Monday, December 31, 2007

#24: The making of a CD-ROM

Again, apologies for my long 'disappearance'! I've been up to many things that got me almost fully occupied. Of course, the year end holiday mood has made me slow down a bit. ;)

Anyway, on this last day of 2007, I would like to talk about managing a CD-ROM project. I have explained about the format and purpose of a CD-ROM publication in one of my very early posts. Here, I am going to briefly talk about the process of making one.

The example I'm using here is a post-event CD-ROM, which contains:

* An animated introduction that shows element related to product or company, title of the talk or event, and introducing the speaker(s).
* A footage of the presentation, coupled with a presentation slide show synchronized to the speaker's speech.
* A footage on the Q&A session that is broken down to individual clips.
* Additional features: view slides only, print slides, product information in PDF form, etc.

Before the event
* Hire a camera crew - inform them the date, time and duration of the event; remember to get the contact number from at least one of the camera crew! You need to update him of last minute changes, if any.

During the event
* If possible, arrive an hour earlier before the event starts. Make sure the camera crew has all their equipments set up, and all the cables and wires are connected to the right place.
* Don't forget to collect the presentation slides from the speaker.

After the event
* Your job is first to proofread the slides, correcting any spelling errors and inconsistencies.
* A copy of the footage and presentation slides (PowerPoint) will be passed to the designer-programmer for designing and programming.
* Also pass over other relevant materials (e.g. product information, design elements, speaker's photo and CV) that need to be incorporated into the CD.
* Check the synchronization of the presentation and all links and functions in the CD before sending it to your client for review.

The above is just a very simple outline of the work flow for a CD-ROM project. If you want to know more in details, you can always leave your question in the comment box. :)


I would like to take this opportunity to wish my blog readers a wonderful and fruitful 2008 ahead!

Happy New Year!


Friday, November 30, 2007

#23: I forgot to do that...

Apologies on this much delayed post. Well, sometimes my time (and mind) is occupied by so many other things, that I forgot there are other stuffs, like this blog, awaiting my action. ;)

I believe you will feel this way too in your work as a medical writer-cum-project manager. You may find yourself working on two or three or more projects at the same time. There is no such thing as "let me complete this project before starting on the second one". And as time goes on, you may find more and more project files piled up on your in-tray. ;)

So it is not surprising that you may sometimes forget to, for example, follow-up with client for approval on a particular project or get the designer to make a specific correction in the layout of a bulletin.

What can you do to 'curb' your forgetfulness and avoid missing out on important tasks?

It's really simple. Everybody knows how. Just write them down on a piece of paper.

BUT, it's not just scribbling them all over the paper without order. Do write down the tasks that you need to act on according to its urgency and importance.

I find it useful to list tasks in this order - most urgent, most important, least urgent, least important.

Urgent tasks are such as getting the client to approve the layout first thing in the morning, so that the bulletin could be sent out for printing by noon and delivered on time for their company meeting 3 days later.

Important tasks are such as having the designer to change the chart before it is sent to the client for approval when he is back to work from his holiday next week. Putting in the wrong chart simply reflects the project manager's incompetency. You wouldn't want your client to think of you that way.

And the best time to prepare your urgent and important to-do list is at the end of your working day, before you leave the office. Write them down clearly and orderly, so that you immediately know what to do when you step into the office next morning.

Once you have completed the task, cross it off. You will feel a sense of accomplishment when you see that the list for that day getting shorter and shorter.

Hope this will help you remember better at work. :)


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

#22: The different ‘faces’ of detail aids

Besides being presented in the conventional booklet form, detail aids can also put on different ‘outfits’.

Flipcharts are usually made up of 6-12 pieces of cardboard with information printed on single or both sides of every cardboard. They are normally placed on doctors’ desk. There are calendar flipcharts and patient education flipcharts.

Calendar flipcharts
Obviously dates are printed on one side of the cardboards, while product information, figures and data on the other. While doctors use the calendar side to check dates or mark important appointments, they are at the same time reminded of the presence of the product.

Patient education flipcharts
Patient education information printed on one side of the cardboards, where doctors can use them to explain disease to patients, and possibly treatment with the particular product highlighted in the flipchart. Again, as when doctors use the flipchart, they are constantly being reminded of the product.

Although not considered as a detail aid, but sometimes a conference kit folder – basically a paper folder with a pocket that is used to contain sample of clinical papers and writing pads - can have the relevant product information printed on the insides, hence serving as a simplified detail aid.

In fact, detailing information can be presented in any creative way that you can think of. For example, treatment guidelines and product information printed on the four sides of a cardboard folded in a pyramid shape.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

#21: Working on a detail aid

As mentioned in my previous post, a detail aid is a marketing tool that helps your clients to promote their products. Therefore, understanding your clients' needs is the very first step to producing effective detail aids that fit nicely into their product marketing strategies.

Getting a clear brief from client
Before you start the project, most likely you will discuss with your client face-to-face on several aspects. You want to get answers on the following questions:

- What are the specific reasons for having this detail aid?
- Who is the target audience?
- What key messages should the detail aid convey?
- Are there any key published papers that support those messages?
- What kind of design style does your client like?
- What are the design elements to be included (eg, colors, images, photos, illustrations, logos)?

Where is the content?
Content in a detail aid comes from a variety of sources pertaining to the particular product.

Usually your client will provide the related materials, such as product monograph, existing detail aids, clinical papers, or abstracts from scientific conferences. Reading these materials carefully will help you understand their product better. You will also be turning some of the data and facts from those materials into content of the detail aid.

At times, materials provided may not be sufficient or up to date, you then need to do some research yourself. Start searching for review papers and clinical papers (the more recent the better) with PubMed.

