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    FREELANCE SPOTLIGHT << Clement Weinberger

    Clement Weinberger An interview with Clement Weinberger
    Published 23 October 2010

    Clement Weinberger is a freelance medical writer based near New York who trades as sole proprietor of his own company The Stylus. During his career Clement has been a researcher in cell biology, a lecturer, a product marketing manager for a medical device manufacturer, a sales rep, a technical writer, a publication planner, and medical communications director at pharmaceutical company Sanofi (now Sanofi-Aventis following the acquisition of Aventis by Sanofi-Synthélabo in 2004). In short, there’s little that Clement doesn’t know about the medical writing and publication planning industry.

    NETWORKING AND CONTACTS

    Q: On your blog you describe your career as “A Long and Winding Road”, and indeed it does seem to have been. You originally started out as a researcher. Why did you leave the research environment?

    A: When I finished my degree in cell biology I had the chance to travel to the Netherlands for a year — to work in the Hubrecht lab of developmental biology. It was great experience, but when my time was over and I came back to the states I didn’t have a job to go to. While I did eventually find a fulltime position teaching at Seton Hall University there were eleven in the department and five of us had been hired one year after another for a tenure track position, so it was clear to me that only one of us would get tenure.

    Q: And as you explain on your blog it was not you that got the tenured position. You also say that you wanted to go somewhere where you could make more money.

    A: That’s pretty much what happened. As I say, I knew the tenure wasn’t going to happen and one of my hobbies at the time was looking at ads in the newspaper. I ran across an ad for a company that said it was looking for an academic to do scientific presentations. It looked like a fairly easy transition because it meant lecturing, and it didn’t involve tenure. Of course, it did involve loss of summer vacation, but at that point it had many advantages in my mind. So I answered the ad, and eventually got the job.

    Q: How did that lead to working as a technical writer for medical education companies?

    A: Well, I moved from the scientist lecturer position to become a product marketing manager for a company that sold leukocyte removal filters for blood and platelet transfusion. That involved less travelling but a much longer trip to work. In fact, I had an enormous commute, which I really couldn’t do; it was just too far. So I got into oncology sales for a start-up lab. That company was later sold, so I called up a friend of mine who worked for a medical communications agency and asked if they had a position for somebody like me. My friend said, “I think so. We’ve got a new client and we could use a writer”. So that is how that happened.

    Q: Where did you go from there?

    A: It turned out that that company wasn’t the best place to work: people were overworked and there was a very high turnover. So when one of my friends found another position I asked them for the name of their head-hunter. About a month later I had an offer from another company — Churchill Communications. That was when I first began doing publication planning. Eventually that company too was also sold, after which I had a spell as a freelance writer. Actually, I was quite happy doing the freelancing but a friend who had set up an online CV clearing house in England asked me to post my CV online. As a result a head-hunter based in France found my CV and contacted me out of the blue, on the basis that the most recent job listed on my CV (for a medical education company) had the same job title as his client — Sanofi Pasteu (Then Aventis Pasteur) — was looking for. That was in March 2002. By September I was at work in France.

    Q: And today you are freelance writing again.

    A: Yes. It was a great company and I had a great job, and I was there six years. But my wife — who is from the Czech Republic — found out that if you are over 60 and have worked in France for more than five years, you can retire! So I put in my papers and retired. But I told everybody I could find that while I was retiring I didn’t plan to stop working. Soon a lot of my contacts were sending me work.

    So as you can see, my career has indeed been “A Long and Winding Road”. And looking back I would say it has really come down to networking and contacts.

    Q: You’ve returned to the US and are based in New York I believe?

    A: I’m 40 miles from New York City.

    Q: You market yourself as The Stylus. Is that your own company, or are there a group of people involved?

    A: It is my own company, a sole proprietorship. As a writer working in the US you wouldn’t need a company — you just need a social security number and a bank account. But I find that my European clients can’t pay me as an individual. So I had to start a company; and the easiest way of doing that was to form one in the Czech Republic.

