Integrity and authenticity are important values of mine. As a medical writer, it can be a challenge to maintain these values under the constraints of public-facing content marketing within which I often write. Here are the strategies I use to maintain scientific integrity as a medical writer.
As much as possible, only say things that are true.
When I write, I am careful to only make claims that I have investigated and believe to be true. This often means I have to make weaker claims than would perhaps be ideal stylistically, but the integrity is more important to me. For example, I use vague terms like “may be associated with” much more often than certainties like “causes”. I also try to include additional information that provides context on the claims I make, such as a study’s flaws or limitations. If I cannot investigate a claim thoroughly due to time constraints, I draw conclusions that are proportional to the depth of the investigation.
Learn to operate within the rules of the game.
Much of the time, I’m writing in a marketing or marketing-adjacent context. Therefore, there are certain rules I have to follow in order to do the job and satisfy the organization. When I worked in the cannabis world, most of the organizations I was writing for were pro-cannabis (although they certainly valued a complete scientific perspective). That meant I had to approach the articles with a slight bias toward the positive aspects of cannabis. However, I learned to provide balance copy that highlighted the limitations of the findings, or that was flat-out negative (for example, cannabis may be harmful to mental health), while still entertaining the pro-cannabis perspective and approaching the topic from within that frame. I find this a fun challenge that adds to the enjoyment of the job.
Push back on changes that decrease scientific accuracy.
A lot of the time, the person editing my work does not have a scientific background. Therefore, it is my responsibility as the medical writer to review the changes they make and ensure they do not compromise the integrity of my work. I don’t always have the opportunity to do this before publication, but if I do, I take it. If a change makes a statement untrue, it’s part of my job to push back. I find that editors generally appreciate this.
Pick your battles.
There are times where the publication’s other priorities will trump the scientific accuracy of the piece. It’s a sad reality, but it’s not cause for despair. I’ve learned that all I can do is make my case and push for the most scientifically accurate writing possible. If the editor won’t accept my argument, that’s on them. It’s also okay for an imperfect piece of writing to be published under my name. Almost everything I write ends up with some changes I disagree with, whether stylistic or in terms of accuracy, but that’s the reality of writing for a living.
Scientific integrity is essential for any medical writer. When we write for a general audience, it’s our responsibility to represent the science in the most unbiased, balanced way possible, while still acknowledging the constraints imposed by the company’s business needs or the publication’s political leanings. By aiming to only write things that are true, writing as accurately as I can within the contextual constraints, pushing back on inaccurate changes, and choosing my battles, I do my best to write with integrity at all times.
Think you might need a freelance medical writer? Feel free to reach out to me using my contact form, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am interested in working with health charities, health publications, businesses, and medical organizations.