Useful Ideas I Realized on the AMWA Carolinas Spring Convention

July 10, 2018 | Caroline Drucker, PhD, Medical Analysis Scientist II  │ Medical Writing Companies

In Might, the Carolinas Chapter of the American Medical Writers Affiliation (AMWA) held its annual spring convention on the Friday Middle in Chapel Hill, NC. With this location handy to Analysis Triangle Park, I used to be fortuitously capable of attend, meet different medical writers within the space, and find out about an array of subjects from the 6 audio system and different attendees. The topics ranged from the technical (environment friendly use of Microsoft Phrase) to the writing course of (methods for targeted authoring, approaches for efficacy and security summaries in advertising and marketing purposes, and modifying your personal work) to the “softer” expertise concerned in medical writing (similar to interpersonal interactions and dealing from residence).

Microsoft Phrase Ideas

Following breakfast, the day kicked off with a full of life speak on “All the pieces You Needed to Know About Phrase however Have been Afraid to Ask” from IMPACT’s very personal BJ Witkin. An hour-long presentation on how one can use Microsoft Phrase extra effectively could sound like it will be uninteresting, however BJ stored us laughing all through. Furthermore, as most of us medical writers spend a considerable amount of time every day working in Phrase, we paid rapt consideration to BJ’s tips about such subjects as formatting tables, utilizing find-and-replace for extra advanced objects, and how one can create bookmarks correctly and keep away from including line breaks or additional textual content into them.

For instance, do you know that you could shift a row up or down inside a desk by holding down Alt+Shift after which utilizing the up or down arrows? This avoids having so as to add a brand new empty row, delete the previous row, or fear about whether or not the entire row will copy-and-paste accurately. (Sadly, as one attendee requested about, this shortcut solely works for rows – there isn’t any comparable trick for columns.)

Or have you ever ever written a 200-page report wherein a sure key time period – say, AMWA18 – seems repeatedly, solely to find that you need to have formatted a part of this time period in another way all through – say, AMWA18? You do not want to spend a tedious half-hour going by means of your doc and manually subscripting each occasion. As an alternative, BJ confirmed us that you could merely spotlight one accurately‑formatted occasion of the time period (AMWA18 on this case), hit Ctrl+C so it’s copied, after which open the discover‑and-replace window. Enter the time period you wish to exchange (AMWA18 on this case) within the “Discover what” subject, after which the characters ^c within the “Change with” subject. This instructs Phrase to make use of no matter was most not too long ago positioned in your clipboard. Fairly nice timesaver!

Throughout a part of BJ’s speak, the individual behind me couldn’t assist however exclaim, “That is superb!” I really feel the identical means each time BJ helps me work out why one thing weird is occurring in a doc (eg, all of the heading numbers have all of the sudden disappeared, or the desk numbers are exhibiting up in a seemingly random order), or exhibits me how one can automate some repetitive job in Phrase. We’re fortunate to have him on our workforce at IMPACT. Be at liberty to contact us in the event you’d like to learn from BJ and our different publishers’ knowledge.

Centered Authoring

Subsequent up, Kimberly Jochman of Merck spoke about “Utilizing a Centered Authoring Technique to Create a Message‑Pushed Deliverable.” The targeted authoring strategy (which a few of us may know as lean authoring) encourages a writing model that can assist readers keep targeted on the important thing messages. Kimberly defined that these days, our audiences are most likely studying our paperwork on display screen fairly than in print. Studying on display screen tends to ivolve extra time looking and scanning (fairly than truly studying), recognizing key phrases, studying every part solely as soon as and sure in a nonlinear order, and studying extra selectively. Thus, it’s extra vital than ever to verify our factors are coming throughout clearly.

The primary thought behind targeted authoring is to rigorously contemplate whether or not each bit of textual content is wanted, clear, and correct. I gained’t delve a lot into accuracy right here; to that time, Kimberly emphasised the significance of constructing exact statements that enable for proper interpretation.

To make sure necessity:

  • Preserve your specific viewers in thoughts. Regulatory authorities, healthcare suppliers, lecturers, and sufferers every have completely different ranges of technical data and completely different pursuits.
  • Keep away from repeating info in several sections, similar to restating the strategies within the outcomes part. Use a hyperlinked cross-reference if wanted; keep in mind that when paperwork are learn on a pc or different system, completely different sections are simply “one click on away.”
  • Current knowledge in tables solely, and write statements that interpret the info; a reviewer can have a look at the desk to see what the numbers are.

