Practice Flawless English for Good Scientific Writing
Knowledge of grammar is one of the keys to writing clearly and credibly. Whether you are learning a grammar rule for the first time or refreshing your memory, some basic points of English language and grammar need to be kept in mind before you start penning down a scientific document. The medical writer must know the target audience for a particular document. The scientific information in these documents must be presented to suit the level of understanding of the audience, namely, patients or general public, and the physicians. The main advantages of plain English are:
- It is faster to write
- It is faster to read, and
- You get your message across more often, more easily and in a friendlier way
A few tips given here will help you to avoid common grammar and usage errors. These errors are the usual careless mistakes that are checked when a document is being edited and proof-read.
Avoid the Common Grammatical Errors
- Use Formal Language in the Document
- Do not write as you would in a medical register/log book. Use articles (a, an, the) wherever necessary, to complete your sentences; e.g., the patient came to the clinic; not patient came to clinic.
- Many of us think in our mother tongue. While writing, however, avoid in incorrect sentence formations and check for such errors.
- Avoid using slang/colloquial language that you may use in college, e.g., breast cancer, not CA Breast.
- Make Clear Comparisons
When drawing comparisons, make it clear as to what or who you are comparing with; do not assume that the reader knows.
For example: We found that the virus affected children more [than adults].
- Avoid Jargons And Clichés
- Use of jargons in the document should be minimum. Jargons, if used, must be explained.
- Get to the point and avoid clichés, such as
– “As you may already be aware…”
– “It is a well-known fact that…” etc.
- Use Simple Language
- Be punchy and keep sentences short (not more than 15-20 words in one sentence). Readers may lose track of the meaning if the sentence is too long.
- Use active voice and first person as much as possible. Active voice is more reader-friendly. Passive voice unnecessarily complicates the sentence. For example, “We found that…” not “It was found that…”
- Give proper commands wherever necessary. The most common fault is putting ‘customers should do this’ or ‘you should do this’ instead of just ‘do this’. To avoid them from sounding harsh, you can put the word ‘please’ in front. However, if something must be done, it is best not to say ‘please’ as it gives the reader the option for refusal of request.
- The document needs to be reviewed with track-changes. (Passive voice)
Please review the document with track-changes. (Command)
- You should just think of it as a complete statement. (Passive voice)
Just think of it as a complete statement. (Command)
- Writers should aim to be precise. (Passive voice)
Be precise. (Command)
- They should be split where suitable. (Passive voice)
Split them where suitable. (Command)
- Reduce Nominalization of Verbs
Nominalized verbs are the nouns which are often used in place of the verbs from which they are derived. Like passive verbs, they also make the sentences dull and heavy.
- We had a discussion about the matter. (Nominalized verb)
We discussed the matter. (Verb)
- There will be a stoppage of trains by drivers.(Nominalized verb)
Drivers will stop the trains.(Verb)
- Reach Out to The Readers
- Be gender-inclusive in your writing. Do not use the general pronoun ‘he’ to include women; instead, use ‘they’.
- If that is not possible in certain cases, use ‘he or she’.
- Keep your tone conversational, and avoid words that you wouldn’t use naturally. Terms like ‘therefore’, ‘thus’, and ‘hence’ – should be used less frequently, as they prevent them from connecting with the readers.
- An article with informative subheadings, bulleted lists and pointers is likely to grab more readership than a plain document with mere cluster of statements and paragraphs.
The Need to Improve Writing Skills
A medical writer is responsible for communicating scientific information. In addition to understanding the scientific aspects, he or she needs to present the information in a clear manner and at a level of understanding appropriate to the target audience. Use of grammatically error-free language, simple short sentences, and active voice with a logical flow of ideas can go a long way in making the information understandable to the readers and garnering huge readership.