Medical Writing Instituteclick here MWI: Writing for humans
Always remember that everything you write can impact the quality and length of life of humans.
The defining moment for me was when I was briefly the founding editor, and graphic designer, of a short-lived medical journal known as The American Journal of Diabetes. I rounded up an editorial board - only one of whom, a Scot, demanded to be paid for reviewing articles - and put together a magnificent first issue. I was so proud of it, am so proud of it, it can be downloaded click here.
The publisher was a wonderful energetic businesswoman in Florida, the mother of twins, including a young girl living with diabetes. Through the publisher I was introduced to a team in Florida, and was able to include in the first issue an article on pumps which continuously deliver insulin to the bodies of persons living with diabetes.
After the second issue, the publisher could no longer finance the journal, so I accepted a contract to write regulatory documents onsite in Philadelphia. I took copies of The American Journal of Diabetes with me, and gave one to a young woman who had been diagnosed with diabetes as a child, and who had already had a pancreatic transplant which failed in less than 10 years. She had pretty much given up on ever believing she could be healthy: she was injecting herself with insulin each morning, coming to work, not testing herself for blood sugar, and occasionally passing out at work and being taken to a hospital.
A few days after I gave her the journal, she came to see me and told me that when she read the article, she immediately called the health professional who was prescribing the insulin, and had been fitted with an insulin pump. In that instant, everything I was doing suddenly made sense. I had impacted the life of one person.
A person is not defined by their disease, injury or disability.
Refer to a patient or clinical trial subject as a person living with diabetes, not as a diabetic; as a person who was diagnosed with cancer, not as a cancer patient.
When you write about individuals who have killed themselves after long and purpose-filled lives, remember them by how they lived, not how they died.
My English greatgrandfather and 2 of his brothers died before old age, likely by their own hands. Unfortunately, their deaths were reported widely, but little about how they were all successful, purpose-driven professionals, husbands and fathers. I have been trying to write their obituaries, to explain how they impacted the lives of one person, or twenty, in the law, in the stock market, and in the Royal Navy, and what made them believe in their darkest hour, that a permanent solution was the best one for their despair.
Please remember when you are writing about the number of humans who killed themselves, or the methods they used, every single one of these humans had a mother and a father, and if they did not have anyone grieving their untimely deaths, grieve them yourself.
A patient or clinical trial subject living with a disease must not be blamed for having the disease.
A patient who has smoked cigarettes for decades (do not call them long-time cigarette smokers) who is being treated for lung cancer should certainly be encouraged to stop smoking.
However likely that the cigarette-smoking has caused the lung cancer, the patient needs to be treated for a life-threatening disease and is likely in the last years or months of their lives. They cannot go back in time and not smoke, as much as they would like to.
An obese person with high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars who is being treated for metabolic disease must not be blamed for previous lifestyle. Metabolic disease often results from poverty with processed carbohydrates being the most available nutrition: if you cannot personally change available food sources, do not blame and shame the patient, whatever your relationship to the patient.
If you are a health professional that the US government has certified to give care to patients, and know the patient can change their lifestyle with guidance from you, give them that guidance. Medical Writing Institute medical writer HN Davis MS RDN is a licensed dietitian and nutritionist who writes articles for patients wanting to understand the basis for their lifestyle changes click here.
The need for educating patients living with diabetes is well known to health professionals who are certified as diabetes educators click here.
Write with clean, clear prose, impeccable grammar, perfect spelling, and create a document that looks gorgeous.
When I am reading a book, a document, a website, a social media post, I lose my smile when I read "me and him went fishing", when if the writer had written "he and I went fishing" I would be beaming with joy because I knew the fish would all escape, and the two friends would have enjoyed a lovely day by the river.
When my children were small, they knew they would be in trouble if they ended a sentence in a preposition, and learned quickly that their bad grammar deflected my attention from other child-crimes, such as painting the bannisters with white paint on returning from a trip to Germany, when the rest of us were all sleeping soundly.
I emphasise the need to format documents so that tables-of-content are generated automatically: the novice medical writer first believes they know how to do this, and second, that this skill is entirely unnecessary. The seasoned medical writer knows that if you cannot do this, you will never progress from the novice stage.
An elementary school teacher of one my 4 brothers (I had no sisters) strode into his classroom every morning in his gray suit, carefully chose a new piece of white chalk, and wrote on the blackboard the date, and underneath it "If a thing's worth doing, it is worth doing well". (I carefully placed the period outside the quotation marks: do you understand why?)
That made a huge impact on the life of my brother, whose career included a long stretch writing the laws for the government of Australia; its impact was only eclipsed by the fact that towards the end of the year, the teacher walked in less forcefully than usual, wrote the day's date with a year that was twenty years earlier, collapsed on the floor, and died. I know he would be proud of my brother, who took to heart the daily message, writes impeccable prose, and never has done anything that was not worth doing.
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