How to ‘utilize’ the clinical papers
From clinical papers, you can:

1. Extract key results from the abstract.
2. Use the introduction to set the scene for the detail aid.
3. Get in-depth details and figures or charts from the study results.
4. Use the discussion to emphasize the significance of the key results.

Plan your story
The next thing you need to do is to plan a story for the detail aid.

Using a conventional 4-page detail aid as example, this is how you can divide the detail aid into different sections.

Page 1: The detail aid cover, usually carries an eye-catching design and title.

Pages 2 and 3: Spread the content between these two pages. For example, set the scene with an introduction to the disease or treatment concept, followed with drug product characteristics, efficacy and safety, data of which are supported by clinical papers.

Page 4: Keep the top part of this page for conclusion. You can use bulleted points to summarize the key information presented in the main content. Other things like product shot, references and logos are placed at the bottom part of the page.

Depending on the number of pages available, emphasis of the detail aid, or the amount of data you have, you may adjust the story or flow accordingly.

As with other projects, you and the designer are very likely to make a few rounds of changes based on your client’s comments before the detail aid can be finally approved for printing.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

#20: Let’s talk about detail aid

When compared with an event highlight bulletin or patient education brochure, the number of words in a detail aid is much, much fewer. However, the work involved is not. And many times you may need to rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite.

What is a detail aid?
Detail aid is a marketing tool containing promotional messages incorporated with creative elements. It is a sales aid that pharmaceutical sales representatives used to engage doctors in a dialog about a drug. The detail aid can be in a print form (eg, booklet, flip chart) or an electronic document (eg, PDF file, on the web).

The detail aid contains information about a particular product, including clinical data supporting the product’s efficacy and safety, charts and graphs illustrating those clinical data, and also possibly guidelines on dosing and administration of the drug.

Nature and style of a detail aid
Simply put, detail aid is all about promotion. Clients would like to see their product look good in a detail aid – the product must appear at least as good as, if not better than, the competitor’s product, either in terms of efficacy, safety, tolerability or any other factors of relevant significance.

While a detail aid can be produced to introduce a new drug or new treatment concept, it may also serve as a reminder of an existing drug, to provide latest clinical data, or to address specific concerns and issues regarding the use of the drug.

Sometimes clients may just want to focus the whole detail aid on a particular clinical paper by highlighting the positive results reported on their product.

If you have one detail aid sample in front of you, you will probably notice these few characteristics of a detail aid:

- The sentences inside are mostly short.
- Promotional language is maximized.
- Every statement is substantiated with good references.
- Design is creative and eye-catching.

So how do you get started on a detail aid? Well, find out in my next post! :)


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

#19: Newsletter - How to go about it?

The process of developing a newsletter is basically the same as any other projects – writing, editing, obtaining approval on text, designing, and getting final approval from client.

The only difference is that you have more preparation work to do.

Get a good briefing from the client
Ask questions like – How many issues (bimonthly or quarterly)? How many pages? What kind of format (eg, 6 short articles or 3 long articles)? Is there an ad placement?
* Collect relevant materials for background study or to be incorporated into the newsletter.

Plan your work
Based on the frequency of issues and number of pages per issue, estimate the amount of time you need to work with and generate a working timeline.

Source for content
The materials provided by your client are probably not sufficient to fill up the newsletter. You need to do additional research and gather all necessary information and data for its content. Try online resources.

Presentation format
Depending on the nature of the newsletter, it can be, for example:
* Simply showing a number of clinical abstracts.
* Featuring medium-to-long articles, which are in fact a re-write of shorter articles or abstracts put together.
* A combination of an interview with a medical expert, plus some clinical updates (abstracts, conference reports, etc) for some variety.

Lastly, don’t forget to give the newsletter a title!


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

#18: Why newsletter?

The target audience of newsletters is usually the healthcare professionals – primary care doctors, medical specialists, pharmacists and nurses.

Briefly, the objectives of having a newsletter are mainly:

To provide updates on a specific health area, drug development or clinical studies
Example: A nutritional company may want to use data from recent clinical studies to emphasize the benefits of certain nutrients in supporting a child’s brain development.

To disseminate disease management knowledge, perhaps based on interviews with key opinion leaders
Example: Knowing how ophthalmologists treat their patients with different ophthalmic conditions indirectly helps to promote particular ophthalmic products.

To introduce a new drug, or simply remind of the existence of a long-existing product (or several products).
Example: A new antihypertensive drug has been launched, so the medical professionals need to read more about the new drug to understand its efficacy, benefits, side effects, etc.

Up next - How to go about a newsletter project.


Monday, October 1, 2007

#17: What are the available online resources?

When dealing with medical writing, either targeting the medical professionals or the lay public, you will need technical support for your writing. When I say technical support, I mean resources or information that you will use for:

· A background research of the topic you are writing (eg, bipolar disorder)
· Finding patient information (eg, for a brochure about heart attack)
· Verifying data or supporting a claim
· Locating a particular clinical paper
· Finding suitable references
· Others

Besides printed publication, such as medical textbooks, journals and dictionaries, the internet is another important source of medical and health sciences information. Depending on what kind of information you are looking for, there a plethora of web sites for you to search from.

For most of my work, I use PubMed very frequently to locate references and verify data presented by speakers. The journal database lets you look up journal names, the citation matcher allows you to verify a single or multiple citations.

PubMed is a service of the US National Library of Medicine that includes over 17 million citations from MEDLINE and other life science journals. Resources included in this database are such as abstracts and full-text publications (for certain journals and after a certain period after publication).

