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A–Z of medical writing. Albert T. (Paperback) London: BMJ Books. ISBN 0 7279 1487 1
Many doctors have difficulty with medical writing. There is a crying need for concise, clear text whether it be for papers, grant applications, books/book chapters, or CVs. Furthermore, hospital doctors generate more than 40 million letters per year about their outpatients, as part of communication with the primary care team. Unfortunately many of us produce offerings that are full of jargon, lack a clear message, and are too long (even if this is not recognised by the writers!). Sadly most of us have had no teaching on how to write during our medical training and virtually none as part of our continuing medical education.
Tim Albert's book has been created to help with these problems. Paradoxically, electronic publishing is leading to an expansion in the need for written information and—outside of informal email communications—this needs to be of high quality. A large number of topics of relevance to medical writers has been chosen by the author and arranged in alphabetical order, so that the aim is for the reader to be able to dip into various sections as needed. There is good cross referencing between sections and book lists interspersed every few pages but there is no formal index. Although there are other publications on writing for journals, the advantage of this modestly priced paperback is that it covers a wide breadth of writing and publishing. For example, how to write an editorial, systematic review, or writing for a medical magazine are discussed effectively. Many will have experienced “writer's block” and some useful tips are given on how to circumvent this malevolent condition. It is suggested that the condition is not a sign of failure but rather that we are taking the trouble to produce something worthwhile!
Overall, this book is helpful for potential medical writers. Inevitably some subjects are not covered in depth because of insufficient space. However, the text is easy to read with the book designed to dip into, rather than read from cover to cover. It should be useful to both trainees and senior doctors. Often there is a need to write an obituary or grant application at short notice and the practical advice will assist the writer in his task. The alternative is to seek advice from a wily old friend who has been there before.
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