Why Use Professional Medical Writing Assistance for Scientific Publishing?
More than 1 million bio-science papers were published in 2015. However, the assistance of a medical writer was acknowledged in only 6% and 11% of these papers.(1,2) Given these numbers, it would seem fair to conclude that the writing needs of a large number of the individuals performing bio-science research at universities or government institutions are being under-served.
International Committee of Medical Journal
Editors (ICMJE) Criteria for Authorship
1. Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work; AND
2. Drafting the work or revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND
3. Final approval of the version to be published; AND
4. Agreement to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.
Failure to publish and the lengthy times between completion of a research study and publication are still problems in medical research. Studies report that 32% of trials remained unpublished 51 months after study completion.(3,4) Researchers often say they lack the time needed to adequately research the literature, prepare a first draft, and make the many revisions required to produce a submission-worthy manuscript or that they do not enjoy writing. Many would-be authors are not fully versed in the standards of good publications practice thus are unaware of reporting guidelines. Others find the submission requirements and process confusing. In addition, as the majority of peer-review journals are published in English, those without an adequate command of the English language are at a disadvantage without medical writing support.
Gattrell WT and colleagues (5) recently examined the impact of professional medical writing support on the quality of randomized controlled trial reporting. Their study concluded that articles produced with medical writing support more often adhered to the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) Statement. For 6 of the 12 CONSORT items assessed, a higher rate of complete reporting was observed in articles with acknowledged medical writing support compared with those without support (39.1% vs 21.1%). In addition, articles with declared medical writing support were more likely than those without to have been rated as having acceptable written English during peer review (81.1% vs 47.9%).
A Lancet study (6) reported that editing for scientific content and written English, tasks that are often undertaken by medical writers, significantly improved the style and readability of manuscripts. Other often stated benefits of medical writing support include a trend toward shorter time to manuscript acceptance,(2,7) an increased rate of publication over time,(8) and a lower risk of publication retraction due to misconduct.(9)
According to two 2014 surveys, the majority of authors (84 – 88%) valued the assistance provided by professional medical writers, in particular, editing support and ensuring conformity with reporting guidelines such as CONSORT.(9,10)
The guidelines on Good Publication Practice support the use of professional medical writers for scientific manuscript writing.(11) Medical writers who specialize in developing peer-reviewed manuscripts and other scientific documents, commonly receive training in Good Publication Practice (12) and provide valuable services that have been shown to assist authors in their efforts to publish.(10)
Medical writers are also more aware of and more likely to comply with the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals than clinical investigators.(3) The ICMJE 2015 specifically identifies writing assistance, if performed without fulfilling other requirements (see above), as an activity that does not justify authorship, but if substantial, should always be acknowledged in the manuscript. Unacknowledged writers are considered ghostwriters, an unacceptable practice according to ICMJE and American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) guidelines. Fortunately, this practice has decreased over the past few years and continues to decline, thanks to educational efforts on the part of the ICMJE and medical writing societies like AMWA.(13)
Manuscript preparation can be a daunting challenge for first-time and even experienced authors. However, researchers not affiliated with industry-funded trials, often struggle to fulfill their ethical and scientific obligations to share the results from their research, either due to lack of time or skill in manuscript preparation. Professional medical writers can help authors meet their obligation to prepare quality manuscripts that meet the guidelines for publication standards. Although the cost associated with writing assistance can be an issue for investigators who lack outside funding, this should not be a barrier to publication, as many writers can and do adjust their pricing to fit the circumstances. There are opportunities for both medical writers seeking work and scientific investigators needing writing assistance if they can only find each other. Maybe some sort of Match.com® is needed.
1. Nastasee SA. Acknowledgment of medical writers in medical journal articles: a comparison from the years 2000 and 2007. Curr Med Res Opin. 2010;26 (Suppl 1):6.
2. Woolley KL, et al. Declaration of medical writing assistance in international peer-reviewed publications. JAMA. 2006;296(8):932-934.
3. Hamilton CW, et al. Mythbusting Medical Writing: Goodbye, Ghosts! Hello, Help! Account Res. 2016;23(3):178-194.
4. Ross JS, et al. Guest authorship and ghostwriting in publications related to rofecoxib: a case study of industry documents from rofecoxib litigation. JAMA. 2008;299(15):1800-1812.
5. Gattrell WT, et al. Professional medical writing support and the quality of randomised controlled trial reporting: a cross-sectional study. BMJ Open. 2016;6(2):e010329.
6. Pierie JP, et al. Readers’ evaluation of effect of peer review and editing on quality of articles in the Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Geneeskunde. Lancet. 1996;348(9040):1480-1483.
7. Bailey M. Science editing and its effect on manuscript acceptance time. AMWA Journal. 2011;26(4):147-152.
8. Manring MM, et al. A framework for improving resident research participation and scholarly output. J Surg Educ. 2014;71(1):8-13.
9. Marchington JM, Burd GP. Author attitudes to professional medical writing support. Curr Med Res Opin. 2014;30(10):2103-2108.
10. Camby I, et al. Publication practices and standards: recommendations from GSK Vaccines’ author survey. Trials. 2014;15:446.
11. Battisti WP, et al. Good Publication Practice for Communicating Company-Sponsored Medical Research: GPP3. Ann Intern Med. 2015;163(6):461-464.
12. Wager E, et al. Awareness and enforcement of guidelines for publishing industry-sponsored medical research among publication professionals: the Global Publication Survey. BMJ Open. 2014;4(4):e004780.
13. Stretton S. Systematic review on the primary and secondary reporting of the prevalence of ghostwriting in the medical literature. BMJ Open. 2014;4(7):e004777.