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Medical Writing
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Book description

Effective communication is the ultimate, but often daunting, purpose of any medical research or review. This book provides the practical information necessary to turn first drafts into concise, unambiguous text, without loss of individuality. Written by a consultant anaesthetist and an experienced medical editor, and also illustrated by an accomplished medical editor, all of whom are sympathetic to the problems and needs of medical writers, this book deals with the basic craft of writing, from choosing the best word or phrase to essential grammar. This expanded fourth edition includes many more words better replaced, and deals explicitly with the problems of writers whose first language is not English. Whether you are writing a simple clinical report or a thesis, supervising others, running a course on medical or scientific writing, or just want to develop your skills in written communication, this book is the ideal guide and reference. Clear, simple and precise, and illustrated with apt cartoons, this is an invaluable handbook.


Review of previous edition:‘Read this book, and make sure your students do …'

Source: British Journal of Psychiatry

Review of previous edition:‘Anyone who aspires to medical or scientific authorship should read this book.'

Source: Journal of the Institution of Health Education

Review of previous edition:‘… whether you are an amateur or a well-published author this book will be useful. After reading it, I immediately wanted to redraft work I had written previously. But it is too late!'

Source: British Journal of Anaesthesia

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References and further reading
Dixon, B., ed. From creation to chaos: classic writings in science. Oxford, Blackwell, 1989.
Anonymous. Superstring theory. Lancet 1989; ii: 426–7.
Feynman, R. P.. ‘Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman!’London, Unwin, 1986.
Shuster, S.. Loneliness of a long distanced reviewer. BMJ 1981; 283: 1443–4.
Gregory, M. W.. The infectiousness of pompous prose. Nature 1992; 360: 11–12.
O’Donnell, M.. One man’s burden. BMJ 1985; 290: 250.
Dutton, D. B.. Worse than the disease: pitfalls of medical progress. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Furedi, F.. Where have all the intellectuals gone?London, Continuum, 2004; p. 95.
Anonymous. Trimming hedges. Lancet 1992; 340: 275–6.
Tinker, J. H.. Book review. N Engl J Med 1994; 330: 946.
Hayes, D. P.. The growing inaccessibility of science. Nature 1992; 356: 739–40.
Pickering, G.. High blood pressure, 2nd ed. London, Churchill, 1968.
Flowerdew, J.. Some thoughts on English for research publication purposes (ERPP) and related issues. Lang Teach 2013; 1–13. CJO doi:
Kaplan, R. B.. Cultural thought patterns in inter-cultural education. Lang Learn 1966; 16: 1–20.
Clyne, M.. Cultural differences in the organization of academic texts: English and German. J Pragmat 1987; 11: 211–41.
Englander, K.. But it would be good in Spanish: an analysis of awkward scholarly writing in English by L2 writers. In Santos, S., ed. EFL writing in Mexican universities: research and experience. Nayarit, Universidad Autónoma de Nayarit, 2010, pp. 55–71.
Netzel, R., Perez-Iratxeta, C., Bork, P. and Andrade, M. A.. The way we write. EMBO Rep 2003; 4: 446–51.
Fraser, J. G. and Martin, V. J.. Marketing data: has the rise of impact factor led to the fall of objective language in the scientific article?Respir Res 2009, 10: 35.
Watson, J. D. and Crick, F. H. C.. A structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature 1953; 171: 737–8.
Durant, J.. Silver tongues and twitching eyebrows. The Times Higher Educational Supplement 25 Mar 1994, pp. 21–2.
Silverman, W. A.. Human experimentation: a guided step into the unknown. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1985.
Whimster, W. F.. Reading, writing – and rewriting. BMJ 1987; 294: 1011.
MacUser 9 July 1993, p. 55.
Crystal, D.. Spell it out: the singular story of English spelling. London, Profile, 2012.
Anonymous. Personal view: a hidden handicap. BMJ 1994; 308: 66–7.
Bloom, D. A., Mory, R. N. and Hinman, Jr. F.Dilation vs. dilatation. J Urol 1992; 147: 1682.
Aronson, J. K.. “Where name and image meet” – the argument for adrenaline. BMJ 2000; 320: 506–9.
Crick, F.. What mad pursuit: a personal view of scientific discovery. London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988, p. 109.
Henderson, C., et al., for the Whole System Demonstrator evaluation team. Cost effectiveness of telehealth for patients with long term conditions (Whole Systems Demonstrator telehealth questionnaire study): nested economic evaluation in a pragmatic, cluster randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2013; 346: f1035.
Mitchell, J. R. A.. Back to the future: so what will fibrinolytic therapy offer your patients with myocardial infarction?BMJ 1986; 292: 973–8.
Paton, A.. Way with words. BMJ 1994; 309: 253.
Brewin, T. B.. Empirical: one word, two meanings. J R Coll Physicians Lond 1994; 28: 78–9.
Burkhart, S.. Sexism in medical writing. BMJ 1987; 295: 1585.
Kuhn, T.. The structure of scientific revolutions, 2nd ed. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1970.
Anonymous. Pause at the parameter. BMJ 1966; 1: 1063.
Sinclair, D. M.. Correspondence: parameters. BMJ 1965; 2:174.
