Avoiding a Mismatch: How To Work with a Writer or Editor
You don’t have to do it all yourself! Many successful researchers engage scientific/medical writers and editors for help refining grants, manuscripts, press releases, and more. At our career development seminar, we heard from two medical writers and an early career researcher, who works with a medical writer, about why you might want to hire one, how to use their services, and best practices for working with writers and editors.
Ms. Donna Ingles
- How might you use a medical writer?
- Helping update background and significance with current literature
- Proofreading and technical editing
- Buffing ancillary materials (abstract, narrative, biosketches, etc.)
- Manuscripts, book chapters:
- Fact checking and updating background and significance sections with current literature
- Proofreading, improving flow of document, and technical editing
- Formatting, references, etc.
- Social media/PR releases
- Enhancing interpretation for lay audience
- What to ask about when looking for a medical writer:
- Do they have broad background or more specific training?
- What is their own experience in science?
- Experience writing for lay vs. scientific audiences?
- Experience with grant or manuscript formats and requirements?
- Differences between journals
- Differences between NIH vs. foundation or other funding
- Good references/reputation (ask for examples of recent work and contact with prior clients)
- Best practices when working with a medical writer
- Find someone who has time and is willing to commit
- Set a clear schedule/timeline for completion (ideally in multiple steps)
- Clarify terms of agreement- how will they be compensated? Fee for service, billing hours, % effort, etc.
- Communicate changes immediately
- Include writer in research team meetings if possible
Dr. Elise Lamar
- Writers are expensive: seek affordable help first (mentors, offices supporting NIH or foundation grant applications).
- Define where you need help: copy-editing? rewriting? effective letter writing? journal selection? research?
- Seek someone with skills in that area, preferably recommended by a colleague.
- My opinion: Deep knowledge of your science ≠ ability to write a competitive grant.
- Or, advertise for a freelancer with professional organizations like American Medical Writers Association (AMWA)
- Contract prep is time-consuming. Thus, make sure you have the “right” person.
- Apply professional standards you would in hiring a car mechanic—not necessarily a post-doc.
- Politely request candidate’s qualifications (CV, publication list, writing samples, or names of satisfied customers/past employers).
- It is unprofessional for a mechanic (writer) to work for free; but you might diplomatically ask them to look at the engine (i.e., ONE page of an R01).
- Ask focused Qs about work habits and compensation.
- Does writer charge hourly or by word count? Do they bill for answering emails or phone calls? Charge more for research time?
- Does writer typically work or respond to emails on weekends?
- Does writer charge more for rapid turn-around?
- If $$ is a problem, would writer charge less for guaranteed high volume?
- Early on, explicitly tell a writer what you like/don’t like.
- Make deadlines clear AND get info to a writer on time.
- Pay on time with no “surprises”. Don’t make writer ask where check is.
Dr. Maya Yiadom
K23 Recipient, Medical Writing Client
- As an early career scientist many writing conventions will be unfamiliar. Having someone involved who regularly edits grants and manuscripts can help you learn these in a turbo-boosted fashion and save you resubmissions.
- Get a referral from someone, with similar needs and scientific content as you.
- Work with your department to use your training grant funds or start-up to pay for services. Writers are providing technical assistance with your research and career development.
- Consider developing a longitudinal relationship with a writer, who can coach you as they edit your material over time. Eventually you will need them less and less and gain a stronger return on your investment.