MedlinePlus is another service from the US National Library of Medicine. The medical information it provides is more consumer oriented. Here, you can read about 740 health topics and current health news, learn about drugs and supplements, or look up information with their medical encyclopedia and dictionary. This is a suitable online resource when you need to develop a patient-oriented publication.

eMedicine – provides peer-reviewed articles for healthcare professionals. A good read if you need to get an overall understanding of a particular disease, including it pathophysiology, complications and treatment.
· Medscape – offers free CME articles, medical news, full-text journal articles. You need to sign up as a member to access the articles. Registration is free.

The above mentioned are only a few that I’ve used before. There are still many more out there. If you know of any that is useful, please let me know! :)


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

#16: I can’t think, can’t write. Help!

Sometimes you may experience a ‘blockage’ while writing. That is what we call a writer’s block.

As a medical writer, your brain is constantly operating in a logical way, analyzing, planning and structuring your work. There is so much information transmitting amongst the cells in the grey matters of yours. So it’s understandable that it can sometimes get stuck, because you are thinking too hard.

It is known that our left brain controls the logical, analytical, critical functions of the mind, while the right brain is involved in creative, artistic and expressive processes. What you need now is to break off from what you are doing, and let your left brain take a short rest.

Take a break

  • - Work on something easy, such as proofread the newsletter layout, which the designer just completed.
  • - Make a follow-up call to your client to check the status of your first draft.
  • - Work the ‘creative’ side of your brain by, for example, discuss with your fellow writers for some ideas on a patient education brochure project.
  • - Do some stretching exercise to relax your over-strained shoulder muscle.
  • - Take a walk around the office; no harm having a short chit-chat with your colleagues (provided they are not busy and willing to entertain you, of course).
  • - Go to the pantry and make yourself a nice cuppa. Who knows the coffee’s aroma (and caffeine) might just wake up your sluggish mind.

Writer’s block? May be not
If you are still stuck after doing the above, then may be it’s not a writer’s block you are suffering. Ask yourself if there are other issues (non-work related) bothering you. Are you troubled by some personal problems? Find out what exactly the problem is, settle it. Otherwise your mind will not be at peace to carry on with your work.

When you return to your work with a refreshed and problem-free mind, you will be able to work better.

If all else fails, just start writing (even if it’s gibberish)! When the ‘block’ no longer exists, get back to your writing and edit as necessary.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

#15: I need to write a patient education brochure, what should I do?

After writing a number of projects for the medical professional audience, you probably would like to take a break from technical writing, and try something new, such as producing an educational reading material for patients or the public in general.

Different source of content
Unlike writing an event highlights bulletin, where the content of your writing basically comes from lectures and presentations, writing a patient education brochure involves searching for information, literally from all possible resource channels!

Basic materials and information may be provided by your client. Most likely you also have to look up via the internet for the latest facts and data relevant to the topic you are writing. Check out your company’s library, if there is one; you may find some information pertaining to the subject of your brochure.

Different writing style
While medical experts and healthcare personnel understand what a ‘transient ischemic attack’ is, the general public may not. Therefore, you need to write in a more layman manner so that your readers can understand. Instead of loads of medical jargons, use layman terms. If a scientific or medical term is used, then you should always have it explained immediately after the terminology.

For example: …transient ischemic attack (also known as mini-stroke)…

Similar process
Just like how you would work on an event highlights, you need to draft out a storyline for your brochure. For instance, if you are writing a brochure on diabetes, you may want to first come out with a simple outline like this:

· What is diabetes?
· How many types of diabetes are there?
· What causes diabetes?
· Who are at risk?
· What are the complications of diabetes?
· How to manage and treat diabetes?
· What are the preventive measures?

The outline above will serve as the main skeleton for your brochure. It can then be elaborated further with more details, facts, and illustrations, if required. Remember to use bullet points to list information such as risk factors, preventive steps, or benefits.

After your first draft is completed, what follows is similar to how you manage your event highlights projects:

· Have the first draft edited by your editor.
· Submit draft to client for approval.
· Revise the draft based on client’s comments.
· After draft is approved, pass it to the designer for layout.
· Working with the designer to make sure all text and figures are in place.
· Submit the complete brochure to client for approval.

If you want to see more examples of patient education brochures, besides those produced by your colleagues, where can you get them? Pharmacies and clinics! Why not pick them up the next time you are there? ;-)


Sunday, September 9, 2007

#14: How do I work with designers?

After you’ve submitted your first manuscript to the client and/or speaker, you will probably have to go through several rounds of amendments before it is finally approved. After consent has been obtained from both the client and speaker, the manuscript will be passed on to the designer, whose responsibility is to lay it out in the form of a bulletin.

Working with designers
The designer’s work is relatively easy for publications such as highlights bulletin and newsletter, as the design should pretty much reflect the client’s product or company, e.g. using colors of the product packaging, photo elements from the ads.

As the project manager, your responsibility is to feed the designer on information as shown below:
-- Specifications of the publication – for example the size (e.g. A4, A5), number of pages (e.g. 2 pages, 4 pages), number of folds (e.g. one fold, two folds)
-- Design elements to be incorporated – including colors to use, company logo, product logo, font type, photos of speaker(s), product shot (if required)
-- Whether there are any special sections, such as a question-and-answer section, a segment for discussion, boxes that highlight important messages.

What do you check?
When the design is complete, it’s time for you to carefully check through the layout on several aspects, making sure that:
-- All necessary elements are included, including logos, graphs, tables, photos, reference list and others.
-- Title of the bulletin and subtitles within the text are set in the appropriate font size and colors.
-- The latest version (and not the outdated one!) of the logos is used.
-- Graphs and tables are placed at the right place, e.g. after, and not before, a particular paragraph. Also, check that the numbering of graphs is in sequence.
-- Text columns are aligned at the top and bottom, left and right; indentation is consistent (e.g. first line of all paragraphs should be indented); “widow” or “orphan” (see explanation at the bottom) is avoided.
-- All kinds of mistakes or misplacements are corrected, checked AND rechecked, before submitting the layout to your client. Better safe than sorry!