    Q: As I understand, it medical writing can encompass many things — writing clinical papers, mini reviews, case reports, editorials, letters, comments, posters, slide kits etc. etc. Do you do most of these things?

    A: I am available for all the jobs you mention, but my soliciting for work hasn’t been all-inclusive yet. I have done a couple of review papers, but most of my freelance work to date has been providing writing assistance for primary research articles. In the end it comes down to the nature of the work that your contacts happen to have.

    Q: Do you get involved in any publication planning or marketing at the moment?

    A: Well, I just got a job from a company that involves doing what they call a strategic platform. That includes producing a position paper on the state of the therapy today, looking at their studies and doing a basic publication plan. That is the first job like that that I have gotten.

    THE PROCESS

    Q: Can you talk me through a typical day for you?

    A: Well, I wake up, make a coffee, sit down to check my emails, answer them as required, and then I take a look at my to-do list to see whether the priorities remain the same for all my projects; and then I start writing, or doing the different processes needed to get the writing done. You can’t keep everything in your head, so I learned to use FileMaker to create a database with all my projects and their milestones, and I keep track of those projects by looking them up in my database.

    When I was at Sanofi I used to use Microsoft Project, but I just couldn’t get along with it. At one point I tried to use it as a publication planning tool, because the clinical trial monitors used it to track the progress of our trials. I wanted to get publication planning hooked into the clinical trial monitoring. Eventually two of us succeeded in doing that, but it wasn’t by using MS Project, but rather software that we developed in-house.

    Q: How many projects do you typically have on the go at any one time?

    A: The number varies.

    Q: What is the process of writing a paper: Who commissions you? And who do you liaise with for instance?

    A: Most of my jobs come from a pharma company. Usually I will have one contact in the company — a publication manager, or somebody who is co-ordinating publications for a particular division in the company, maybe a franchise division. Their job is to co-ordinate a series of on-going publications reporting on various trials, or reviews. I will be given the clinical study report, a study number and study title, and some references. Sometimes I will write an outline and send it back for review and approval by the authors — including the local investigators. Other times I will be given an outline and asked to produce the first draft. I always contract to do at least one revision.

    Q: When you say local investigators do you mean the doctors who are in charge of the trial?

    A: Yes, it is usually the hospital physicians who are actually recruiting patients.

    Q: How many steps are there in producing the paper? And what happens in each stage?

    A: There is a general process. If, say, the process begins with an outline produced by me it will then go back and forth between me and the contact in the company, who will get the approval of the publications steering committee. Once the outline is approved I write a first draft and if at any point I have any questions, or any particular need, I turn to my contact. I usually allow three to four weeks to write the draft of a primary research paper. Once it is written I send it back and the contact circulates it for a first-level review. I then get back further comments, which I merge into a revised document. This becomes version two of the article, and goes back for a second round of comments. By then everybody will have commented and so I make a final revision.

    The paper then goes back for final approval. Once I have that I format the document for the journal we plan to submit it to, give it a last read and send it back. If they want me to I can also submit the paper online on behalf of the authors — although most of the time they do that themselves. So typically the process of writing a paper is to produce two versions with two rounds of revision. It’s pretty straightforward.

    Q: Can you say more about how the review process works, and who is involved?

    A: What I am finding lately is that there is increasingly less and less marketing input. Most of the company reviewers are medical affairs and clinical monitoring statistics people, along with the local investigator. All the clients I’ve worked with have adhered to the journals’ authorship guidelines.

    Q: Presumably there is sometimes conflict over the wording of an article. How is any disagreement adjudicated?

    A: Well, when the reviews come back you sometimes see an interesting interplay between the company reviewers and the local investigators. Generally it is the local investigator who is really the expert, but sometimes it is the company MD. And sometimes you will find that the doctor in the company wants to say something that is not so much promotional but, although it might be correct, is not necessary as part of an interpretation of the results. But usually it is the investigator who has the clearest view of the marketing messages that find their way into the paper — either from me or from somebody in the company. So, essentially the final say on the wording comes down to the authors of the paper.

