Category Archives: Editing and proofreading

My freelance medical writing and editing work in 2017

A combination of work and domestic pressures has meant that it’s been several years since I last able to sit down in a timely fashion to write a review of my working year. I find that it is a useful thing to do, though: it helps me to take stock of what went well, what could have been done better, and what I might choose to concentrate on (or avoid doing) in the future. For anyone interested in freelancing in medcomms, it also provides a snapshot of a freelancer’s lot, and I hope that it will be useful in that respect.

At the beginning of 2017, I was in the position of having quite substantially expanded my business – in terms of the number of clients that I was working with, the types of work I was taking on, and the size and scope of the projects that I was working on – over the previous 2 years. Realistically, without changing the nature of my business (ie by subcontracting or taking on staff) that expansion could not continue, and 2017 has been a year of consolidation.

For many years now, medical writing has been the cornerstone of my business, with editing and proof reading making up an increasingly smaller part of my workload. I have always enjoyed these area of work, however, and I was delighted to be asked to proof read the annual report and updated resource materials for an international not-for-profit organisation that I have been working with now for 3 years. I also edited a good number of slides – primarily for symposia – during the year. Almost always, these projects also included fact checking the slides against cited references or finding references to back up claims made in the slides. This can be very challenging when the slide concerns the finer points of clinical practice that owe much to the expertise and experience of the faculty member, but which perhaps have never been completely captured in a peer-reviewed publication.

As in previous years, an important aspect of my medical writing work in 2017 was the creation of training materials for members of the pharma sales force. This work is interesting to do because it usually involves assembling multiple modules covering basic information about the disease in question, how it is diagnosed and treated, a competitor analysis and information about the new drug/class of drugs, including a review of the available clinical data. In the past, I have done a number of projects with different medcomms agencies in type 2 diabetes, multiple myeloma, and leukaemia; in 2017, I added chronic kidney disease and mucopolysaccharidosis Type I to this list.

One of my favourite medical writing activities is attending and writing up advisory board meetings, and I had several opportunities to do this in 2017. Each was different in terms of the therapy area (breast cancer, allergy and diabetes), the make-up of the board (one or more of consultants, academics, specialist nurses and pharmacists), and their purpose (two being reviews of the therapy landscape and one a discussion about the positioning of a new drug). While two of the meeting reports were simply for the attention of the board members and sponsors, one resulted in a paper which is currently making its way through peer review.

In a similar vein, I was asked to write summary reports of two symposia, one in haematology and one in psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis. Apart from the obvious difference, these were notable for the fact that in one case I received a very poor audio recording and a correspondingly poor transcript, and in the other case I received very high-quality video recordings of the meeting, along with the slides, which was almost as good as actually being there. Recording meetings is often fraught with difficulty, and bitter experience has taught me to make my own audio recording (with the permission of the participants, of course), also to accept a copy of the agency’s/sponsor’s recording (if there is one), and always to take handwritten notes just in case the belt and braces fail. Copies of the slides (or photographs) also help to ensure that the report is as accurate as possible.

My writing work in 2017 also included a few papers: in addition to the review paper based on an advisory board mentioned above, I was commissioned by a start-up medical device company to work with its lead investigators to publish data from trials of its new fertility device and towards the end of the year I worked up an outline for a paper on developments in aesthetic medicine that is currently back with the authors.

The medical device company was one of three brand new clients for me in 2017. That company and one other (a PR agency) found me through my website (www.freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk), while I found the other client through the MedComms Workbook (http://www.medcommsworkbook.com/) – a freelancer listing service that I thoroughly recommend to freelancers in medcomms. It was also good to work for existing contacts who have moved to new agencies. During the summer, I took a 3-month in-house contract with a medcomms agency in West London. Unhappily, that period coincided with the refurbishment of Waterloo station, which made my commute more difficult than I had expected. Clearly, I didn’t do enough background research there. Generally, I enjoy in-house contracts as opportunities to get out of my home office and interact with real, present, people. They also serve as reminders of the pressures that writers and account managers are under when they place work with freelancers.

