By Dionne Crafford
In the first of two posts on lean medical writing, we were introduced to the lean thought process, its origins, why it would be beneficial to apply it to medical writing, and how it can be applied in an authoring context. In this second post, we will look at specific strategies we can employ to effectively implement lean authoring.
Tools often employed together with a lean approach include the A3 problem-solving framework and the 5S system (Bhardwaj et al. 2017; Priolo 2020). Detailed discussion falls outside the scope of this post, but be sure to investigate and apply these tools.
On a practical authoring level, three categories are applicable: plan, avoid, and use. Planning starts before authoring with the template table of contents; carefully consider your headings to avoid repetition of information and allow cross-referencing within the document (and to sections within other documents as applicable). We want to avoid repetition, inconsistency, lack of focus, and useless or irrelevant text. We want to use precise language, short sentences, and efficient presentation of information (text bullets and tables). In the text, we only want to highlight numbers that contribute to key messaging (a “story” mentality that translates to efficiency).
Brown and Jochman (2021) suggested asking three questions while authoring. The first—is the text needed? Remember that the target audience will dictate client value (client needs pull services) and authors must adapt accordingly. Information or messages should be provided once and cross-referenced from there. Check that every word is needed and contributes to key messaging (exclude details not relevant to the document) and avoid adding details that can change before finalization to reduce potential errors. The authoring approach must be “story-driven”; the need for key messaging must guide how and where text and information presented must be reduced. This brings us to the second question—is the message clear? Limit the number of ideas and messages presented as guided by the objectives (key messaging only). While we must retain only enough words to convey key messages, this must be done in a clear and grammatically correct manner. Consistency in the use of terminology and presentation of information is paramount. Lastly, we need to ask ourselves—is the presentation effective? Relevance should guide information order (the most important information should be presented first). Information should be logically and effectively organized using bullet points and tables where applicable. When making comparisons, the wording should be precise and non-biased.
Medical writing is a pursuit of perfection, a journey and not a destination. Aspiring to lean authoring and the principles it represents allows us to do just that. I am looking forward to joining you on this journey!
Brown E, Jochman K. 2021. Calling all medical writers: Focus your writing with lean authoring. Regulatory matters section (section editor Jennifer Clemens). Medical Writing 30(1):70-71. https://journal.emwa.org/social-media/regulatory-matters/. Accessed 17 May 2023.
Bhardwaj P, Sinha S, Yadav RK. 2017. Medical and scientific writing: Time to go lean and mean. Perspectives in Clinical Research 8(3):113-117. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28828305/. Accessed 17 May 2023.
Drees B. 2021. Lean medical writing: Story not storage. Trilogy Writing and Consulting. https://trilogywriting.com/document/lean-medical-writing-story-not-storage/. Accessed 17 May 2023.
James Lind Institute. 2012. What is LEAN writing? Three steps to get your writing in shape. https://www.jli.edu.in/blog/what-is-lean-writing-three-steps-to-get-your-writing-in-shape/. Accessed 17 May 2023.
Priolo R. 2020. Lean for better writing. https://planet-lean.com/lean-writing/. Accessed 17 May 2023.
Propharma. 2020. Medical writing lean overview. https://www.propharmagroup.com/thought-leadership/medical-writing-lean-overview. Accessed 17 May 2023.