    Q: As you point out on your blog, there could then be a further round of revisions after the paper has been through the peer review process.

    A: Yes, I often draft a response to the peer-review questions and revise the manuscript.

    Q: Have you ever contributed to a path-breaking paper, or one that has been very highly cited?

    A: Yes — and the articles have included acknowledgement of medical writing assistance. (The journals asked for that).

    THE AIM

    Q: Who is an author in the context of a paper written by a freelance writer?

    A: The author is somebody who either recruited patients, analysed the data, designed the study or protocol, or who wrote the paper; essentially, somebody who can take public responsibility for what is written. ISMPP has guidelines on authorship and ethical publication.

    Q: How would you describe the purpose and aim of what you are doing when you are drafting a paper? What is it you see yourself doing?

    A: My role is to ensure that the study results published in the journal are pretty much as they are posted online, along with an objective interpretation of those results. The way it works is that the protocols and the results of a trial are posted online and they then reference the publication that I help to write.

    Q: When you say the results are posted online I guess you are referring to a clinical trials database?

    A: Yes, clinicaltrials.gov for example.

    In short, my role is to complete the process of the study. Because the final step of a study really should be to publish the results.

    Q: Who do you see as the audience when you are drafting a paper?

    A: Sometimes my contact in the company will ask me to recommend a journal. My role is then to design the publication for the readership of that journal, whether it is a specialist or generalist readership.

    In a nutshell, my job is to take the language in the clinical study report and modify it so that it becomes readable and understandable to the people who are likely to be interested in the results of the research.

    Q: As the writer (rather than the author) you should be acknowledged. This is usually expressed as your having provided “editorial support”. Presumably the phrase editorial support can imply quite a range of different things?

    A: It could. It can be anything from actually writing the drafts to simply proof reading a paper. When I worked at Sanofi I was working with a lot of people who were not native English speakers. In that case my job was to help them get their papers published in English journals, and so was another way of providing editorial support. So you are right: the term covers everything from writing the first draft of a paper, to doing revisions, to proof reading. It may well be that journals will eventually ask for more specific information about exactly what kind of writing assistance was provided.

    THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DESK

    Q: We’ve discussed how you work as a freelance writer. How did your job differ when you were working in a pharmaceutical company, and presumably commissioning others to write papers?

    A: Essentially I was sitting the other side of the desk. I was in a medical affairs division and my job was publication planning. So I had to have a comprehensive view of what studies were on-going. To that end we would have monthly meetings to discuss the current studies, when they would be completed and what conferences were available. This involved having Excel charts or Gantt charts showing what was coming up.

    Q: I assume you didn’t draft the papers yourself?

    A: If we wanted to produce a review article I would do a lot of the initial writing, at least of the outline; and I would name myself as an author as a result.

    But when it came to the actual primary research publications there was no way I could write them — there were simply too many; and I had a lot of other things to do. So I outsourced them to a small agency in the States run by some friends of mine — people I knew could write pretty well.

    You know, the hardest thing in this business is finding freelancers who can really write. So in addition, I had two or three freelance people to whom I would send stuff in the way I am sent papers today. Again, this would include sending the study report, whatever references they needed, and an outline.

    Q: So the process was essentially the same, but it was now you doing the commissioning?

    A: More or less. When I got back the first draft I would make any changes I felt were needed and then circulate it the company the way that people do with me now. However, when I got their comments I would usually put them in myself — because I found it was less expensive that way. Obviously my time was worth something, but it was more economical and quicker to do it that way.

    So basically it was similar to what happens now when I am asked to do a paper. The difference is that I am on the agency side of the desk today rather than the pharmaceutical side. And as I say, when I was on the pharmaceutical side I did more of the revisions.

    Q: Did you use medical education companies to write papers?

    A: I had a couple of small companies I worked with. The problem with agencies is that they cost more money than freelance writers.

