Category Archives: Beginner’s Medical Writing Series

Step 7: Join AMWA

Time for Step 6 of the “Beginner’s Medical Writing” series – a step-by-step guide to getting yourself started in freelance medical writing – an extremely basic guide for making the first move into medical writing.

If you’re just arriving, feel free to check out the earlier steps:

The next best step, if you haven’t already jumped the gun and done so, is to join AMWA – the American Medical Writers Association.

Here are the Top 10 Reasons To Join AMWA!

The current annual membership fee is $155 ($55 if you’re a student). If you’re hesitant to spend this much money without really knowing what it’s about or what it might be able to do for you, I’d advise checking to see if there’s a local chapter anywhere near you. Local chapters hold meetings throughout the year, and you can still attend these without being a member – you just end up paying about $5 extra on the local meeting fee than members pay.

This way, you can attend a meeting and get to network with some friendly medical writers local to your area – this will certainly help you get a feel for the organization and how you can benefit from it.

So check out their website and at least consider attending a local meeting – I guarantee you’ll feel inspired afterwards!

Step 6: Launch Yourself On LinkedIn

Time for Step 6 of the “Beginner’s Medical Writing” series – a step-by-step guide to getting yourself started in freelance medical writing – an extremely basic guide for making the first move into medical writing.

If you’re just arriving, feel free to check out the earlier steps:

Back in Step 3 I urged you to consider using some form of social media for your work. This is especially useful for those of you working freelance, but is also helpful even if you’re getting into medical writing and intend to work as a full time employee somewhere.

If you only wanted to use one networking site, LinkedIn would be the one I’d advise. Launched in 2003, this is one of the oldest of the social networks, and is the one most used for business – and it recently stole the spot as 2nd largest social network from MySpace.

The principle behind LinkedIn kind of reminds me of online dating. You create a profile that describes you at your most stellar, and make connections with professionals in similar industries, or anyone who you think could potentially be a useful contact for you.

Advantages Of LinkedIn

  • It’s low-maintenance: With Twitter and Facebook, you need to maintain somewhat of a regular presence to get the best use out of them. With LinkedIn, however, the majority of your effort is required in just setting up your profile. Then it just requires occasional tweaks – inviting new networking connections, adding new employers to your resume, sharing occasional links to useful articles or sites. So it doesn’t require you to do much at all.
  • It’s an online business profile for you: Even if you don’t have a website or blog, you can certainly advertise yourself very effectively on LinkedIn.
  • Job searching:  Not only do many employers advertise vacancies on LinkedIn, but many also search the site for prospective candidates to see if they can cherry-pick someone appropriate for their needs. Another reason to make sure that your profile is as perfect as possible there!

 

Getting the most out of LinkedIn

  • Create a profile that’s as complete as possible: This is your online resume, so flaunt yourself! Adding as much detail as possible will increase the likelihood that your usefulness can be spotted. LinkedIn also has an option to enable you to upload a pdf version of your resume. Add a photo too – it makes you much more “real”! If you do have a website, blog or a Twitter profile, you can share these on your profile page too. And if you use Twitter, you can activate your settings so that your tweets show up on your profile page.
  • Ask for testimonials: If former colleagues or employers also use LinkedIn, ask them to give you a testimonial on the site. Every little helps.
  • Add connections: Chances are, you’ll already know someone to add to your LinkedIn connections list, so start there! Feel free to connect there with me too. My advice is to gradually add as many people as possible. You’ll find that random people will start sending you invites to connect – and you can do the same too, as you come across more people who you feel might be useful to network with.
  • Join groups: LinkedIn has a group networking facility too – various groups have been set up by other members or organizations, and you simply “request to join” any that take your fancy. For instance, I’ve joined the AMWA group, as well as my local AMWA New England Chapter group (although you have to actually be paid members of AMWA itself to join these on LinkedIn). But there are numerous others such as “Science Writers”. You simply search under “groups” in the search box to see what is available. And another good way to find new groups is to look at which ones your connections have joined – this is displayed on their profile.
  • Share: Once you’ve joined groups, you’ll be able to share links or even just comments for discussion, or questions on their page. If you don’t like the idea of doing this as soon as you join the site, start off by simply joining in on any discussions that pop up. That way you’ll be unofficially introducing yourself gradually, and soon you’ll feel better about sharing something with the group. Even something as simple as sharing a useful site or article that you come across can be helpful for others there.
  • Job search: The search box allows you to search for jobs too. Many companies are now advertising their vacancies on LinkedIn, so it’s a great place to network. Also, recruiters will often post jobs on the discussion board of some group pages, so that’s another good source of positions.