When a paragraph starts at the bottom of a page (or column) with only the first line fits on the bottom of the page (or column), while the rest is continued on the next page (or column), it is known as a “widow”.

When a paragraph starts on one page (or column), while the last line of the paragraph starts at the top of the next page (or column), it is called an “orphan”.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

#13: Are there any reference books on medical writing and editing?

You bet there are; in fact quite a number of them. You may need to refer to those books from time to time, so it's worth investing in one or two. Check with your local bookstores, or even order through if they are not available in the bookstores.


For reference in medical writing, I’m using Medical Writing – A Prescription for Clarity by Neville W Goodman & Martin B Edwards.

This is a very helpful book that helps you write concise and clear medical articles. It discusses about, for example, the choices of words, the correct use of punctuations, and the avoidance of unambiguous sentences, etc.


I also refer to Rewrite Right by Jan Venolia, a book that provides guidelines on how to improve the quality your writing by using a two-level editing approach.

This book is easy to understand, with loads of examples to illustrate the author’s point.


Below are other books that you may find interesting and useful. Although they may not necessarily related to medical writing, they certainly provide relevant advice and essential tips on general writing and editing.

For medical and health writers
- Guidebook to Better Medical Writing by Robert L Iles
- Health Writer’s Handbook by Barbara Gastel

For writing in general
- Copyediting: A Practical Guide by Karen Judd
- The Copyeditor’s Handbook by Amy Einsohn

Remember to check them out!


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

#12: How should I approach editing and proofreading?

In this post, I would like to take you a couple of steps back in the writing process to talk about editing and proofreading.

Why edit and proofread?
While a senior writer or an editor will edit your work before it is submitted to the client, it is equally important for you to learn and hone editing and proofreading skills. Editing or proofreading in a systematic approach:

  • - Allows you to pick up and correct overlooked language errors;
  • - Gives you the opportunities to revise, reorganize and polish your work;
  • - Enables you to improve the readability of your article;
  • - Ensures that your work is consistent and accurate, which reflects your professionalism.

When you are sharpened with these skills, you will be able to:

  • - Check your own work, ensuring that it is as ‘perfect’ as you could make it before it land on your editor’s table. Note that it is not your editor’s job* to ‘rewrite’ a disorganized and unsatisfactory article produced by you.
  • - Proofread the final layout (i.e. text arranged pages with visual elements) of the bulletin or newsletter, usually at the last stage of the project, i.e. before it is sent for printing.
  • - Help edit and proofread the work of your fellow writers’ when necessary (e.g. when the editor in chief is not around).

*I will write a separate post regarding the responsibilities of an editor.

Below are some useful editing and proofreading tips for you.


  • - Make sure the most important points for the client’s brief are incorporated and the purpose of the article is fulfilled.
  • - Check if draft conforms to word count, figures and tables and any other specifications predetermined in the project brief.
  • - Reorganize the article if necessary. Certain key ideas might be clearer if they are listed in bulleted points or in the form of a table.
  • - Watch out for errors that commonly occur in data and p values, tables and figures (e.g. whether the right ones are used, if figure is referenced correctly, whether labels and axis are correct), spelling of medical terms, units, etc.

  • - The computer spelling checker can help find certain types of mistakes (e.g. spelling error), but it will not pick up mistakes with homonyms (e.g. “they’re”, “their”, “there”) or certain typos (like “he” for “the”). Therefore, it’s sometimes proofread from a printout after a computer spell checked is performed.
  • - Use an opaque ruler or a blank sheet of paper to cover up the lines below the one you’re reading. This technique helps you to focus on what you’re reading and prevent you from skipping ahead of possible errors.
  • - Check separately for each kind of error, moving from the most to the least important, from technical details to consistency. You can prepare a checklist and use it every time you proofread.
  • - Create a list of common errors you may make and be more meticulous in proofing these errors, such as capitalizations, abbreviations, general spelling (British vs American spellings), grammar (past vs present tenses) and repetition.
Nobody is born a good editor or proofreader, but the skills can be developed over time with practice, and more practice.


Monday, August 13, 2007

#11: Still on referencing

Besides journals, information and data can come from a myriad of print and non-print resources, including books or chapter(s) from a book, package inserts, electronic media such as online journals, web sites, e-books and CD-ROMs, and others.

I’m not going to show examples in this post as you can visit the web sites below for extensive examples on referencing. They are all excerpted from the American Medical Association (AMA) Manual of Style, of which appears to be widely accepted by healthcare and medical publishers.

For a very quick guide on common types of references:
AMA Style Guide (at HealthLinks, University of Washington)

For more comprehensive examples:
Quick Reference Citation Format for AMA Manual of Style (from Samford University)

The ultimate guide! Practically covers all basic features of AMA style:
AMA Medstyle Stat (by Dr Abel Scribe)

Check them out!


Friday, August 3, 2007

#10: What about referencing?

I’ve not mentioned in the last post about citing references in your write-up, but it is definitely an essential part in the manuscript even before you hand it over to your editor for copyediting.

Why referencing?
When a speaker makes a presentation or delivers a lecture, he is basically presenting a compilation of data and information (e.g. results from clinical studies, statistics from a global survey, and others) extracted from various sources. The sources - which include papers published in medical journals, posters presented in international conferences, or statistics reported on website - are almost always quoted at the bottom of their presentation slides.

Similarly, when we write, we also need to acknowledge the original sources as a show of respect.

On top of that, citing the sources gives more credibility to the information, and thus to your article. Referencing is also important to avoid being criticized for plagiarizing other people’s work. For readers who are keen to know more about a particular point raised in the article, the references direct them to the original source for further information.