    Q: Indeed, and I would imagine that there is quite a difference in cost. I noticed, for instance, that the recent PLoS Medicine article on ghost-writing reported that ten years ago Wyeth was paying a medical education company as much as $20,000 to $25,000 per article.

    A: Yes, I have given that a lot of thought. When I worked for medical education companies publication planning was very interesting and well received, there is no question about that — because at the time, in the late 1990s up to 2002 when I left, we were able to offer a far more extensive publication planning service, and at the time it was mostly marketing people who were commissioning it. Moreover, they were very happy to pay for it.

    But you know it is difficult for an agency to make money on publications because of the very high overhead rates attached to using in-house writers. We used to charge $20,000 to $30,000 for a paper — and the only way that figure could provide a profit margin would be to pay a freelancer $5,000 or $6,000 to write it, and then cross your fingers and hope that when the paper came back it didn’t need a lot of work.

    Q: Why are in-house writers so expensive?

    A: Because the way agencies typically work is that you have to account for whatever you do: every hour has to be accounted for and billed to a client; and every project has a budget.

    Q: You are saying that medical education companies bill by the hour in the way lawyer’s firms do?

    A: Some do, but not all. And so when you have to write an article unless you can send it out to a really good freelance writer you will always exceed the time budgeted.

    Q: I conclude from what you said that the $20,000 to $25,000 per article cited by PLoS Medicine is an under-estimate of what it really costs?

    A: I think so. But you know I am not an accountant, and it may only be an accountancy thing. What I am saying is that on paper it costs more than $25,000 for an agency to write a good article.

    PUBLICATION PLANNING

    Q: Let’s look at publication planning in more detail. On your blog you wrote when discussing publication planning, “Choosing journals and identifying authors ought to be part of your plan too”. That seems to me to imply that when a pharmaceutical company organises the writing of an article it will plan the paper before identifying any authors. Is that how it works?

    A: Not any more. When I started out, there were instances where when writing review papers a company would choose the authors the same way we would choose speakers for a satellite symposium at a professional meeting, or congress. But I haven’t seen that done recently. Today everybody who is listed as an author has generally played an active role in writing and reviewing the paper.

    Q: So how did it used to work?

    A: In the past the author pretty much got given a draft that had been read and reviewed by the agency. However, even then the physician or medical person was always given free rein to determine the final wording of the paper. After all, their name was on the paper.

    So we are not talking about ghost written articles here, where the author just signed the paper. Having said that, it was sometimes difficult to know how carefully authors had read the draft, especially if they were highly published.

    But I am saying that it is that my feeling that that practice has ended. Yes, in the past there were instances of papers being written for experts who basically didn’t have much idea of what was in the paper, other than reading it once or twice. But today a lot of pressures have made that practice far less frequent, not least pressure from medical journals.

    Q: Medical education companies and publication planners have been the object of a great deal of criticism in the past few years, particularly over issue of ghost writing. To what extent do you think these criticisms are justified?

    A: There may be some basis to the criticism, but in my experience it was always the exception rather than the rule. Personally, I have never been involved in a publication that I thought had just been sent to somebody who signed it without taking responsibility for it. It is just my opinion, but I think these kinds of stories are published because they make for good news. Someone will find an example where a paper has been ghost-written, and they will highlight it, and make it seem a much more frequent occurrence than it ever was.

    Q: When I spoke to Caitlin Rothermel — who was the subject of the first profile I did — she pointed out that the PLoS Medicine article about ghost writing describes events that took place ten years ago. Things are different today she said, and the industry has changed. I think you are saying something similar?

    A: Yes, I think that is correct.

    Q: Nevertheless, Caitlin did also say in the interview that she had fairly recently been asked by a medical education company to, as she put it, “shill” for a new product. Clearly that kind of thing is still happening?