To make sure readability:

  • Keep consistency all through the doc. Develop a method sheet early within the writing course of, use phrases the identical means in all elements of the doc, and use parallel construction (ie, current info in a hard and fast order).
  • Think about whether or not a determine or desk could also be simpler to grasp than textual content.

Above all, be concise. Kimberly’s rule of thumb is that each phrase ought to be wanted, both so as to add info or to stick to right grammar. One among my favourite classes of the day was when Kimberly suggested us to make use of fewer phrases and easier language at any time when doable: “Don’t really feel like it’s good to sound clever through the use of extra phrases; as a substitute, let the reader really feel clever as a result of they perceive what you’re saying.”

One tip that raised some controversy was how one can order info inside a sentence (particularly in longer sentences). Kimberly suggested beginning with an important info, to make certain that the primary level doesn’t get misplaced. Nonetheless, of their well-known 1990 American Scientist article “The Science of Scientific Writing,” George Gopen and Judith Swan as a substitute recommend that an important info ought to come on the finish of a sentence, because the reader’s thoughts extra naturally emphasizes that location. I have no idea if extra analysis has been carried out on this matter since 1990, particularly with the rise of digital units for studying – so for now, simply know that opinions could differ on how finest to order info!

Kimberly additional mentioned how one can set a workforce’s expectations when utilizing a targeted authoring strategy, which can be completely different, surprising, and even anxiety-provoking for some Sponsors. As writers, we might be proactive and describe the advantages of this strategy at kick-off conferences. We will additional emphasize in emails to our doc reviewers a few of what they need to anticipate to see. And if we’re having hassle getting sure workforce members on board, the following speaker had nice tips about interpersonal relations and communication.

Coping with Difficult Individuals

The pre-lunch slot is at all times a tricky one, however fortunately Robin Whitsell of Whitsell Improvements, Inc., led a dynamic and fascinating session titled “It’s Not Me, It’s You: Coping with Difficult Groups and Coworkers.” She described 7 persona varieties whose mission, from the author’s perspective, appears to be disrupting no matter we’re engaged on. We broke into teams, with every group assigned one of many persona varieties (Large Cheese, Editor, Tangent Ninja, Passive Aggressive, Bully, Credit score Hound, and Crickets), and mentioned our experiences with such individuals and the way finest to maintain the undertaking shifting ahead when you’ve an individual like that on the workforce. A pair that caught with me:

The Large Cheese. This individual thinks their viewpoint is an important, and tends to bulldoze the opposite individuals within the room. They could have been with the corporate a very long time, and can insist that “that is the way in which we do issues.” Or maybe they’ve hung out working elsewhere and use that to validate their opinion: “Effectively, once I was on the FDA, that is how we at all times did it, and naturally we’ve got to do it this manner now.”

Some methods for dealing with a Large Cheese included acknowledging their experience, however not essentially doing all the pieces they are saying. Give them house to say their piece, after which carry the main focus again to the doc at hand. Ask if what they’re suggesting is important or good to have. Attempt to pull different workforce members into the dialogue. Maybe most vital, do NOT name out this individual in group conferences if they’re mistaken or inflicting difficulties; handle any points privately.

The Credit score Hound. This individual thinks that the undertaking is all about them, and all good concepts had been theirs. When confronted with somebody who takes credit score for all the pieces, attempt to give them the advantage of the doubt. Maybe one thing was talked about some time in the past by one other workforce member, and the Credit score Hound has forgotten about that when it creeps into their head as a good suggestion now – they could actually consider it was their very own thought. Additionally, if the individual is a supervisor or undertaking lead, they wish to be certain that issues get carried out and may current an thought as their very own to verify it has the right clout for others to comply with.

One other nice technique is to set a tone in your office or workforce of naming the one that has an thought. For instance, as a substitute of “I feel we must always change the order of those two sections,” go along with “I agree with [insert name]’s suggestion to modify the order of those two sections.” This reminds everybody whose thought it actually was, and makes it more durable for somebody to steal credit score. Lastly, whereas it’s crucial for quite a lot of causes to be acknowledged to your concepts, within the short-term it could possibly assist to take any credit score thievery as inner validation that you just considered one thing nice.

