Effective medical writing skills for researchers
Increasing volumes of new information are constantly added to the existing medical literature because of new research and data collection, as well as novel clinical experiences. It’s therefore a huge challenge for researchers simply to keep up-to-date, let alone synthesise, write, and publish your own articles. This is especially true for busy medical researchers who are often practising doctors or teachers.
Writing academics papers in the medical sciences is distinct from other fields because of the sheer volume of information that needs to be collated as well as the different audiences that digest it: researchers, academics, physicians, other healthcare professionals, patients, consumers, and drug regulators as well as the public. In most other academic disciplines, researchers tend to be the main consumers of primary research content.
Medical papers also need to be targeted differently: Everyone is potentially interested and can dip into medical research. Indeed, in this era of open research, very coherent arguments have been made that this important corner of academic literature should be open and free for all to access without charge so that patients are able to make informed consent decisions while other researchers are able to collate, re-analyse, and review primary peer-reviewed content. Open access to medical literature can also serve a public need, as seen with publications that deal with the novel Wuhan coronavirus.
It is clear that in medical sciences:
- Academic papers need to be written for easy general consumption
- A huge range of differing types of articles are produced
- Research and writing is often done at speed and so needs to be accurate: doctors are busy and a huge volume and pace of information needs to be collated, quickly
Key steps in medical writing
There are three issues to address before you start to write:
- Your message
- Your audience
- The structure of the paper.
Following this template can make your writing journey much easier, especially if there are constant demands on your time.
Most people also start to create academic papers by working on their figures and tables. Your message in your next medical paper will be most easily and effectively transmitted using clear and well-constructed images, rather than words: Keep in mind that your audience is very likely to be, at least in part, comprised of people who will not have an in-depth understanding of your subject area but will have an interest in your results (like policymakers or members of the general public).
It’s therefore a good idea, once you’ve collected and analysed your data, to be efficient and:
- Refine the question, the message, that your paper will address
- Save time by writing pre-submission enquiries to editors and select an appropriately high-impact target journal
- Develop the structure for your writing, a template for success, before putting pen to paper (or, more likely, fingers to keyboard)
- Create a series of good looking and effective figures to summarise your message (you may not need to use them all in the paper, but will need them for later conference presentations, posters, or review articles).
It’s also important to think about the ethical considerations necessary for medical publications
Medical research is also different to other kinds of academic work because of an additional ethical layer that needs to be taken into account. Interventions and clinical trials, studies involving human subjects, will need to be approved before starting your study and will require support from both your institutional (and/or national) ethics body as well as prospective registration in a World Health Organisation approved database. It’s important to be aware of these important ethical considerations before initiating your research project, let alone writing it up for publication. Many journal policies state that studies cannot be retrospectively registered for publication once completed!
Medical research has also often been in the news recently because of issues to do with data fabrication and self-plagiarism. It’s well worth being aware of both these issues: the first, of course, is completely unethical and would have to be done on purpose (the creation, or fabrication, of completely false data to support a working hypothesis), while the second (self-plagiarism) is often mistakenly stumbled over by unwitting researchers. Many people are simply unaware that data, figures, tables, and text, once published in one article by an author cannot then be re-used without appropriate citation by the same author in subsequent work. Did you know that it’s possible to steal from yourself? We’ll discuss and elaborate on these issues in our webinar.
How can we help?
Outside of academic research, developing the skills to synthesise data and write papers effectively can open other career doors. Medical writers are increasingly in demand across academia and beyond as busy doctors and researchers need help to create reports, clinical trials, and other documents. The skills we teach are therefore transferrable across a lot of careers and can help significantly with your personal development.
Charlesworth Author Services provides a range of author education, publication support and expert English language editing services. Why not get in touch with a member of the Charlesworth Author Services team for more information, and get your writing edited by one of our PhD-level specialists working in your research field? To find out more click here.
Our academic writing and publishing training courses, online materials, and blog articles contain numerous tips and tricks to help you navigate academic writing and publishing, and maximise your potential as a researcher.
Maximise your publication success with Charlesworth Author Services.