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.


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