    A: It is hard for me to comment on that because I haven’t been working in a medical education company since 2002. But I get the feeling that such things are now far less frequent. Moreover, I am not sure what it means here to say shill for a new product. Unless you were one of the publication planners in the company it is hard to know what the purpose of such a paper would be.

    Q: Caitlin’s point I think was that she was being asked to write a paper for which the medical education company appeared to have no authors in mind. I assume this caused here to be suspicious that she was being asked to ghost write a paper. You personally are not involved in any kind of ghost writing today I assume?

    A: Correct. In almost every instance since I retired in 2008 it is quite clear from the comments I get back on papers I have drafted (because they are always tracked) that the people who are commenting on them are either people whose names are on the authors list, or people like a statistician or clinical trial monitor, or me the writer, whose name is in the acknowledgements. So ostensibly there are no hidden people behind the scenes who are not on the authors list or in the acknowledgments. When I worked in Pharma, I know that I was not involved with any ghost written publications.

    Q: In an email to me when I asked about acknowledgements you said, “I've found that although journals ask for this acknowledgement (which does not reduce the chances of acceptance for publication), it has not always been given.” What are you saying? That even now if a journal asks for acknowledgements they don’t necessarily get it?

    A: No, in my experience if the journal has asked for acknowledgements of medical writing they always get it. At least so far as papers I am involved with are concerned. On the other hand, if the journal doesn’t ask for it, sometimes they still may not get it.

    MARKETING MESSAGES

    Q: Have you ever put what PLoS Medicine calls “marketing messages” into a paper?

    A: Always.

    Q: Sorry?

    A: Perhaps I view things slightly differently, but when I was working in an agency doing publication planning we would have a meeting with the pharmaceutical client where we would sit down and draw up a list of on-going studies, and look at existing results and the study protocols to see what results were anticipated. We would then make lists of promotional statements — messages essentially — and determine the degree of support for those statements we anticipated the results would show, assuming the trial turned out as we expected.

    However, I would say a better way to express what we did was that we were looking for ways in which we could interpret the significance of our results in order to support our product. To call these “marketing message” is, in my view, an unfair characterisation of that process.

    Q: I think what you are saying is that it is only natural for a pharmaceutical company to want the papers it organises (and pays for) to play up the good points of its drugs?

    A: Well they have to. And if you look at it from the other side, if you are a regulatory person at, say, the FDA or EMA, when you look at the promotional material for a drug and you see a statement that says, for instance, that it has a good safety profile it will be accompanied by a reference. You can then look up that reference and see not only the results of the clinical trial, but also the interpretation of those results in the paper.

    It is after all the interpretation that finds its way into the promotional literature — so in writing that paper you are communicating a message about a product. You can call it a marketing message if you like, but what it comes down to is that it is a statement that supports a claim you are making about your product, that the research shows to be a legitimate claim.

    Q: I suppose the other side of the coin here is where a pharmaceutical company might ask a writer not to mention any negative aspects that the clinical trial may have thrown up about a product?

    A: Actually exactly that issue came up once when I was still working in an agency. The investigator — the person who had managed the study — wanted to include in the discussion section of the paper something that the pharmaceutical company viewed as negative. When challenged, the investigator said, “Listen what I want added is realistic, and the results show it to be an issue. However, it doesn’t negate the other things I want to say”. The important point is that the investigator got his way, by arguing that it was his paper.

    Q: To go back to publication planning for a movement. You have written about the topic in a number of blog posts (e.g. here, here, and here). In doing so, you talk of, as you put it, the need to “commercialise a pharmaceutical product”. You further say, “Successful publication of original research, supportive and derivative articles helps assure that the market is ready for a product at the same time that the product is approved for the market … [so] … Which journals and which readers are you going to target?” I suspect that non-medical scientists, and the public at large, would wonder that the act of writing a scholarly paper is described in such a manner. They might say, “Is not the purpose of publishing a paper to allow scientists to share their research findings, not to market products”?

    A: Yes, they might. But I would argue that there is a difference between communicating basic research and communicating medical research.