So that was 2017, what of 2018? Well, as far as work is concerned, I am off to a busy start. I am looking forward to two days at the European ISMPP meeting (http://www.ismpp.org/european-meeting) later this month and to a Medcomms Workbook networking meeting in March. Having missed both meetings last year, I’d also like to get to at least one of the EMWA meetings this year (https://www.emwa.org/conferences/future-conferences/). I am keen to understand how/if Brexit is going to affect medcomms – one of the topics for the ISMPP meeting – and I hope that this might become clearer during the year. I am trying very hard to keep open-minded about this, and I think that it is important to get out and listen and talk to people from agencies and pharma and device companies about their views and expectations. A particular regret about 2017 for me is that, having suggested them in the first place, I didn’t organise many local meetings for Kent freelancers last year. Hopefully, life in general will be a bit more settled this year and more of these events will happen.

To find out more about me and my medical writing work, please visit my website at www.freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk . You can also follow me on Twitter (@jytricker).

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My freelance medical writing and editing work in 2013

When I first went freelance, there were two things that used to cause me great anxiety – not having an IT department to turn to if something went wrong with my pc, printer, broadband connection, etc, and not having enough work.

As I became more established and started to build a client list, I occasionally had the opposite problem – too much work (or rather not enough time to do all the jobs that I had been offered). And if not having enough work was worrying, turning down work for the first time went to another level of scariness!

In the 11 years that I’ve been working as a freelancer, I have learned that the next job will come along, and that it is better to turn work down than to take on a job that I can’t finish to the standard expected by the client (and myself) and in the time required. Feast and famine go with the freelance territory.

Last year was one of those years: feast from January to August followed by famine through the autumn – partly because two contracts were severely pared back, and partly (sadly) because one of my clients went bust. Happily, not only was the failed company bought by a former competitor, but my work also picked up again towards Christmas!

Here are my highlights.

Medical writing

My biggest area of work in 2013 was on training materials. These included modules on new drug classes, procedures or therapy areas for pharma company internal use or for company reps to use with healthcare professionals in the field, as well as a really interesting project that allowed regional sales teams to share their most successful promotional campaigns with similar teams in other countries. While most of the training materials that I wrote were interactive elearning courses, others will only appear in hard copy and one was in the form of a video.

I did a lot of PowerPoint work in 2013. Interestingly, these decks were split between those designed to support drugs at the point of launch, and those that supported products off- or coming off patent. I was also happy to do more work in an area that was new to me in 2012 – payer brochures. Not all of the intended audience for these will have a pharma/medical background, and so it is important to strike a balance with the tone and language used, in order to provide accessible information without patronising the reader.

I have a long-term relationship with a dermatology team in Germany via one of the agencies that I work with, and just at the end of 2013 two reviews that we have been working on for about 18 months – one narrative and one systematic – were submitted. Sadly one was rejected very quickly, but I believe that the other one is progressing to publication.  I also helped a couple of teams to turn the results of surveys of adherence to medication for diabetes and of attitudes to fungal nail disease into manuscripts during the year.

My biggest therapy areas in 2013 were diabetes, eczema and B-cell lymphomas. Diabetes and eczema are areas that I have written about for many years, but B-cell lymphomas were fairly new to me. I also wrote about schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis for the first time.

Editing and proofreading

I continue to proofread the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Community Eye Health Journal, which comes out quarterly. I was also acting editor for three issues of a business-to-business journal for the customers of a medical device company. The latter involved working in-house with the design team at the end of each publication cycle, which was very enjoyable. My slew of PowerPoint work extended to editing and proofreading slides – and I found myself wondering (not for the first time) why you can’t track changes in PowerPoint.

Miscellaneous

This is a new section for this year – inserted because there were two areas of work that accounted for quite a lot of my time in 2013, but which don’t really fall into the medical writing and editing categories.

A few years ago, I was very fortunate to receive formal Zinc training (see http://www.zinc-ahead.com/ for information about Zinc) while I was doing a long-term contract for one of my clients, and I subsequently added it to my freelance offering. This year saw a major spike in Zinc activity, though, and I logged hundreds of hours marking up references for Zinc and creating linked reference packs within Zinc for two existing clients and three new clients.