 

Some Useful LinkedIn Links!

Miriam Salpeter is one of my favorite online job coaches, and her blog contains a lot if useful material about social networking for business.

I also came across this free, downloadable chapter of her book: “Social Networking For Career Success” which has some useful information in it for using LinkedIn.

And hot off the press, I just discovered How To Get Around In LinkedIn (via Twitter!).

So go ahead, set up your profile on LinkedIn, and please feel free to join me there. And if it all seems like a lot of work to do at once, why not just devote 20 minutes each day to it until you’ve completed it?

 

Step 5: Try Twitter

Time for Step 4 of the “Beginner’s Medical Writing” series – a step-by-step guide to getting yourself started in freelance medical writing – an extremely basic guide for making the first move into medical writing.

If you’re just arriving, feel free to check out the earlier steps:

 

Back in Step 3 I mentioned the benefits of considering some aspect of social networking when you start up in medical writing – I think this is really useful whether you are considering freelance work, or if you are a full time employee somewhere.

I thought I’d give Twitter a plug today. I never thought I’d use Twitter – socially I’ve used Facebook for a couple of years, and whenever I’d hear people talk about Twitter, I just didn’t “get” it – I couldn’t wrap my head around how it operated, or what use it could possibly be.

 

 

A few friends who use it for business had told me I should definitely give it a go. I resisted the idea for a few months, but then decided to try it out – what harm could it do? If all else failed, surely I could abandon it, and at least know I’d tried?

So I joined a couple of months ago, and I love it!

 

How Does It Work?

Twitter is basically a service for sending and receiving status updates – so if you’ve used Facebook, you’ll be used to writing and reading these short communications. Twitter’s short communications, however, are capped at 140 characters (letters, periods, dashes, etc).

So it makes for a great way to get a short message out to people: “Free coffee at the cafeteria, 2-4pm”, or maybe a link to a cool photo. And for business purposes, people often use it to share links to web pages – whether something useful that they came across and want to share, or a link to their personal site to share an article, announcement, or product.

Due to the 140 character cap, you have to not only get creative in how you make your announcement sometimes, but you also need to shorten your weblink, otherwise this will quickly eat into your 140 characters. There are numerous applications that you can use to shorten your links (you can do a Google search to find one that you prefer), but I use bitly – it’s very simple to use:

  • Copy and paste your desired weblink into the search box
  • Hit the “shorten” button to the right of the box
  • A shortened link will magically appear
  • Copy & paste this into the Twitter text box
  • Add a short accompanying message before tweeting

 

Why Join?

I was skeptical, I just didn’t see how useful it would be – I thought it sounded quite bizarre, all these “status updates”! What use could that possibly be!? But I have been very pleasantly surprised. It’s been a wonderful way for me to meet up online with other medical and freelance writers, other medical professionals, blogs, and organizations that I feel are useful to follow.

So I’d urge you to give it a go – and like I decided for myself previously – if you don’t like it, you can abandon mission. Join up today – come up with a short Twitter handle (that’s basically your username – it’ll have a “@” preceding it) – mine is @BioScientific – don’t worry too much about choosing the perfect Twitter handle, you can always change it later if you feel like.

 

Some Useful Guides To Using Twitter

Rather than go on ad nauseum on how to use Twitter (and I’m still getting the hang of it myself!), here are some links to very useful articles that describe it much more concisely than I could!

