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SoMe and Me: Self-Promotion and Business Development

The second of my three articles describing how I use social media in my freelance business was published in the December 2013 issue of Medical Writing (©Maney Publishing; http://www.maneypublishing.com) – the quarterly journal of the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA). You can read it here:

Self promotion and business development

I was asked to write the articles by the joint editors of the ‘Out On Our Own’ section of the journal, which is aimed at freelancers, to encourage more freelance medical writers to participate in EMWA’s LinkedIn group and on Facebook and Twitter. These articles are not intended as ‘how to’ guides – I am no expert – I just describe my level of engagement with social media.

The final article in the series will be published in Medical Writing in Spring 2014, and I will post that on Trickerish Allsorts in due course.
To find out more about me and my medical writing work, please visit my website at http://www.freelancemedicalwriting.co.uk . You can also follow me on Twitter (@jytricker).


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SoMe and Me

Earlier this year, the editors of the freelancers’ pages in EMWA‘s journal, Medical Writing, asked me to write a series of articles about how I use social media in my business. These articles are not intended as ‘how to’ guides – I am no expert – but hopefully will help to convince a few more freelance medical writers that using social media doesn’t have to be scary.

The first article was published in the September 2013 issue of Medical Writing (©Maney Publishing; www.maneypublishing.com), and you can read it here.

SoMe and Me_Networking

The second article will be published in December 2013, and I will post that on Trickerish Allsorts in due course.

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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Access all areas

I’ve been to two meetings recently on the general theme of access in biomedical publishing. One was an in-house meeting to share some thoughts and learning points on open access (OA) publishing and the other a Medcomms Networking meeting to hear Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre’s views on how clinical trials results are published. That meeting has prompted a discussion thread on The Publication Plan’s LinkedIn page that has been running ever since and which seems to have pulled those two ideas together.

Open access publishing, particularly in the biomedical sector, is undergoing steady growth.1 Beyond the laudable concept of allowing everyone (including patients) to read and study the research, the ‘online only’ nature of OA publishing has other benefits, not least the facility to publish (sometimes extensive) data tables for which there would never be room in a print journal and the potential for more rapid publication. The editorial boards of OA journals also seem to be more open in their approach to content, needing primarily to satisfy themselves that studies are scientifically robust rather than making an additional judgement call on whether the work would be of interest to their subscribers.

The expansion in OA publishing has pretty much coincided with increasing requirements for the pharmaceutical industry to be more open and transparent about its funding and reporting of clinical trials including its relationships with trial investigators who author papers and the medical communications and medical education agencies who provide medical writing and other support for the preparation of manuscripts in which trial results are reported. This followed the disclosure in a number of class actions involving patients who had suffered drug-related adverse events that data about the drug’s safety and efficacy had not been fully reported in papers that had not been written by the study investigators but by un-named and unacknowledged medical writers (ghost writers) working for med comms agencies and paid for by pharma companies.

These requirements, which largely have been driven by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) in its Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals, and the International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) – authors of Good Publication Practice, aim to make it possible for editorial staff, reviewers and readers to know when trials have been funded by pharmaceutical companies and to scrutinise the reporting of trial results against the study protocol to make it easier to see if data are being withheld or misused. They also require the involvement of medical writers to be disclosed along with the source of funding for this involvement. Authors must declare how much involvement they have had in preparing the manuscript, any financial arrangements with pharmaceutical companies, and their willingness to take responsibility for the content of the paper.

Dr Goldacre, whose passion is evidence-based medicine, charges that, even now, too many clinical trial reports distort the evidence-base for drug safety and efficacy and that medical communications companies and the medical writers that work for them are complicit in this distortion. See his website for some specific examples. You might imagine that this was not easy for a group of medical writers to hear – perhaps particularly so because Dr Goldacre is not a typical pharma industry ‘basher’. He readily acknowledges the role of drugs in healthcare (‘no medicine without medicines’) but wants doctors and healthcare funders to have access to all the trial data.  He singled out the dearth of reports of negative findings (ie where the test drug fails to demonstrate superiority over other drugs or placebo) as a particular source of bias. I think that this point was generally accepted by people at the meeting – certainly from the point of view of transparency. Where opinions diverged was on whether it could be achieved.

Going forward, pharmaceutical companies will be posting all raw clinical trials data on the clinical trials.gov and EudraCT websites. But in terms of providing useful information to physicians, if this is the only way that negative data get published, is that either sufficient or appropriate?

The usual answer to the question ‘Why don’t negative results get published?’ is that journals won’t accept papers that don’t advance the understanding of medicine. But I don’t know how many people are trying to ‘push the envelope’ and convince journals that understanding might be advanced by publishing negative results in some circumstances. A published study report would allow some context to be added to the results and some reasoned speculation about why the study hypothesis wasn’t proved, which might open up avenues to further research (I, of course, as a medical writer, should declare a vested interest at this point).