    Q: Can you explain the difference?

    A: In the world of medical research you are dealing with approved drugs, or therapeutics, or whatever — things that need to be licenced by a regulatory agency for marketing. And in the process of bringing a product to market you have to go through a whole series of clinical studies (pre-clinical, phase one etc.). The results of these studies are then written up for the regulatory agencies, and interpreted by experts.

    Q: You are talking about clinical trials?

    A: Correct. But you have another important audience too: the people who are going to prescribe the medication. These will generally be generalists and non-specialists. So the purpose of the publication process is to communicate the clinical trial results — along with an interpretation and a discussion of the medication — to the people who will be prescribing it.

    Q: In other words, the aim of a medical research paper, as you put it on your blog, is to “transform clinical study summaries, which are designed mainly for regulatory authorities, into articles that journal editors, reviewers and their readers will want to read and will understand”?

    A: Yes. Because the readers will likely have very little idea of what this agent is and does unless there are peer-reviewed publications in which they can read and learn about them. The fact is that they will have neither the patience nor the background to digest the raw results as they are written up in the clinical study reports.

    So the purpose of publishing articles in journals is to translate these reports into language that the physician can grasp quickly.

    Q: And it is your task to do that translation?

    A: Basically, yes. To communicate the results in an objective way, with an interpretation that takes the study results that have been produced for a regulatory audience and makes them accessible to a practising medical audience.

    CREATURE OF THE DRUG INDUSTRY?

    Q: I guess another question the public might ask is why is it routine for medical scientists to have someone pay to have their research written up for them when historians, sociologist and, say, physicists are not provide with that privilege?

    A: Maybe they are! But ok, it is a good question to ask. And the answer is that if you have raw clinical trial information that the medical research and regulatory people can understand, but the physicians whose patients would benefit from the medication cannot, you have a problem. What physicians need is access to a publication that has been reviewed by experts, includes interpretations, and is readable. As I say, that is essentially what publication planning is about.

    You know, journals prefer freelance writers to be used to produce medical papers. I know because a while back I went to a peer review congress organised by the American Medical Association (AMA) where pretty much all the editors said that they favoured the use of professional medical writers — so long as they were acknowledged in the publication itself. And their rationale for saying so was that it ensures that papers are better written.

    Q: I saw a video of a Medcomms forum held in Oxford recently. There was a doctor on one of the panels who asked the following question: “Why is it only the medical profession that has its continuing education paid for by large corporations.” Is he right? If so, what is the answer to his question?

    A: Well it’s certainly true that medical education — or CME as it is called in the States — was something that we did it in the companies I worked for. And it’s true that it was paid for by pharmaceutical companies. So, for instance, a pharmaceutical company would fund us to develop presentations for people who would speak at congresses. However, we always had it certified as being balanced and available for CME credit.

    But if you think about it, if you go to a medical congress and see something on the official program that has been developed by a professional organisation like AAAS or ASCO, or any professional group, you will find out that while the funding for their internal meetings is not pharmaceutical money, it is still money from an association of specialists. The point is that information is never free. The important thing is for somebody to review the information and ensure that it is educational rather than promotional.

    Q: One of the people speaking at the Medcomms forum I mentioned was the former British Medical Journal editor Richard Smith. After the event he wrote on the BMJ blog, “My conclusion was that the ‘medcomms community’ needs to increase its credibility by finding customers in addition to the drug industry and preferably including some non-commercial customers. While it’s seen as a creature of the drug industry it will always be seen as tainted.” Does he have a point?

    A: Yes, he probably does have a point. One thing I have noticed is that pretty much the only freelance writers who can make a lot of money are medical writers. And that really comes down to the amount of money that sponsors can provide.

    But you have to bear in mind that the costs of doing clinical trials, and then commercialising a drug, could not be met by a publicly-supported institution. Only a large organisation like a pharmaceutical company can provide the necessary money, and it is these companies that provide the money to pay for the writing services that people like me provide.