Generally, Robin reminded us that no matter what kind of individual we’re working with, we must always at all times assume constructive intent. This may require making a narrative in our heads – for instance, maybe an aggressive workforce member is simply actually passionate in regards to the drug improvement program and desires sufferers to learn from it as a lot (and as quickly) as doable. An perspective of assuming good intentions retains our interactions civil and productive, and may also help maintain us comfortable in our jobs.

Lunch Break: Roundtable Discussions

Every desk at lunch had a devoted dialogue matter associated to among the much less technical facets of medical writing, similar to “Your Artistic Facet,” “Breaking in to Medical Writing,” and “Staying Match/Work-life Stability.” I sat at a desk with the subject “Working from Residence,” led by September Mihaly (who additionally organized the convention). A couple of of the individuals on the desk labored from residence full time, just a few had the choice to make money working from home a pair days every week, and some had been looking for positions that gave them extra flexibility to make money working from home.

We shared strategies for avoiding the pitfalls of working from residence, similar to:

  • Don’t let work creep into all elements of your life, each when it comes to bodily house – arrange a devoted residence workplace! – in addition to time – set a schedule for every day and follow it!
  • To keep away from isolation and construct or preserve relationships, make some extent to have cellphone calls along with your colleagues sometimes, fairly than solely utilizing e mail.
  • Make sure that anybody you reside with understands that when you find yourself working from residence, you might be working. Being at residence doesn’t essentially imply you’ve the time to clean the dishes, do the yardwork, present “taxi” companies, or chat all through the day.

ISE and ISS Authoring

The primary speak of the afternoon was from IMPACT’s Elaina Howard and Tim Garver on “Sensible ISE and ISS Authoring Approaches That Help Advertising and marketing Utility Approvals.” I gained’t steal Elaina and Tim’s thunder; look out for future weblog posts about authoring Built-in Abstract of Effectiveness (ISE) and Built-in Abstract of Security (ISS) paperwork. (OK, I’ll give away one factor I realized – seems the E doesn’t stand for Efficacy!)

Enhancing Your Personal Work

The ultimate presentation of the day was from Hope Lafferty of Hope Lafferty Communications. She stored issues full of life whereas explaining the distinctions among the many writing, modifying, and proofreading processes:

  1. Writing ought to be the experimental section: throw all of your concepts down on paper with out worrying an excessive amount of in regards to the wording.
  2. Enhancing entails tightening up the messages and sharpening the language.
  3. Hope described the proofreading course of as “image recognition,” wherein the reader is in search of exhausting errors similar to typos, lacking or repeated phrases, grammar, incorrect math, and inconsistent model.

Hope emphasised the necessity, whereas modifying, to get again to a contemporary thoughts about textual content you’ve been engaged on for some time. Cognitive compensation permits us to fill in issues that aren’t there, or to rearrange letters or phrases into one thing that is sensible. Additionally, in the event you come again to do a read-through and end up skimming over a part of a doc as a result of it’s boring or since you don’t like desirous about it, that’s most likely the half that wants probably the most work!

Moreover, Hope offered a variety of concrete modifying ideas. For instance, apart from some makes use of of “solely” or “considerably,” it’s best to keep away from adverbs in technical writing. There are additionally frequent redundancies that ought to be eradicated, similar to “a time when” (merely say “when”), “future plans” (if they’re “plans” then they’re sooner or later), and “4 separate/completely different [studies, occasions, etc]” (enumerating them implies they’re distinct).


Total, I had a fantastic expertise on the AMWA Carolinas convention this 12 months. Every of the talks touched on completely different facets of the job of a medical author, and I gained extra views from chatting with the opposite attendees.

I hope you’ve discovered among the ideas I picked up the convention useful, and in the event you’re a medical author, maybe I’ll see you there subsequent 12 months. If in case you have questions, or are in search of an creator to your regulatory paperwork, please don’t hesitate to contact us at IMPACT!

All pictures on this publish, apart from the Microsoft Phrase screenshot created by the creator, are from beneath a CC0 license.

Class: Medical Writing Companies
Key phrases:  Medical writing, AMWA, Microsoft Phrase, persona varieties, working from residence, modifying

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