Referencing style
Referencing style may differ from company/publisher to company/publisher. Your editorial department may already have an in-house style manual for you to follow. The guidelines may be taken directly from a distinguished medical journal, e.g. JAMA (Journal of American Medical Journal), or modified from one. Remember to read those referencing style guidelines carefully.

In most referencing guidelines, references are identified throughout the manuscript with superscripted numbers, like this – 1, though certain referencing styles may have the numbers enclosed in brackets, like this - (1). At the end of the manuscript, the reference list is presented in a numerical order, with each number corresponding to the respective superscripted numbers in the article.

Referencing sources from medical journals
A published paper reference contains these elements: authors’ name, name of the journal/publication in which the source is published, year published, volume number and possibly issue number of the journal/publication, and the specific page numbers of the source.

Below is an example excerpted from a event highlights that I wrote quite some time ago:

Up to 1 billion individuals worldwide are affected by hypertension,1 an endothelial dysfunctional disease leading to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.2 It is very common among diabetic patients with renal disease. The simultaneous presence of hypertension and renal disease increases the mortality risk of these patients considerably.3...

1. Chobanian AV, et al. JAMA 2003;289(19):2560-2572.
2. Bobik A. J Hypertens 2005;23(8):1473-1475.
3. Wang SL, et al. Diabetes Care 1996;19(4):305-312.

Note that:

  • The journal names are abbreviated and set to italic font.
  • For a paper authored by more than one person, I use ‘et al’ to represent ‘and others’. Different journals/publishers have different ways of doing this. I noticed papers in JAMA, for example, list all authors if there are not more than 6 of them. If there are more than 6 authors, their style is to name 3 and add ‘et al’ after the last name (see examples below). Mine only named the first author because I was trying to save space.
  • Sometimes, if space allows, it is good to put in the title of the article, which I didn’t do due to the reason as in above.
  • The issue number (i.e. number in bracket) may or may not be used.
Patel V, Chisholm D, Rabe-Hesketh S, Dias-Saxena F, Andrew G, Mann A. Efficacy and cost-effectiveness of a drug and psychological treatment for common mental disorders in general health care in Goa, India. Lancet. 2003;361(9351):33-39.

Lin EH, VonKorff M, Russo J, et al. Can depression treatment in primary care reduce disability? Arch Fam Med. 2000;9(10):1052-1058.


  • Examples are taken from Bolton P, et al. JAMA 2007;298(5):519-527.
  • The titles of the articles are stated as well.

In short, no matter what referencing style you are using, it has to be consistent throughout the manuscript.

I will show some examples of referencing non-journal sources in my next post.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

#9: Can I start writing now?

Once you have a clear idea of the focus of your write up, it’s time to hit the keyboard. Here’s how the flow goes.

Get a rough draft out quickly
As with every project, there is a deadline to meet. So, write as quickly as possible to get your rough draft out by following the outline that you’ve planned. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation or style yet. What you want is to put it all on the page. Resist the strong urge to edit and revise as you write, leave that till the copy-editing stage.

Revise the rough draft
The next step is to revise what you’ve written, i.e. copy-edit the rough draft, to give you your first draft.

  • Take time to read through the rough draft slowly.
  • Simplify sentences and reword awkward, wordy phrases.
  • Smooth transitions between sentences and paragraphs.
  • Replace vague words or terms with more precise wording.
  • Check for errors in grammar, spelling and punctuations.

Edit the first draft before submitting to client
Sometimes, if time allows, put the first draft away for a day. Let your mind freshen up and then go back for another round of editing. This way, you may be able to pick up errors that are overlooked during the first revision. It is also essential to have another writer or editor to copy-edit your first draft before it is e-mailed to the client.


Friday, July 20, 2007

#8: How do I get started on an event highlights?

So, you’re now sitting right in front of your computer, with the relevant materials – an audio recording and a copy of the powerpoint slides (or any other format) from the lecture – to help you write your first event highlights. Can’t wait any longer to hit your keyboard, huh?

But wait! Before you start typing the first word, why not spend a few minutes to get a clear idea of what you need to do and plan your work.

What is an event highlights?
An event highlights (or highlights bulletin, symposium highlights, meeting highlights, etc) is basically a summary of a presentation, talk, or lecture. It contains not just words only, but also some visuals, such as graphs, charts or tables, to illustrate complex scientific information in a simpler format.

Although the nature of this type of publication is semi-promotional, as to help clients market their products, it is also the writer’s task to make it educational for readers, including doctors and pharmacists.

To get an idea of how an event highlights look like, it’s good to read up some samples produced by your fellow writers.

Understand the topic
While you don’t have to delve into every nook and cranny of the particular subject, try to acquire a general understanding of the topic that you are dealing with. This helps you to write in a clear and succinct manner that your readers will enjoy (and not left with more questions!).

Unlike in the olden days where you might have to refer to text books, dictionaries or encyclopedias for information, we can retrieve information quite easily and conveniently through internet nowadays.

Make an outline
It is important to make an outline for your article before you start writing. Ask yourself: What are the key points? Which graphs or charts are worth featuring? How many words do you need to write?

Always have an introduction paragraph at the beginning and a conclusion at the end. Divide your article into different sections and give them headings. This will help build an easy-to-read structure for your article.

Listen and transcribe
Unless you have super memory, you definitely need to listen to the recording of the lecture again to recall what the speaker had presented. As you are listening, you can refer to the presentation slides, so it’s as if you were ‘attending’ the event again.

Depending on the skill, experience, or preference of the writer, some may just jot down important notes or quotes from the speaker, while some may transcribe the whole lecture (ie, word-by-word of the speaker’s speech).

