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”.


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