The importance of clarity and quality in medical writing
In his recent editorial, Roger Collier (news editor for the Canadian Medical Association Journal) encourages to opt for more clarity and quality in medical writing. Conveying clear scientific messages by paying special attention to the choice of words and banning unnecessary jargon may not only increase publication success but also facilitate knowledge sharing among experts (1).
Vague and ambiguous language in clinical practice guidelines has been linked to inconsistent interpretation and consequently to variations in medical practice; leading to potential erros (2). The use of obscure language may thus have far-reaching consequences for clinicians and patients.
Roger Collier appeals to those responsible (medical educators, academic institutions and health care researchers) for more clarity and quality so that useful knowledge can be shared across the medical community. Poor writing is particularly prevalent in medical journals and although the problem has been recognized decades ago, little has changed.
On the one hand, academic institutions encourage to publish often but do not reward a good writing style. On the other hand, authors tend to adapt their writing to the language used in the field and fail to convey complex scientific questions in plain language.
Since writing is the final step of a long-lasting research process stretching across months or years, authors have often little time left to dedicate to the writing itself. As an attempt to tackle these challenges, implementing writing courses in medical schools and graduate programs may improve medical writing.
While a lot of journals are joining the effort to edit confusing writing, not all journals have these resources.
Roger Collier thus concludes that the quality of writing mainly depends on physicians and researchers. The Global Alliance for Publication Professionals supports this statement but further refines that lack of time is a major factor contributing to poorly written manuscripts and to nondisclosure of results. These constraints could be overcome by taking advantage of professional medical writing services (3).
For further information, please consult the full articles from Roger Collier and Julia Donnelly (publication professional) via the following links:
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5698027/ and
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Anne-Theres Henze, Medical Writer
1. Collier R. A call for clarity and quality in medical writing. CMAJ. 2017;189(46):E1407. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.171265.
2. Codish S, Shiffman RN. A model of ambiguity and vagueness in clinical practice guideline recommendations. AMIA Annu Symp Proc. 2005:146-50.
3. Donnelly JA, Marchington J, Gertel A, Stretton S. Professional writers can help to improve clarity of medical writing. CMAJ. 2018;190(9):E268. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.68670.
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