Goodman, N. W.. Paradigm, parameter, paralysis of mind. BMJ 1993; 307: 1627–9.
Up & down the city road. The Independent Magazine, 5 Feb 1994, p. 10, col 3.
Nash, W.. English usage. A guide to first principles. London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986, p. 53.
Yu, B., Mei, Q. and Zhai, C.. English usage comparison between native and non-native English speakers in academic writing.
Berkanovic, E., Reeder, L. G., Marcus, A. C. and Schwartz, S.. The effects of prepayment on access to medical care: the PACC experience. Milbank Mem Fund Q Health Soc 1975; 53: 241–54.
Eger, E. I., II. A template for writing a scientific paper. Anesth Analg 1989; 68: 740–3.
Ziman, J.. Reliable knowledge. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1978, p. 42.
Pinker, S.. The language instinct. London, Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1994, pp. 213–14.
Cooter, M.. Putting on the style. BMJ 1999: 319: 1592.
Ohtake, H. and Morren, B.. The use and misuse of English prepositions in Japanese medical research writing. J Med Eng Educ 2011; 10: 65–76.
Howard, P.. Winged words. London, Corgi, 1983.
Goodman, N. W.. Survey of active verbs in the titles of clinical trial reports. BMJ 2000; 320: 914–15.
Rosner, J.. Reflections on science as a product. Nature 1990; 345: 108.
Goodman, N. W.. Novel tools constitutes a paradigm: how title words in medical journal articles have changed since 1970. The Write Stuff 2010; 19: 269–71.
Goodman, N. W.. Familiarity breeds: clichés in article titles. Br J Gen Pract 2012; 62: 656–7.
Goodman, N. W.. From Shakespeare to Star Trek and beyond: a Medline search for literary and other allusions in biomedical titles. BMJ 2005; 331: 1540–2.
Cameron, S. M.. Cinderella revisited. BMJ 2005; 331: 1543–4.
Gjersvik, G. P.. Dette er en god tittel. Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen 2013; 133: 129.
Dixon, B.. Slide rules. BMJ 1994; 309: 1665.
Reference books
Stevenson, A. and Waite, M., eds. Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 12th ed. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011.
Oxford English Dictionary. CD-ROM. v. 4.0. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2010.
Baron, D. N., ed. Units, symbols and abbreviations. A guide for biological and medical editors and authors, 6th ed. London, Royal Society of Medicine Services, 2008.
Gowers, E.. The complete plain words, 3rd ed, revised by Greenbaum, S., Whitcut, J.London, Penguin, 1987.
The Economist style guide, 10th ed. London, Profile Books, 2013.
Bryson, B.. Troublesome words, 3rd ed. London, Penguin, 2009.
Hicks, W.. Quite literally. Problem words and how to use them. New York, Routledge, 2004.
Trask, R. L.. Mind the gaffe. The Penguin guide to common errors in English. London, Penguin, 2002.
Trask, R. L.. The Penguin guide to punctuation. London, Penguin, 2004.
Albert, T.. Write effectively: a quick course for busy health workers. Oxford, Radcliffe Publishing, 2008. The author of this book – inventor of the ‘pub test’ (p. 201) and writer of the Foreword (p. ix) – devised courses for health professionals, running over 1000 before he retired. His website () is worth a visit.
Barrass, R.. Scientists must write, 2nd ed. London, Routledge, 2002.
Huth, E.. Writing and publishing in medicine, 3rd ed. Baltimore, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1998.
O’Connor, M.. Writing successfully in science. London, Routledge, 1991.
Schwager, E.. Medical usage and abusage. Phoenix, Oryx Press, 1991.
Carr, S.. Tackling NHS jargon. Getting the message across. Oxford, Radcliffe Medical Press, 2001.
Allen, R.. Pocket Fowler’s modern English usage, 2nd ed. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008.
Hayakawa, S. I. and Ehrlich, E.. The Penguin guide to synonyms and related words, 2nd ed. London, Penguin, 1996.
Bigwood, S. and Spore, M.. Presenting numbers, tables, and charts. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2003.
Tufte, E. R.. The visual display of quantitative information. Surrey, Graphics Press, 2001.
Books to read or dip into
Bryson, B.. Mother tongue. The story of the English language. London, Penguin, 1991 (reissued 2009). The story of the language, told with humour.
Crystal, D.. The English language. A guided tour of the language, 2nd ed. London, Penguin, 2002. More scholarly than Bryson.
Crystal, D.. The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language, 2nd ed. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003. What it says: encyclopaedic. A coffee table book about the language: read about Singapore English, the great vowel shift, and more.
Dawkins, R.. The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008. About 100 examples, with commentary, of good scientific writing.
Feynman, R. P.. ‘Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman!’London, Unwin, 1986. (See & .)
Medawar, P., Memoir of a thinking radish. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1986.
O’Donnell, M.. A sceptic’s medical dictionary. London, BMJ Publishing Group, 1997. The inventor of the term Decorated Municipal Gothic. (See & .)
Perutz, M.. Is science necessary? Essays on science and scientists. London, Barrie and Jenkins, 1989.
Truss, L.. Eats, shoots & leaves. The zero tolerance approach to punctuation. London, Profile Books, 2003. This book won Britain’s best book of the year award in 2004, and has sold three million copies worldwide.


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