Two clients asked me to track the posters and plenaries that their clients’ competitors were presenting at international meetings. A lot of the work in this type of project is in deciding how best to display the information gathered.

Away from the keyboard

I was very pleased to be asked by Peter Llewellyn (of MedComms Networking) and Ryan Woodrow (Aspire Scientific) to take part in a series of workshops aimed at current and aspiring freelancers. These were incredibly informative and useful for making new contacts and sharing hints and tips, and I’m looking forward to the follow-up session this year.

I attended the International Society of Medical Publications Professionals (ISMPP)  European meeting in London in January 2012. I was only able to attend for one day, but, as always, it was time well spent for getting up to speed on issues affecting the medcomms industry and meeting new and existing contacts. One of things that I particularly like about ISMPP meetings is that they are well attended by pharma companies, and it is interesting to hear the industry viewpoint.

The European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) held its 2012 annual meeting in Manchester. I spent a very useful two days attending a symposium on writing for payers, various workshops and the freelance business forum. I also had a meeting with the editors of the ‘Out On Our Own’ section of EMWA’s journal (Medical Writing) to discuss a series of three articles that they had asked me to write on how I use social media in my business. The first two are already published (see http://wp.me/p15PpZ-2G and http://wp.me/p15PpZ-2S) and the third will be available soon.

The annual publication planning meeting in London in the autumn as always included a review of changes to the various codes that govern our business, including, of course the US Sunshine Act which had only recently been enacted then. We also had some lively presentations and discussions on changes to the academic publishing model. It was good to see more freelancers attending this (free) meeting – and other meetings organised by Medcomms Networking during the year.

Looking forward

Some of my new clients from last year have already re-commissioned me for this year, which is very heartening, and I have been talking to some potential new clients – some via the Freelance Workbook service and others who’ve found me via my website – about potential new projects. I’ve also been very pleased to do more work with some of my long-established clients.

A very exciting development for me this year is that I have agreed to mentor a student who is interested in making a career in medical writing when she graduates. That will start in the spring and in addition to providing advice on writing style and practice, we will be looking into employment opportunities for new first degree graduates – if you have any thoughts, do get in touch.

5th March, 2014

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My freelance medical writing and editing work in 2012

2012 was a good year! I signed with more new clients than in any year since I went freelance. These included individuals, small medcomms agencies, large multinational agencies, a publisher and, for the first time, an advertising agency. I also continued to work with existing clients – some that I have worked with for a number of years. This also brought a huge variety of work, which I always appreciate.

In contrast to 2011, most of the work that I did in 2012 was on a freelance basis, interspersed with three short contracts. My contacts with new clients were made through a variety of channels: recruitment agencies, LinkedIn, EMWA, my website and a new initiative, the Freelance Workbook. Most of these were in the UK, but I worked with new clients in France and Germany too.

Medical writing

By comparison with previous years, very little of the writing that I did in 2012 was on primary research papers.  Instead, from a writing viewpoint, 2012 was about PR and training. I wrote a number of articles (on biologics and HIV care) for business-to-business magazines, which felt a bit like coming home for me, and which I was particularly pleased to do. Among the training programmes I was involved with were three interactive courses for iPad and/or the web for healthcare professionals , two slide-based courses, and two more traditional booklets aimed at sales and marketing teams. HCPs were also the target for some web copy, a couple of drug monographs and a short series of adverts.

A new target audience for me in 2012 was payers. Demonstrating cost-effectiveness is an important part of bringing drugs to market and the challenge for me was to provide an engaging summary of the therapy area and technology concerned for readers who may not have a medical background, before going on to summarise the health economics data in a fairly short brochure. It’s been challenging, but it’s been absolutely fascinating too.

In terms of therapy areas, 2012 was primarily about diabetes (types 1 and 2), cardiovascular disease, eczema and rheumatoid arthritis. I wrote about Alzheimer’s disease for the first time, did a little bit more work on rare diseases – this time patient leaflets for the parents of babies with rare skin diseases – and revisited vaccines for the first time in a while.

