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Science, scientific, technical, and medical writing – are they all the same?

By Anca Savulescu

Scientific, technical, and medical writing have changed enormously as these writing-based professions have evolved. These professions have solidified over time, and now, clearer distinctions can be made between them, although the boundaries may still be gray.

Firstly, a clear distinction must be made between science writing and scientific writing. Science writing is writing about science, including basic science, new innovations, drugs, novel technologies, and more. It is intended for the lay reader and science enthusiasts and aims to bridge the gap between scientists and the general public. Science writing can be found in popular newspapers or magazines, websites, blogs, and whiteboard lectures. Scientific writing, on the other hand, refers to highly specialized science-based writing intended for scientists, and typically written by science specialists. It includes various regulatory documents, scientific articles, and academic content.

Medical writing can be found under the umbrella of scientific writing and refers to the development and writing of structured clinical and scientific documents, which can be read easily by medical professionals. These documents include clinical study data reports, patient safety narratives, journal articles, clinical trial protocols, and more, and are often intended to support requests for approval for drugs and devices from organizations such as the FDA. Medical writers prepare these clinical and technical documents for clinical research organizations, pharmaceutical companies, medical device producers, biotechnology companies, and healthcare organizations, as well as doctors and scientists. They are an essential part of each step in the clinical trial lifecycle from the development of an initial protocol to the drug submission process. Medical writers have a strong understanding of medical concepts, possess knowledge of various therapeutic areas, as well as regulatory guidelines and drug development, and must be detail-oriented, accurate, meticulous, and have excellent writing skills.

Technical writing refers to writing technical documents such as user manuals, product specifications, guides, and other functional aspects of products in an easy-to-understand manner. Technical writers typically work with engineers and product developers, and, like medical writers, they are also required to be detail-oriented, accurate, and meticulous. However, unlike medical writers who write documents to communicate clinical, medical, or scientific information to healthcare professionals, technical writers communicate technical information to consumers and “layman” users, such as patients. Medical writing and technical writing are often used interchangeably, and some of the tasks of medical and technical writers may be intertwined. For example, writing medical equipment training manuals or instruction booklets may be referred to as medical or technical writing. This overlap is especially evident when the technical writer specializes in the medical field and is termed a medical technical writer. According to the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), the terms medical technical writer and medical writer are interchangeable, as both refer to writers who communicate medical and health information to health specialists. Furthermore, medical writing is sometimes referred to as being a specialized field of technical writing.

As the field of medical writing continues to grow and develop, we expect a more distinct definition of this field to be formulated and clearer boundaries between the various types of writing to be set.




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