Pitching your luxury hotel to investors? Aiming for the executive suite? Moving towards partnership in an international law firm? Odds on you’ll invest in a high-end wardrobe. First impressions dominate. The out-of-pocket expense is a stepping stone to your goal. A $2000 suit makes sense when the gain is millions.

Hiring a medical editor is like having a bespoke tailor. No one cares what I’m wearing, but I want my work to step out completely dressed for success. Because we make our pitch in writing, work products have to be flawless presentations.

I have an undergraduate degree in writing and masters in science writing from Johns Hopkins. I have earned significant income in the past by writing and editing. I regularly work with an editor* for my most important products. Why? Because I and my research team have millions to gain (aka grant funding and publications that sustain our research). More eyes on make a more perfect product.

Don’t pour your intellect and soul into your scientific passions – your start up – and fail to get a foot in the door because of how your science is “dressed.” We write for a living. We write to explain our methods, to convey our findings, to explain the implications, and to inspire enthusiasm for our next research goals. Do not be fooled, we are marketing our findings and selling our next project. We compete our ideas. Writers and editors can help the work be elegant and polished going into the arena. Strong clear writing confers confidence in your attention to detail, deep understanding of your work, and by extension your abilities and trustworthiness as a scientist. Fair? Of course not, but first impressions matter precisely because the individual forming the impression is not consciously doing so.

Enthusiasm for your science is a gut level response you can influence to your advantage at relatively low costs. Writers and editors can help you be more productive and prepare your science to go more quickly and attractively into the world. Illustrators can make the message more tangible, technical editors can redeem your time by formatting to journal specification, clerical support can organize your bibliographic database, writers can draft cover letters or manuals of procedures to free your time to focus on discovery. More people than you imagine are quietly using these resources. I’m not sure why they feel the need to keep it hush-hush. No shame attaches to working smart.

If you have discretionary funds or training grant funds, often these can be deployed through your work to pay invoices. Ask. You don’t have much to lose. Some faculty have discovered a science writer on retainer in their department or deeply discounted costs for early career investigators by asking. Or form a free accountability structure with peers, like manuscript sprints, to be able to learn to edit and to receive feedback on your work. What you want is a durable, ongoing commitment to group editing, not a 45-minute work-in-progress. Work-in-progress with your research team is crucial but unlikely to be enough buffing.

If you must, pay out-of-pocket. But I still shop at Target!?! I can’t afford this luxury. Scrimp, save, take public transportation, don’t go out to dinner or order pizza, eat rice and beans, put stuff on Craigs list, but make the investment in your career. If I had permission (and I don’t per hush-hush phenomena above), I would share the names of senior people who have had writers as assistants for most of their careers. Writers who are now at their sides well into their leadership roles. Most began the practice very early in their careers. I also have testimonials from early career faculty who firmly believe their grants were funded because of the work of an experienced editor. Why make your work compete in Dockers and a serviceable sweater when it can arrive at the party in a custom tuxedo? You’ll slay them with attention to detail. You want to celebrate the win, right?

 

* Disclaimer: No editor was involved in the tailoring of this post.

Resources:

American Medical Writers Association Directory – Freelance Directory Search

National Association of Science Writers – Find a Writer

Australasian Medical Writers Association list of freelance writers/editors

And the publication below finding: “In this sample of open-access journals, declared professional medical writing support was associated with more complete reporting of clinical trial results and higher quality of written English.”

Gattrell WT, et al. Professional medical writing support and the quality of randomized controlled trial reporting: a cross-sectional study. BMJ Open. 2016;6(2). PMC4762118.

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4 Comments

Where does one start to find a writer? 

Frank, we’ve successfully used the following methods:

1. Searching the American Medical Writers Association Freelance Directory (link near the bottom of the above post) for keywords (i.e., “epidemiology”).

2. Posting an ad on sites like Upwork (https://www.upwork.com/) or other freelancing sites.

3. Asking around the department and other colleagues turned up one as well.

Interesting, but I am not completely sold on your analogy. The suit that I wear is a cosmetic veneer. The clarity of my writing is less analogous to my clothing than to my sinews, muscles and bones.

Well put – our writing is much more the substance of what we do and deserves deliberate practice and personal effort because clarity is the best investment. Nonetheless, I am taken with how quickly even compelling ideas can be undercut by “superficial” aspects of writing quality. Aspects of style like dense text or flabby writing that does not capture the imagination of the reader quickly enough detracts from interest. Polish is “cosmetic” but remains the calling card that draws the reader to the meat of the matter.

Thinking about better analogy – the trick is to find one that engages the idea that others with expertise can help enhance the form and deeper substance when we have reached the limits of our own skills. Drawing on that expertise does end up training deeper knowledge. Maybe an athletic or health theme is the parallel to draw on. Thanks for a great point. 

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