Editing and proofreading

I did more editing and proofreading work in 2012 than I’ve done in recent years. As usual I’ve had a steady throughput of papers requiring editing for English – either from doctors that I work with directly or via med comms agencies – but I did a lot of slide deck edits too. Most excitingly, I have been taken on as a freelance copy editor for a quarterly magazine sponsored by one of the big medical device companies and as a freelance proofreader for a quarterly ophthalmology newsletter produced by the London School of Tropical Hygiene for HCPs and patients in emerging markets. In terms of editing and proofreading, medical devices in their various guises provided quite a lot of my work in 2012.

Away from the keyboard

As in other years, I made sure to get out of my office and attend a few workshops and conferences. This helps to ensure that I keep abreast of changes in the pharma and medcomms industries, and enables me to find out about other things that are going on in the world that might prove useful  in my work. This year these included conferences on changes in the way that pharma delivers continuing medical education to doctors (InPharm), the growing influence of patients in healthcare management and treatment strategies (MedComms Networking), how to use Twitter in business (Digital Surrey) and the use of mobile technology to improve policing in the community (Digital Surrey). The Publication Plan’s annual publication planning workshop proved a great opportunity to learn about how open access publishing is evolving, what it can offer our clients and its customers and to get up to speed on how the requirements of the US Sunshine Act might affect the provision of medical writing/editing assistance to American doctors.

What about 2013?

Well it has started at a frenetic pace! I have been solidly booked since the beginning of the year and each project has been very different from the last – hopefully that is a trend that will continue throughout the year.

I’ve already attended the European ISMPP meeting as well as a workshop on social media for the pharma industry. I am looking forward to the annual EMWA meeting in the Spring, and am hoping to get to other events later in the year. I’m also looking forward to being a panellist at two workshops for new and would-be freelancers that are being held in March.

On the social media front, I feel that it is time to freshen up my website – it’s been up for a little over 2 years now, so a good time, I think, to have another look at the copy and the artwork. I’m still enjoying participating with Twitter and LinkedIn and, as I say every year, I will try to write more blogs!

To find out more about me and my medical writing work, please visit my website at www.freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk .

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My freelance medical writing and editing work in 2011

Another year, another retrospective. I said at the start of last year’s retrospective that I tend to have a lot of variety in my work, and, as if to prove a point, 2011 was completely different from 2010!

The year started at a frantic pace. In the space of 9 weeks I did some consultancy work for an established client preparing for a big pitch, some more regulatory writing (patient narratives), assembled a core slide deck on photodynamic therapy, complete a position paper on the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer with authors drawn from an advisory board, proofread an issue of Human Genomics, and edited an issue of a cardiovascular journal, a manuscript for my Italian clients, some web copy and a drug monograph (for a new client).

The major difference between 2011 and 2010 was that I spent 8 months working under contract for a local agency here in Kent. I was covering for an editorial team leader while she was on maternity leave – giving me the opportunity to manage a team for the first time since I went freelance. This was my first experience of working in a big agency with a formal structure, which was very different from the very small agencies that I usually work with.  It also provided an opportunity to help mentor some junior writers just starting on their careers, their enthusiasm was invigorating. The team had a wide portfolio of clients and products to support, providing a range of materials for publication and presentation in different media. There was some travel to attend advisory boards, conferences and client meetings and even some filming with a key opinion leader talking about a clinical trial he’d taken part in.  I wrote copy for three websites (two on acute lymphoblastic lymphoma [ALL] and one on haemophilia) and I also wrote a few apps – my first foray into that medium.  It was a very busy 8 months, and I had a great time and made lots of new friends and contacts.

Since finishing the contract I’ve been just as busy with an equally broad range of writing and editing work in urology, neurology, haematology and gastrointestinal cancers, adding two more clients to my roster in the process. This work will take me through to February, and after that – well I’m looking forward to finding out!

