Getting Technical: Is There a Difference Between a Medical Technical Writer and a Medical Writer?

    Getting-Technical-Is-There-a-Difference-Between-a-Medical-Technical-Writer-and-a-Medical-WriterBoth terms describe someone who communicates medical and health information to specific audiences.

    A medical technical writer is another term used to describe a medical writer. From our perspective, the terms are interchangeable. Medical writing is technical writing for medical and health concepts.

    The terminology matters less than the mission of medical communication: to write, edit, and develop materials about science, medicine, and health. 

    No matter what the job is called, professional medical communicators combine writers’ creativity with the detail and rigor of science. They need a firm understanding of health care, awareness of ethical standards, and, of course, communication expertise.

    The health care industry — and the world — needs more excellent medical communicators.

    What Is Medical Writing?

    Medical writers produce content that deals specifically with medicine or health care. They are detail‑oriented professionals who gather, interpret, organize, and present information in ways that targeted audiences understand.

    Some of the materials medical writers prepare include

    • Manuscripts for medical and scientific publications
    • Continuing education (CE) materials for health care professionals
    • Regulatory documents for government agencies
    • Patient education materials, including brochures, news articles, website content, and books for general audiences
    • Health care policy documents
    • Grant proposals for research scientists and institutions
    • Sales, marketing, and training materials for health care products and pharmaceuticals

    Medical communicators working on these materials require a firm grasp of technical and scientific concepts and terms. Depending on the audience, the content will contain different levels of technical information and complexity. 

    What Is Technical Writing?

     The Society for Technical Communication defines technical communication as any form of communication that 

    • Communicates about technical or specialized topics
    • Communicates by using technology
    • Provides instructions about how to do something, no matter how technical the task is

    That’s a pretty broad definition, and it certainly has room for medical writing, AMWA’s specialty.

    Growing Career Opportunities

    Medical communication is a challenging and rewarding career with expanding full‑time and freelance opportunities. Some medical communicators move into the specialty from other writing and editing positions, while others have medical or science degrees. 

    The medical industry is a sector undergoing tremendous growth. Pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies, government agencies, and medical device firms are among the employers seeking medical writers.

    Compensation levels vary, depending on the position and the region, but AMWA’s compensation survey shows annual gross income for full‑time medical communicators ranging between $80,560 for editors and $107,000 for writers.

    We have good news for writers who discovered they needed increased flexibility during the remote working era of the COVID‑19 pandemic: Freelance opportunities are growing.

    Getting Up to Speed

    To enter the field of medical communication, many writers and editors benefit from additional training, such as the AMWA Essential Skills Certificate Program, a course that covers

    • Basic Grammar and Usage
    • Sentence Structure and Patterns
    • Punctuation
    • Medical Terminology
    • Professional Ethics
    • Statistics
    • Tables and Graphs

    Whether they are entering the field as a freelancer, seeking a full‑time position, or advancing an established career, knowing the basics sets medical communicators apart from the competition.

    More on Medical Terminology

    Medical terminology is an essential part of the writer’s toolbox.

    Sometimes medical writers serve as translators between scientists and the general public. They need to be fluent in the language of medicine. It’s not enough for a medical writer to know medical terms. They need a thorough understanding of medical vocabulary, including prefixes, combining forms, and suffixes that make up medical words. 

    The Ultimate Goal: Better Health for All

    The reasons people enter the medical communication field are as varied as the individuals who do so. Yet they all play a role in conveying information that is critical to our health and well‑being as a society. 

    Medical communicators provide an essential service.

    Whether they are sharing information on diseases and treatments, helping bring new technologies to market, or making technical information understandable to patients and caregivers, those words matter.


    Medical Communication: Essential Skills for Success

    September 6, 2021 at 9:00 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.