Do you think that getting your medical drafts published is just the logical step that follows the actual writing of them? Think again.
Here I summarise for you what it takes to have a document that is ready for the public and why you should care.
Why editing and proofreading of medical drafts is important
Editing and proofreading guarantee that your content does what it should do.
- To display the information efficiently to the target readers: your reader is looking for accurate information about a sensitive health problem. Is it a technical audience? Or patients looking for answers?
- To bypass confusions and distractions: you do not want your reader to lose focus and interest in your topic.
- To make sure your text:
- makes sense
- is clear
- is accurate
- and consistent.
- To ensure your audience understands your subject: you must stand as an expert to inspire trust, but be ready to explain and delight with your knowledge.
- To avoid future costs of corrections: any future repair will inevitably cause time and money expenses, depending on the project.
Frequently, we think that a text needs editing and proofreading only to eliminate grammar and style mistakes. But the real benefit of editing and proofreading is in the overall presentation of the manuscript: details matter and add value.
These are the steps to get from an idea to a published text.
When you sit down and face the white page, what is the first thing you do? Do you write the title? Make a mind map of your ideas?
Or do you need to do editing and proofreading of health projects written by someone else?
Either you are the writer or the proofreader, it is always relevant to have in mind the whole process that takes from writing to publishing.
- Briefing: this includes having a clear idea of the audience, style requirements, tone of voice, length, deadlines, type of publication, research or data that needs to be included.
- Planning: who will be involved in revisions, who will do the research, what are the deadlines.
- Research: it is particularly relevant for health projects to have reliable sources of information to prove allegations. Here you can download a practical guide to evaluate clinical studies easily and quickly.
- Writing: you work on the ideas and data and expand them, always having in mind the objective of the document and the reader.
- First draft: organising and stitching together ideas and data.
- Review and edition: usually done by someone different than the writer. If the writer does it, it is helpful to have a checklist to avoid missing any detail.
- Draft 2, 3…n. Go back to 5 until everybody is happy with it.
- Final draft.
- Is everybody happy? Then: proofreading.
- Maybe you need to perform printer proof? Then: go to 8.
- Is everybody happy? Then go to 11.
- Publication (and celebration!)
Three levels of editing and proofreading of medical drafts according to detail.
This step can include re-writing and is also known as macro-editing. It is the first revision of the draft, and there may be evident to slightly subtle mistakes that are easy to oversee when writing a long piece, or when mixing several sources of information.
Relevant here is to follow the guidelines or requirements of the publication, check for consistency and that it is addressed in a way that the target audience will understand.
Here is where the details come into play. The whole document has to be consistent. This means that if you use one type of abbreviation, for example, e.g. keep on using the same acronym throughout the text. The same applies to the following list of features:
- Language, grammar, punctuation, style.
- Abbreviations, symbols and acronyms: it is useful to have a list.
- Italics and bold
- Numbers: words or numerals? How many decimal places?
- Heading levels
- Tables and figures
- Visual style
- Technical issues: colours for printers, characters, etc.
- Drug names, medical terminology
- Confidentiality: no names, masked pictures, etc.
There is nothing more confusing and even painful to the eye as a text that has different types or size, or when you get lost because the titles and subtitles do not correlate with each other. These kinds of mistakes truly affect the credibility of the content and can adversely affect the primary objective of the document.
Rigurosity is especially crucial with regulatory and legal documents, but this does not mean that any material intended for the general public is less significant in this respect.
It is the near-final quality control when the document is close to finished. Here, the proofreader analyses the material as a whole and looks for details that escaped all previous revisions.
It is beneficial to develop a plan, with a checklist of all the details and requirements for the document.
Proofreading is not editing anymore, the primary objective here is to change what is necessary, and nothing more.
One recommendation: avoid proofreading your work.
Tools for efficient editing and proofreading
As crucial as editing and proofreading are for any writing project, editing and proofreading for health projects have specific requirements. And these requirements can be time-consuming.
These are some tools that help with editing and proofreading of health projects:
- Style guides: these are the rules that apply to all documents for any given organisation. They are provided by research journals, funding organisations, or companies.
- Checklists: or reminders of what needs to be done. Useful to assure consistency when several people are working on the same document.
- Software: I use grammar checks like Grammarly or Hemingway.
Details matter. Yes, they do
Do you want your audience to understand your message? Do you want your client to trust in your expertise?
Would you trust a medical doctor that talks nonsense, makes mistakes, or looks dirty and messy? Just like a first impression, your texts are talking directly to your audience.
If you have a document that has inconsistencies, repeated phrases or lacks the information that you need, you will probably, like me, look for someone else that can provide with what you are seeking.
This is especially important in health and medical writing. And this is why the editing and proofreading of medical drafts matters. Apart from the distinct legal requirements of the pharma industry, addressing sensitive issues like disease awareness or new treatments requires that you first establish your authority as an expert.
Your writing is just as if you were talking to your audience.
The good thing is that, typically, there is a bit more time to prepare a text than to give a spontaneous speech. And that there are plenty of resources to help you improve your writing skills and elevate them to a level of excellence.
Do you know any other resources for editing and proofreading? Do you have a system to proofread your documents? Share them here. I want to see what you think.
Barbara Grossman and Marian Hodges, EMWA, May 2018.