Social media

I’ve been very pleased with the performance of my website – www.freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk – it has generated a number of leads – from pharmaceutical companies to publishing companies to academics, mainly in the UK but also from across Europe. I’ve been particularly pleased with how it is performing for search engines, but a target for 2012 will be to find ways to improve its page ranking.

I have links in to and out of www.freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk to my Twitter account (@jytricker), to my LinkedIn profile (http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jytricker) and to my blog site, Trickerish Allsorts (https://trickerishallsorts.wordpress.com). I’ve significantly expanded my contacts/followers on LinkedIn and Twitter this year, but have not published as many blogs as I’d wanted to – although the reason for that was my workload, so I don’t feel too bad. More frequent blogging is another target for 2012, then.

Old-fashioned networking

I do enjoy getting together with fellow medcomms professionals and I went to a number of excellent events in 2010. These included several organised by Network Pharma (www.networkpharma.com) – a training session on the revised ABPI guidelines (since revised again!), a symposium on open access publishing and an evening with Guardian columnist  Ben Goldacre MD (see my Access all areas blog: http://wp.me/p15PpZ-1t and www.badscience.net) at which we discussed transparency in biomedical publishing. I went to my first European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) meeting in November and enjoyed getting together with fellow freelance writers from across Europe as well as catching up with some friends and acquaintances from the UK industry and undertaking some training in regulatory writing. December saw me at the European meeting of the International Society for Medical Publication Planning (ISMPP) – another great opportunity for training, catching up with old friends and meeting new contacts. One of the things I most like about ISMPP meetings is the high attendance from the pharmaceutical industry and publishers – it was good to talk to them directly.

CMPP

On the subject of ISMPP, a personal highlight for me was gaining that organisation’s accreditation as a certified medical publications professional – meeting an important standard for ethical publishing in the biomedical sector and achieving one of my goals for 2011 in the process.

2012

It’s going to be an extraordinary year in many ways – particularly here in SouthEast England – but in terms of work I will be happy to have more of the same in 2012. I am due to be attending the European Association of Urology meeting in Paris at the end of February – and I’m very much looking forward to that. Thereafter the year is a blank page. Fingers crossed for another good year though.

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Blog on blogs

On Thursday October 13th, listening to the Today programme on BBC’s Radio 4, I nearly choked on my Special K. ‘What  if’, the business editor laughed ‘in the same week that RIM has had all its problems, the Apple iPhone 4S failed to take off, would we have a Blackberry and Apple crumble?’ I thought that it was a good line too – I used it in my blog about choosing good keywords for headlines 9 months ago (Apple and blackberry crumble and other stories). By coincidence, two other subjects that I’ve written about previously have also been back in the news again this week.

Earlier in the week I tweeted (@jytricker) that Reuter’s were reporting another paper that described cardiovascular benefits in older women who eat chocolate – this time in reducing the risk of stroke. This added to data published at the end of last year that indicated that Australian women in their 70s who ate chocolate no more than once a week had healthier hearts than women who didn’t (see Eating and  drinking for old age: Hints and tips from Twitter and reference 1). This new study followed more than 30,000 Swedish women for 10 years. The authors stratified the incidence of stroke by the weight of chocolate consumed each week2 and, perhaps surprisingly, women in the study who ate more chocolate (>45g per week, mean 66.5g per week) had the lowest risk of stroke. I estimate that this is roughly equivalent to one bar of chocolate per week, which if I am correct, would tie in with Lewis et al’s findings. Like Lewis and colleagues, Larsson et al suggest that the anti-oxidant properties of flavenoids present in chocolate are likely to be responsible for its protective effect. The authors noted that during the study period the most popular form of chocolate in Sweden was milk chocolate and that dark chocolate, which has higher concentrations of flavenoids would likely be more beneficial. Larsson also told Reuters that while she believed that chocolate had health benefits, over-consumption could be counterproductive because of its high sugar and fat content – which neatly brings me to my third update.

