Medical Writing Tips, Tricks, and Beyond: What I Learned From AMWA-MAC’s Annual Conference

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American Medical Writers Association’s Mid-Atlantic Chapter held its annual meeting on March 4, 2016 in Gaithersburg, Maryland. With 10 workshops specially designed based on members’ feedback, the meeting attracted 44 medical writers and editors from all over the country.

In addition to 4 credit workshops taught by Tom Lang, a legendary medical editor, and Art Gertel, the 2014 AMWA Eric Martin Award winner, the meeting also offered 6 noncredit workshops on a wide range of practical topics.

Having earned credits for all the credit workshops, I decided to participate in 3 noncredit workshops: one in the morning and two in the afternoon.

Here are a few examples of what I have learned.

Zotero, free reference management software

Alexandra Sophie Kadner, presenter of the workshop titled From Rough Idea to Finished Deliverable: Tips and Tricks for Quick and Thorough Research and Writing, uses Zotero for all her CME writing projects. “Zotero is much more powerful and easier to use than EndNote®,” said Kadner. Users do have to pay certain fees for storing their references in the cloud, but the software itself is free, according to Kadner.

Tips on interviewing 

Kadner, a seasoned CME writer, offered the following tips when interviewing key opinion leaders.

  1. Do your research first so you know what to ask.
  2. Keep in mind that key opinion leaders are busy people, so respect and use their time wisely.
  3. Take detailed notes, and look for quotes that you can include in your deliverables.

Erin L Boyle, a senior medical editor, writer, and communications manager, recommended the following when interviewing people, subject experts or not.

  1. Listen carefully.
  2. Ask follow-up questions, even if they are not on your original list of questions.
  3. Always, always ask “Do you have anything else to add?” at the end.

Tips on offering a well-attended workshop

All the workshops were well attended, but the 1.5-hour long noncredit workshop titled Tips and Tricks for a Word Traveler was particularly popular. So much so that even the presenter, Martin J. Spiering, was slightly surprised. When asked what his secrets were, Spiering offered the following tips on the basis of his experience.

  1. Figure out a topic on the basis of the audience’s needs.
  2. Start with a practical topic that offers useful tips.
  3. Prepare well, and build on previous presentation experiences if possible.

It was a snow day, but I am glad that I attended the meeting anyway. The knowledge of the speakers and the overall quality of the meeting exceeded my expectations. Other attendees shared similar feelings. “The meeting is great!” says Ginny Vachon, a medical writer who drove all the way from Atlanta to attend the meeting.

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