Going back to where we came in, in OA journals we have a broader forum for publication. If even a negative study meets the requirement for robustness, there is perhaps a greater chance of it being accepted. Moreover, where allowed by the journal, readers may have the opportunity to comment on and ‘discuss’ the paper online, and in real time, adding to the scientific interest in the paper. In theory at least though, OA journals should not be the only option open to teams wishing to publish negative results. The ICMJE’s position statement on publishing negative studies says that: ‘Editors should seriously consider for publication any carefully done study of an important question, relevant to their readers, whether the results for the primary or any additional outcome are statistically significant. Failure to submit or publish findings because of lack of statistical significance is an important cause of publication bias’.2

At the current time, the pharmaceutical industry has much to do regain the confidence of the people who use its products. Granting access to data for all studies, in tandem with complete disclosure of the nature of its relationships with the study investigators and the people who write up the study, may go some way to achieving this aim.

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


1. Laakso M et al. PLoS One 2011;6:e20961.

2. www.icmje.org.publishing_1negative.html

Useful websites

International Society of Medical Publication Professionals www.ismpp.org

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors www.icmje.org

European Medical Writers Association www.emwa.org

MedComms Networking www.medcommsnetworking.co.uk (for links to the LinkedIn page of The Publications Plan)

Ben Goldacre www.badscience.net

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Anyone for PechaKucha?

I had an unusual night out recently – unusual in format that is, it’s not that I never go out!

Several of the LinkedIn groups that I belong to organise ‘real-life’ social networking events and one of these is Digital Surrey (www.digitalsurrey.co.uk or #digitalsurrey on Twitter), which holds an evening event most months.  In April, this took the form of a PechaKucha evening to celebrate the group’s first birthday.

PechaKucha was devised in Tokyo to give young designers a forum in which to display their work. It takes its name from the Japanese term for the sound of chit-chat. Each presenter gets to show 20 slides, which progress at intervals of 20 seconds. The Digital Surrey PechaKucha evening consisted of eight presentations, all of which had at least a loose connection with social media.

Keeping closest to the original sentiment of PechaKucha, perhaps, were the presentations from Paul Wride,  Paul Smith, Jocelyn Spence and Tim Ireland. Paul Wride– an ex- professional video gamer showed how the lines between boxed product, digital and social are being blurred. Paul Smith and Jocelyn both spoke about digital storytelling. Paul took us on a journey through graphic art, from comic books to web referring to the work of his favourite artists, while Jocelyn, who is a student at the University of Surrey’s Digital World Research Centre, spoke about her PhD project on live digital story telling. Tim entertained us with stories of how he used SEO art to capture headlines and shape events through ‘extreme’ SEO.

The presentations from Rob Hawkes, Julian Ranger and Matt Rhodes were more directly business related. Rob – a freelance social media analyst – presented his research into Twitter sentiment;  Julian – an angel investor and founder of iBundle – described how user privacy is designed into all his company’s products and services; and Matt – client services director at Fresh Networks – described why he prefers the term ‘social business’ to ‘social media’.

The final presentation illustrated how social media was combined with traditional media to save Bletchley Park. Sue Black is senior research associate in software engineering at UCL and a champion for women in technology. Her story of the campaign to preserve Bletchley Park and later to keep the Turing papers in this country was inspiring.

I thoroughly enjoyed all of the presentations and was amazed that all of the presenters kept up with their slides – PechaKucha certainly makes for a fast-paced evening.  I was in awe of the people managing to Tweet during the presentations – although those who had iPads were clearly finding it easier than those with phones.

Given its roots, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that just about all of the slides contained pictures not words. Some of the presenters used cue cards, but others spoke off the cuff.

As a medical writer,  I both produce and listen to lots of Powerpoint presentations , and I found myself wondering if PechaKucha could teach me anything that would be useful in my work.  I have to be clear here that I really don’t feel that PechaKucha is an appropriate format for pharma industry symposia and the like – it’s a protected format in any case – so I was looking for some broad principles.  

I understand that the advice given to would-be PechaKucha presenters is to talk about something they feel passionate about – presumably so that they are never searching around for something to say. The pictures draw the audience’s attention but the words are what they take away. Here is one lesson then – bold images and passionate speech!  I also think that PechaKucha would be a great way of training speakers – getting them to focus on the audience instead of the slides and, of course, keeping to time.

You can find out more about:

PechaKucha at www.pechakucha.org

Digital Surrey at www.digitalsurrey.co.uk

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

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