    But there is nothing sinister in this; it is just the way the business has grown. And it is a historical artefact. The budget is there, the goal is worthwhile, and nobody else could sponsor the development process.

    WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY?

    Q: You say there is nothing sinister in this. On the other hand, as we have discussed, since the profitability of these pharmaceutical companies hangs on the results of trials, and the way they are written up, the process can be corrupted: the named authors of papers — including the local investigator who managed a clinical trial — may have only been superficially involved in writing up research papers intended to inform doctors about a drug. And a ghost writer may have been paid a large sum of money by a pharmaceutical company and encouraged to make unjustifiable claims about the drug. The problem for the industry here surely is one of transparency. If there is no acknowledgement in the paper no one outside the small group of people who produced the paper would know whether a medical writer had been used. And we don’t know what role the authors played in the production of the paper other than what is or is not acknowledged. Isn’t that a problem for the industry?

    A: It could be, but one solution that is being pursued by some journals to insist on a statement that the investigator had full access and control over the data at all times during manuscript development. Another approach — and this is sometimes done by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) — is to have an outside statistician look at the data. In addition, sometimes you are asked to publish online supplemental information on your methods or statistics.

    Q: So you believe there are effective ways to address these issues?

    A: I think so.

    Q: Ultimately, whose responsibility is it to ensure ethical behaviour in the business?

    A: Ideally the system will be self-governing. The people who are running the studies and the development of the drug really should be ethical and not try to conceal things.

    Q: Do you think that the bulk of responsibility should fall on the shoulders of the authors — the people who, as you pointed out, have their names publicly attached to a paper?

    A: It comes down to the company itself, the code of ethics of either the pharmaceutical company or the agency, or indeed the writer. Another solution lies in pharmacovigilance, which has drastically increased in recent years. This means there is also post-marketing surveillance of drugs. This has proved very successful in uncovering risks associated with products. After all, in many cases these risks may be very small but real; small enough that they might not have been observed given the size of the studies conducted. For this reason, we are also seeing studies composed of 13,000, 15,000 or 20,000 people — all with the aim of improving safety.

    MARKET YOURSELF

    Q: Finally then, what advice would you give to someone who came to you and said they wanted to get into medical writing?

    A: I would say the first thing to do is put together an information pack describing yourself, your experience, and your background, because the first task is to market yourself effectively.

    In addition, you need to contact people, and get noticed. So get involved with professional groups like ISMAP, or AMWA or EMWA; and get to know other writers, and learn how they work. And of course be aware of the ethical issues.

    Q: What would you say were the main skills a medical writer needs?

    A: I would say all the skills you develop in graduate school if you are a PhD, PharmD or MD will give you a good grounding. You will have learned the analytical skills to write valid interpretations of complex data.

    And then you will need to learn clear writing techniques. Some people acquire these naturally; others need to learn.

    Q: Do you need to be a science graduate?

    A: No. There are two sides to this. You have people who might have gone to school and done a degree in English or history but who write well — they can learn enough science to write a document that can be reviewed and revised by the authors. And then you have people who have the science but who have to learn to write. So you are a good writer who learns science, or a scientist who learns to write well.

    The most important thing is to understand what you are writing about. One of my heroes is the physicist Richard Feynman. He said, “Anything is simple once you understand it”. I believe that if you understand something you can explain it clearly. So when you come across an expert has a problem explaining something you can probably conclude that there is something about it that that they haven’t quite put together yet.

    I hope I don’t fall into that category!

    CLEMENT’S HOT LINKS:

  • Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Biomedical Publications
  • CONSORT Statement
  • International Society for Medical Publication Professionals
  • Medical Publishing Insights and Practices Initiative
  • The International Publication Planning Association
  • European Medical Writers Association
  • American Medical Writers Association
  • eTBLAST 3.0: a similarity-based search engine

    © Neil Armand. This work is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic licence.

    Feedback: Do you have any comments about this article? Contact the Publisher, Peter Llewellyn.


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