The advantage of having a transcript is that you won’t have to revert to the audio recording to find out what exactly the speaker said about slide no. 15 at 22 minutes. Of course, the negative point is that it’s a time-consuming task; you may have to repetitively play and rewind the audio file to even get a sentence completely transcribed.

All the above can be considered as the ‘preparation’ work to the next step – writing the article – which I will share with you in the coming post.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

#7: How do I prepare for an event?

If you’ve read my previous post, I’m sure you now more or less understand what is involved in your job as a medical writer-cum-project manager, and the various responsibilities imparted upon you.

Okay, let’s say you have just been assigned your first project – to attend an evening lecture sponsored by a drug company, and to write a summary (so-called event highlights) based on the lecture presented. Prior to the event, your senior medical writer will first brief you a long list of things to bring and to do for the event. As this is your first time, he or she might even tag along with you to the event to guide or show you how to get things done.

So, I will not go into details about the mechanics. Instead, I would like to emphasize on several work ethic-related issues, and why it is important to carry out them ‘faithfully’.

  • Pre-meeting phone call – It is a courtesy to call up the client prior to the event to introduce yourself (if the client has not already met you). More importantly, double-confirm the event details, such as the time and venue. You definitely will not want to go the wrong location or to be late! If you are not able to make a phone call, at least send an e-mail. This is the first step in building a good working relationship with your client.

  • Be there early – Always arrive at the event venue 30-45 minutes earlier than the stated starting time, because you have quite a couple of tasks to accomplish before the lecture starts. First, meet up with the client, and again introduce yourself. You will then be introduced to the speaker of the evening. The last thing you want to do is to be a total stranger to the client and the speaker. Make your presence known. It is not about socializing, but purely a matter of courtesy and respect, which I think is the most fundamental work ethic of a medical writer.

  • Meeting the speaker – The purpose of meeting the speaker is to inform him or her about the project you are undertaking, and that he or she will get to preview the article for verification and approval before it is published. Again, it is all about good mannerism and showing respect to the experts. To some speakers, it can be a huge offense if things are done without first notifying him or her. Not to worry too much though, as most of them are friendly and helpful. But if you are able to give a good impression to the speaker during your first – and only – meeting, he or she will be more willingly to give good comments and fast approval later.

  • Leaving the place – When the evening has come to its end, and you are so glad to call it a day and can finally head home for a rest, it would be good if you can notify your client that you are leaving. Just a simple ‘good-bye’ or ‘I’ll update you on the progress soon’ will do.

    Next – I’ll talk about how to get you started on writing the event highlights. Do check out next week!


Friday, July 6, 2007

#6: Do I write from 9 to 5?

While a big chunk of your time will be spent on writing, writing, and more writing, you’ll get your hands on dealing with all sorts of project-related matters.

Depending on how a communications company setup its editorial and project management team, some have a specially assigned person to manage the projects, the so-called project manager or project coordinator, who practically sets project deadline, going after the designers for visuals, chasing clients for approvals or advertisement materials, giving correct instructions to the production team, etc. However, some may require the medical writer to take up these challenging tasks of a project manager apart from his or her primary role as a writer.

So, if you are a medical writer and need to oversee your own projects, what do you normally do? Let’s take an event highlight project as an example; this is a very typical project, the process of which applies to almost all other projects with some slight difference.

First, you will attend the event, of course.

With the necessary materials obtained from the event, you begin to write. So far, this is the medical writing part of the job.

Not forgetting that for every project, there must be a deadline. So, also as a project manager, you need to create a working timeline based on the expected delivery date.

When you article is ready, that is after edited by your editor, you will e-mail it (the first draft) to your client.

Your client replies with some comments, so you have to make revisions to the first draft.

Send the revised draft to client and obtain his or her approval via e-mail or phone. The next step is to get approval from the speaker(s), too. This is to make sure that every fact in your article is elucidated accurately and verified by the expert.

Whew, seems like a lot of ‘writing’ to do, huh? Apart from writing what you are supposed to be writing, a significant portion of your time is spent on writing e-mails!

Okay, now comes the non-writing part.

After getting approvals from both the client and speaker(s), it’s time to layout the text in a visually appealing way in prespecified paper size and number of pages. This is the designer’s job. But at this stage, you will be working with the designers to make sure that all text is arranged in the correct sequence, the right logo is used, the graphs are inserted at the right spots, etc. Although we do not have their expertise, we do help them a great deal in further ‘beautifying’ the publication by giving them our opinions or suggestions.

Once the visual is accepted by the client, it is ready to proceed to production, though it must be first proofread by yourself and another person (another medical writer or the editor).

You still need to communicate with the client as to update him or her when the goods can be expected. And again, with your project manager cap on, you have to make sure that the printed products are in good quality and condition before they actually reach the client’s office.

So, you will not be desk bound from 9 to 5, neither your fingers will be glued to the keyboard all the time. You move around in the office – to the designer’s work station, to the production coordinator’s desk, or to the pantry for a cup of tea. You actually get to socialize with people while in the office. :)

Sometimes, you will be doing work out of the office! Depending on the nature of the project, you may need to meet up with clients for a face-to-face discussion, or interview doctors and key opinion leaders. The best thing is, you may even have the opportunity to attend major international conferences held in overseas (as far as in US and Europe)!

In short, being a medical writer is not solely about medical writing. It is a wonderful learning opportunity, where you literally learn from A-to-Z about publishing.

There is a lot more to tell. I shall continue next week. See ya!


Friday, June 29, 2007

#5: What will I be writing? (Part II)

With the advent of cutting-edge technology, many pharmaceutical companies and hospitals are also tapping into the potential of the internet and multimedia platform to achieve multiple objectives, e.g. marketing their products, setting up company training programs, conveying health messages to consumers, or conducting continuing medical education (CME) programs for medical professionals.

