Medical Writing Tips

Heather Long
Medical writing professional

Composing articles for medical and health related publications is a good niche for freelance writers. Like many specialty writing markets, editors in this category demand credentials, experience, and expertise in the industry.

Necessary Credentials, Experience and Expertise

The medical profession covers a wide range of professionals including laboratory technicians, pharmacists, physicians, nurses and more. The majority of editors are seeking writers with strong prose capabilities and relevant experience.

You can develop relevant experience through other methods to become a medical writer, even if you don't work within the medical profession. For example, if you have related therapeutic experience such as proofreading technical or pharmaceutical manuals or articles, this qualifies as medical writing experience. If you've published scientific articles in related areas, this qualifies as medical writing experience.

If you're just getting started or are in college, consider an internship with a pharmacy or physician's office. Trade organizations and associations within the medical and pharmaceutical industries often host workshops, seminars, and webinars to expand base knowledge of specific areas within their respective fields.

The American Medical Writer's Association offers similar networking, training and certification programs within the U.S. European Medical Writers Association is a network of professionals that represents, supports, and trains medical communicators within Europe.

If you do not have experience, you need to develop it if you have hopes of being successful as a medical writer.

The Basics of Medical Writing

Medical writing varies from conventional writing in a few ways. The content needs to be understood easily, particularly when large medical terms are used. You must be prepared to provide accurate definitions and assume that not every reader will know what a peritonsillar abscess or some other medical term is, so you need to be clear.

Medical writing is niche-specific and needs to be targeted to the audience and subject. The audience will determine the language necessary to convey the information.

  • If you are writing for a parenting magazine, the audience is typically moms without medical training.
  • If you are writing for an educational publication, the audience will generally be teachers.
  • If you are writing for medical professionals or a trade magazine, your audience will be doctors, nurses, pharmacists and more.

Medical writing must be fact-based and well-researched. If a report is cited as the source for statistics, you need to provide the resource material as a part of the article or as a footnote in the article.

Fact Checking Your Article

Your audience will make important decisions about their life and their health based on the information they obtain in medical content articles. You must do effective research from legitimate sources. Studies and data posted on websites such as National Institutes of Health or Mayo Clinic are verified resources.

Keep It Simple

The majority of medical writing requires you to employ a conversational style. Avoid using awkward words that are not used in general conversation except when using proper medical terminology. Whenever you use an uncommon or medical term, provide a definition within the context of the sentence. Do not presume that medical writing is academic in nature unless you are writing for an academic or trade publication.

Structuring the Article

The structure of a standard article includes the headline, subheads, introduction to the material, information about it and definitions, symptoms, and what should someone do if they are experiencing the symptoms.

The headline should tell the reader exactly what they are about to read, for example, the title Five Triggers that Cause Asthma Attacks clearly states what the article will discuss.

The article should explain what, why, base information, and what next:

  • What is an asthma attack?
  • Why should the reader understand the causes?
  • What five triggers cause asthma attacks?
  • What should patients do?

The structure of the article will be dictated by the destination you intend to submit the article to or has requested the work. Always verify the publication guidelines prior to submission.

Finding Medical Writing Jobs

Joining AMWA or EMWA is an investment, but provides access to social media groups on Facebook and Twitter, local chapters, workshops, and certification programs as well as other medical writers and potential jobs. For the novice or intermediate writer looking to establish themselves, this is a good first step.

Medical writing positions are advertised in a number of job sites. With the proper credentials, you may begin querying family websites and magazines to write articles for them.

  • Indeed.com - This is a job hunting board, but you will find temporary, contract, and permanent positions as well as jobs for medical writers that are on and off site.
  • SimplyHired.com - The job search includes positions for technical writing and web content jobs at magazines, pharmaceutical companies and websites.
  • Medical Boards - State medical boards often have listings for writers as well as links to other potential writing opportunities.
  • BioSpace - This firm is often looking for freelance writers to pair with medical writing positions.

Be creative in your job hunting; any company or facility that is related to medicine just as device manufacturers, biotech firms, and pharmaceutical supplies often need medical writers.

Know Your Field

Take the time to get to know the different areas of medical writing and explore local chapters of the national organizations for networking and education opportunities.

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Medical Writing Tips