4 Best Practices to Succeed at Medical Journal Writing

4-Best-Practices-to-Master-Medical-Journal-WritingWhether you're hoping to expand your portfolio to include medical journal writing or are already incorporating journal articles into your medical writing career, it's helpful to refresh your awareness of best practices.

Know Your Responsibilities

Professional medical writing support helps authors and sponsors to disclose their research in peer‑reviewed journals. Thus, as a professional medical writer, you need extensive knowledge of ethical publication guidelines.

Consider company‑sponsored research, for instance. When you’re assisting authors with communicating the results of this research in a scientific journal, you must:

  • Follow Good Publication Practice (GPP3) guidelines and International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommendations.
  • Consult appropriate reporting guidelines (eg, CONSORT and others collated by the EQUATOR network).
  • Ensure that the authors and sponsors are aware of their obligations under these guidelines.
  • Keep up to date with advances in medical communication ethics and best practices.

Refresh Your Knowledge of Statistics

Writing for publication in a medical journal requires a strong understanding of medical research studies and myriad data sets. If you want to break into medical journal writing, you must have a solid understanding of statistics and of the phases of clinical research.

Think about it: Medical research studies are conducted to answer questions of interest to medical professionals. The answers are found in research outcomes. Research outcomes could be presented in a variety of ways, such as:

  • The number of patients experiencing symptoms, relapse, etc.
  • A change in patients' blood pressure after treatment with a new medication
  • The proportion of subjects who develop side effects after taking an experimental treatment 

Once data collection has been completed, researchers use applicable statistical techniques to determine the answer to the study question(s) posed. Misinterpreting the statistical technique or resulting data would result in an entirely inaccurate document.

Follow the Proper Structure

In a survey conducted by the AMWA Advanced Writing Skills Working Group, hiring managers note that medical communicators need education in building a logical and science‑based argument that is tailored to the audience. In the case of medical journal writing, tailoring your document to your audience requires an understanding of each journal's contribution guidelines and required format. 

Most research manuscripts share the same basic structure: IMRAD.

  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results and
  • Discussion

If you don't follow the prescribed format, your document is unlikely to be well received — if it gets published at all. Finalize your data, look for the story that the data tell, and then present it in the structure that the journal requires. 

To get an idea of the variety of medical journal contributor requirements, explore JAMA Network's instructions for authors and AMWA Journal's instructions for contributors.

Above All, Be Rigorous About Accuracy

Accuracy is paramount in all medical communication documents. But when it comes to medical journals, remember that you are writing a document that will undergo a rigorous peer‑review process. 

Be fastidious about fact‑checking. Be careful about slip‑ups such as cut‑and‑paste errors, misplaced decimals, or inaccurate modifiers. Get in the habit of double‑checking the validity of your claims and triple‑checking your data. By actively seeking honesty and accuracy in your writing, you display professionalism and integrity.

Medical journal writing can be intimidating even for veteran medical writers and editors. If you choose to assist authors in pursuing publication in a medical journal, you'll find that the process is both rigorous and rewarding.

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December 21, 2020 at 8:00 AM

American Medical Writers Association

AMWA is the leading resource for medical communicators. The AMWA Blog is developed in partnership with community members who work every day to create clear communications that lead to better health and well-being.