A medical writer may be involved in developing content for some of the common electronic projects:

  • Web site – a web site may be designated for a specific drug to inform people about its use, efficacy data and safety profile. Some companies also build web sites containing training materials for internal staffs, or CME programs for doctors. Nowadays, many events and meetings are also announced through web sites, allowing participants to register via the web site, book hotels and submit relevant information to the event organizer.
  • E-newsletter – to send out updates on regular intervals (e.g. quarterly, biannually, annually); it can be a simple letter to notify its registered members on new content on the web sites, thus directing them to read online; or it can be a newsletter containing informative articles and news saved in the PDF format.
  • CD-ROM – a convenient way to mobilize information as a CD can carry lots of information and be played in almost any computer or laptop nowadays. A CD-ROM may be a video recording of a lecture by an eminent speaker; this gives people a chance to ‘attend’ the talk at a later time even if they are not physically present during the lecture. Other things that may be stored in a CD-ROM include drug detailing information, clinical papers, patient education articles, staff training programs, special softwares for doctors, and many more.

As communications agencies also take on event management projects, some times medical writers are involved in preparing conference materials. The event can be a small scale advisory board meeting related to a particular disease with around 10 participants, or an international medical conference attracting hundreds and thousands of delegates from different parts of the world.

A medical writer needs to work on the preparation of the conference materials, such as:

  • Invitation letter
  • Meeting agenda
  • Conference kit – it may contain a welcome letter, abstracts of lectures, printouts of the presentation slides and notes, plus some other relevant information for the participants’ reference
  • A meeting report, if the event is a advisory board meeting or round table discussion


Friday, June 22, 2007

#4: What will I be writing? (Part I)

In the last article I said I will touch on the job scope of a medical writer apart from writing. I reckon I should first give you an idea the types of publications or materials you will be producing.

First of all, you need to know that a medical or healthcare communications company provides a variety of editorial and non-editorial services for its clientele. The clients are normally companies that sell pharmaceutical products (i.e. medicine or what we usually call drugs), medical devices, health supplements and milk formula, hospitals, or medical associations, to name a few.

The materials produced are tailored to their needs and requirements, and to be used as a supporting tool for their marketing campaign of a new medicine, or simply to remind people of an existing drug.

As mentioned in one of my earlier posts, the materials produced can target either medical or healthcare professionals (e.g. specialists, doctors, nurses, pharmacists), patients, patients’ family or common people like you and me.

These materials aim to educate the general public or patients on a particular disease (e.g. learn more about a disease, how to deal with it etc.), and to update the medical professionals on the latest drug development and patient care. Of course, the ultimate goal is to help increase sales of the client’s product.

So, as a medical writer in a communications company, you will be writing for both print publications and non-print materials.

Below is not an exhaustive list, but some of the more commonly produced print publications:

  • Event highlights – a summary of talk(s) held during a dinner symposium solely sponsored by one drug company or a large-scale international conference.
  • Newsletter – can be monthly, quarterly or biannually, featuring articles related to a disease or a group of diseases.
  • Clinical summary – a summary of one or more published clinical papers.
  • Detail aid – also known as a sales aid or visual aid, it contains information of a specific product (e.g. efficacy, safety, supporting clinical data and graphs, administration and dosing guide), coupled with creative elements.
  • Disease chart – used to explain different aspects of a disease, normally in the form of a desktop flip chart or a wall poster to be placed in the doctor’s office
  • Brochure – usually for patients or a certain group of readers (e.g. pregnant women, parents, elderly etc.).
  • Booklet – same as the above, but a booklet is able to carry more information.
  • Materials in a meeting folder – a compilation of different documents, such as welcome letter, abstracts and slides, to be given out during a meeting or conference.
Apart from the above, you will also be writing or preparing content for non-print materials, which I will talk about in the next post. Remember to drop by next week!


Monday, June 18, 2007

#3: But I don't have any writing experience!

Neither did I have any relevant writing experience when I first started out as a medical writer. But think carefully, you may not be as “inexperienced” as you think.

Say me, for example. I was on the verge of completing my thesis for my post-grad study when I saw a job classified looking for an editor, preferably someone with a pharmacy or pharmacology degree. I should say that I was just trying my luck. I didn’t fit into any of their requirements. But no harm trying I reckoned, since I studied biochemistry and have basic knowledge of pharmacology. I got an interview from the company, but of course they didn’t hire me for the post (I was so not the person for that position). Instead, they employed me to be a medical writer for their communications division. Only after that I was introduced to the world of medical writing.

But I have never written for living, so I have zero experience, right? Isn’t this a bit risky for the company to hire me? True, I didn’t really have any work related experience in this field, but I had written thesis for my undergrad course, and was WRITING for my thesis then. I also co-published a clinical paper in one of the local medical journals. I made presentation slide kit for an intervarsity conference. Those are considered as writing experience, though for a smaller and different category of audience.

I consider myself lucky as the company was planning to set up their local communications division editorial team, and somehow they were willing to take the risk of hiring someone with zero experience. Well, every experienced writer (in fact in any occupation) was once inexperienced, right? The point is - if you have written any thing, let it be a thesis, an article published in the newspaper or magazine, or a newsletter you wrote for your church, your diary, your blogs, etc, consider all of those your writing experience.

Whether your writing style and skill match what the company is looking for, they will find out by giving you a writing test. If the company hires you, then you can learn and pick up the necessary knowledge and skill as you work, most likely with guidance from other skilled writers. Such companies also usually provide training for their writers through in-house workshops or seminars conducted by experts.

So, if you have the relevant science degree, if you think you can write reasonably well (i.e. grammatically correct and easy to read), and want to make a living through writing, why not give medical writing a shot?

