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!


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