from people in the target audience. What they understand and prefer can be instructive for editing and future medical papers. And finally, steer clear of pretentious, 50-cent words like ‘heretofore’ and ‘notwithstanding.’ One should avoid words rarely used in this kind of writing.
Know How to Organize Your Information
There are various standards for organizing medical papers and tailoring the structure of a piece for the kind of publication is essential. For manuscripts, background information goes first, in the introduction, followed by more pertinent and vital information as the article continues. Saving the best for last, as it were. In medical news, the most significant information goes at the beginning, with less critical details in the body of the article. In a feature, the conventional structure is an intro to the main topic, paragraphs that travel from subtopic to subtopic, and a conclusion to wrap it up. Generally, these can include 6-8 interviews and cover 5-6 subtopics in the piece.
Organizing information within paragraphs is also essential. Grade school rules still apply here, though it can be more nuanced. The topic sentence, body paragraph, and sentence-to-transition-to-the-next-idea format is a good baseline when relaying information, no matter what the topic. And again, grammar is a writer’s best friend. Proper grammar makes information easier to read, removes ambiguity and increases the professional sheen of a piece. With these tips, it should be easy to make the few changes to improve the quality of any medical paper quickly.