Of course, some medical writers do not merely write. Most of the time, they are also involved in managing projects. I’ll touch on this in the next article.


Friday, June 8, 2007

#2: Do I need to study medicine to be a medical writer?

The answer is: no. You need not study medicine to be a medical writer.

Since there is no medical writing or related professional degree offered in Malaysia yet, the primary prerequisite to be a medical writer is often a biological science related degree. While doctor-turn-medical writer is common in overseas, this won’t be so in Malaysia in the near future because here doctors (more!) are needed out there in the field to service the people.

So, who normally are the ones who get to work as a medical writer in a medical communications company? Well, many of them are pharmacist by profession. As for myself, I majored in biochemistry and did my post-grad research in the area of pharmacology. Others come from diverse backgrounds – biology, microbiology, veterinary, nursing, etc. Either this bunch of people turns out to have a passion or flair for writing, or believes that writing is more exciting and fulfilling as a career for them. Whatever the cause is, you can always switch to something else if, at the end of the day, you realize medical writing is not exactly your cup of tea.

The reason why you need a scientific background is obvious. You are writing to make your readers understand, whether they are doctors or laypeople. Before you can do that, you first need to understand the things you write. Almost all the things you write are going to revolve around diseases and drugs, basically biology and biochemistry stuffs. Having a scientific background will certainly help you a long way down the road in medical writing, as you will be able to comprehend the complicated ideas in medicine, and effectively turn it into sweet and easy information for the targeted audience to digest.

What about the aspect of writing? You have no experience in writing before, so can you be a medical writer? I’ll let you know next week!


Friday, June 1, 2007

#1: What is medical writing?

The most fundamental question to ask before you even want to consider giving medical writing a try is: What kind of job is that exactly? What does it involve?

My teacher in school never told me such an occupation exists. Neither did the local universities offer any related degree to this field during my varsity days (probably still none by now). People may be aspired to become a journalist or TV news reporter, but have you ever heard of someone enthusiastically declaring “I want to be a medical writer when I grow up!”? Never.

Is it because it is not a profession as highly acclaimed like doctor, lawyer and accountant, or as common as teacher, police and secretary? Nope.

In Western countries, there are in fact medical journalism degrees or courses offered in higher educational institutes. Well, they even have medical writer associations. There medical writers are highly in demand, either employed by companies or on freelance. Medical writers do play a major role in the process of disseminating important information on health and medicine. But it remains an unfamiliar profession to many here in Malaysia.

So, it’s really high-time that this occupation is made known to more Malaysians, especially the young ones who are still wondering about their future direction.

Ok, now let’s go into the really important stuff. What is medical writing?

Simply put, medical writing is about communicating medical or health information to different groups of audience in a variety of written formats. The readers range from healthcare professionals, such as specialists, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and healthcare workers, to laypersons like you and me. Depending on the targeted audience, the writing style and format of presentation varies accordingly.

Medical writers work in different types of organization, and so their job nature differs. Medical writers working for communications companies, like me, are just sitting on one side of the medical writing pie. I don’t know much about what’s going on at the other side of the pie, but in general medical writers in pharmaceutical companies and research centers write documents or reports for submission to regulatory authorities. They may also produce manuscripts for publication in medical journals. Those working in a pharmaceutical company may also need to write training manuals and marketing materials for the company’s products.

Sounds like a serious job? Well, take a look at this side of the pie. Medical writers attached to communications companies are more likely to have fun as they are involved in more creative type of projects. Yeah, more creative juices are needed! These companies are usually commissioned by pharmaceutical companies to produce promotional materials to market their products (ie, medicines, medical devices, etc) or by medical societies to help them publicize an event. Depending on the objective of the project, a wide variety of materials can be produced, such as newsletter, event posters, conference report, disease chart, patient education brochure, even websites and CD-ROMS! We’ll talk about that in detail some other day.

As I’ve been trained and worked in a communications company, therefore all my advice, tips, suggestions or whatsoever mentioned from now on will be referring to medical writing or medical writers who work in communications agencies.

So, have you gotten some idea what medical writing is about? Keep coming back if you want to know more. Probably next week I will talk about what qualifications or background you need to become a medical writer in a communications company. See ya!


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Welcome Note

Welcome to Surviving Medical Writing 101!

This surely sounds like an opening ceremony of some giant skyscraper, huh. Of course it isn’t. But whoever is reading this now, I thank you for dropping by, whether it’s by chance or by choice.

The idea of creating this blog was only conceived very recently, in view of the fact that I will be officially ‘jobless’ from June onwards. I decided to take the plunge and join the world of freelancing. After being attached to a healthcare and medical communication company as a medical writer for more than 6 years, I’m glad that I survived through the ups and downs, and still staying alive, with every bit of my sanity intact. Sounds scary? Relax, I’m just exaggerating. It is an exciting and rewarding career, really.

So, based on what I have learnt and experienced over the years, I supposed I can offer some useful, 2 cents worth of advice to those who are interested to pursue a career in this field. But most importantly, I think it is time for this profession to flourish in Malaysia. Not many people are aware of this career opportunity. They might just have ‘bumped’ into such position while looking for a job. Just like me.

Honestly, I don’t really know how to go about this whole thing. I don’t have a syllabus for this! And, VERY IMPORTANT, this site is not about teaching you to write proper English (hey, I’m no English teacher, pal). Neither is this about guiding you through the technical part of the job. It’s more of providing some insights into the life of a medical writer, the kind of attitude towards work (and the people working around you), little stuffs to take note of so that things are less likely to go wrong, some really essential life-saving survival tips as a medical writer in a commercial world, etc. As I said, all will be founded on what I’ve encountered and felt in the past few years.

So, are you ready to explore the wonderful world of medical writing?


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