Obesity – and its sequelae – is never far from the headlines, and this week the UK government attracted some scathing headlines when it announced that to combat obesity we ‘must eat less’ (doh!!) and that ‘individuals must be responsible for what they eat and drink’. While I was reading the BBC’s version of this story (http://bbc.in/owiJeJ) a related story caught my eye – one that  announced that Denmark had introduced a ‘fat tax’ at the beginning of October. This was a subject that I mulled over in a blog that I osted at the end of March 2011 (Obesity: will we put our money where our mouth is?). As I scrolled through readers’ comments on that story, I found that many of them rehearsed the same sort of arguments that I set out in my blog (it’s always a relief to find that you are on the same wavelength as other people) – in particular the regressive nature of the tax and a general feeling that people need to be incentivised to eat healthily not just penalised for eating (and living) unhealthily. The World Health Organization recently announced a global AIDS-style campaign to highlight the explosion in non-communicable diseases, particularly those associated with over-eating, drinking too much alcohol and smoking tobacco, because of the effect that treating these diseases is having on healthcare spending. It’s something that I will be coming back to in future blogs.

To find out more about me and my medical writing and editing work, please visit my website at  www.freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk .

15th October 2011

References

1. Lewis JR et al. Habitual chocolate intake and vascular disease: A prospective study of clinical outcomes in older women. Arch Intern Med 2010;170(20):1857–58.

2. Larsson SC et al. Chocolate consumption and risk of strokein women. J Am Coll Cardiol 2011;58:1828–29.

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Apple and Blackberry Crumble and Other Stories

Every year, at  the end of the academic year, the chemical society at my university organised an annual dinner for its members. This was preceded by a lecture – open to everyone – given by a distinguished guest speaker. In my final year (1984), the title of this lecture was: ‘How to Cure a Hangover’.

Come the evening in question, students (and lecturers) from all over the university – some probably unaware that City University even had a chemistry department – were crushed into our main lecture theatre to pick up tips on how to deal with the worst excesses of the end of year celebrations.

As it turned out, this was an abject lesson in always reading the small print. Had many of the attendees bothered to read beyond the title of the lecture, they might have noted that the speaker was a senior executive from Shell Oil – an unusual person, perhaps, to be advising on the hair of the dog. What we actually heard was a lecture about the recovery of the oil business following the 1970s fuel crisis. With due respect to the speaker, it was a lecture that probably only the chem soc organising committee and some members of the university’s prestigious business school would have attended had it had a less ‘sexy’ title.

The speaker had clearly appreciated that the use of a few well-chosen words in his title would create a lot of interest among people who would otherwise have completely ignored his lecture.

Not long after I went freelance, I took a course in sub-editing. One of the jobs of the sub-editor on a newspaper or magazine is to write headlines. The course included a number of headline-writing exercises, including a hilarious half hour dreaming up puns and plays on words – which, of course, is what I’ve done here. Apple and Blackberry Crumble: favourite dessert or the business story of the decade?

Another tip was to make use of well known phrases and quotations – a favourite headline of mine was written for a newsletter that I edited for a group of dermatologists. This group held two meetings a year in either North or South America. For the brief article announcing the meeting in Rio de Janeiro, I wrote the headline ‘Rolling Down to Rio’ – the title of a song I remembered learning at school. My boss was a bit worried about how the group might perceive it, but the fact that the quotation comes from Kipling helped! On another occasion the core (executive) group of the committee obliged me by holding a planning meeting in New York, occasioning the headline ‘Core Group Meets in Big Apple’.

My medical writing work doesn’t allow much scope for writing pun-y headlines like that, but I like to keep my hand in. A recent stint as editor of the local parish magazine was a good opportunity. Twitter is another. The journalists at Scrip (@scripnews) wrote a great tweet this week, which particularly appealed to me as a singer and health writer. ‘Four-part Harmony as UK Healthcare Associations Acquire Bolder Hymn Sheet’ announced the formation of LifeSciences UK from four healthcare industry associations including the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). None of my tweets come up to that standard – perhaps that should be an objective for this year!

Feel free to leave your favourite headlines/tweets as a comment and to find out more about me and my freelance writing, editing and proofreading work, please visit my website: freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk – thank you.

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