 

The Beginner’s Guide To Twitter

The Writer’s Guide To Twitter

How To Use Hashtags

6 Tools To Grow Your Twitter Network

How To Get Noticed On Twitter

 

Hope to see you over at Twitter!

 

Join me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

 

Step 4: Using Your Blog

Time for Step 4 of the “Beginner’s Medical Writing” series – a step-by-step guide to getting yourself started in freelance medical writing – an extremely basic guide for making the first move into medical writing.

If you’re just arriving, feel free to check out the earlier steps:

Hopefully by now, you’ve set up a blog, and maybe even started out with some business-related social networking. On that note, I’ve been asked to discuss what purpose a blog can serve for a medical writer, so here goes!

WHY USE A BLOG?

To Advertise Your Business:

If we’re not out there, nobody will find us. Work is a little bit like dating (any kind of work, whether you want to be an employee or self-employed) – if you don’t put yourself out there, it’s difficult to be found.

Whether we like it or not, the world’s gone digital. The days of locating businesses purely through those huge, hard copies of your telephone book or Yellow Pages are history – the first port of call for most people looking for any kind of business service is now an online search. I don’t consider myself a very digital person, but I know this is the case for me. The instant gratification of finding what you want after hitting a few keys on your keyboard, is tough to beat – I can’t remember the last time I ever picked up a Yellow Pages, let alone owned one. So if we don’t take advantage of this venue, we are missing out on an important way to self-advertise.

 

To Showcase Your Potential:

Your blog can provide a perfect way for you to show off your work. This can be especially useful for non-scientists who want to break into medical writing, but have no prior work clips to share with potential clients. I don’t know about you, but although I love the ability to shop online, I tend not to order things that are “sight unseen”. Your blog helps your work to be seen.

 

It Makes You Real:

A blog can also allow readers and potential clients to get a sense of who you are. The digital arena has a real-time advantage over a listing in a telephone book – it allows you to engage with people as often as you choose to do so. Updating your blog regularly provides something that a telephone book listing cannot deliver – the ability to connect with others. Everything you share on your blog allows readers to get a glimpse of your personality and passion. These regular connections help to make you real – potential clients will see that you have a zest for writing, and also get a feel for your writing tone – these things definitely help when it comes to deciding who to choose for help with a writing project.

 

To Use As Your Portfolio:

You can also put your blog to good use as a showcase for your resume or portfolio. The ability to add different pages to your blog enables you to use it to almost any advantage. Some people add a resume page, or a portfolio page where readers can link up to clips of the writer’s work that may have been published online. Or you can even upload pdf versions of manuscripts for viewing.

 

To Keep You In The Loop:

A blog is such a great way to keep you from feeling as if you’re all alone in the writing world, and this is probably especially true if you are working 100% freelance. In an office environment, you have instant connection with workmates if you need to bounce ideas off someone, or get a second opinion on something. When running a solo business, you don’t have this luxury. Your blog, however, can serve as a medium for this. It provides you with an almost instant way to receive ideas, comments, feedback, opinions etc. And from all across the world too! The cyber-connectivity can keep you grounded in your business venture, allowing you to network with others who can help you out, even if just by way of moral support.

 

To Help Others:

Never underestimate what you might have to offer someone. Whether it’s an encouraging word, a snippet of information, or just simple enjoyment, I guarantee that your blog will provide something for someone at some point. Someone will leave you some positive feedback, or send you an email to thank you for something, or ask more questions. And you can guarantee that your blog will be useful for many who don’t let you know – think of all the material that you read online each day – do you leave comments each time you find something fun, interesting, useful etc? I know I don’t – but it’s certainly not for the lack of interest – we all read a lot, but simply don’t have the time to comment on everything we enjoy. So don’t forget, someone loves you! A little altruism never hurt anyone.

 

Having a blog isn’t going to make you successful overnight, and it won’t bring clients flocking within a month if you’re new to the business and still trying to get your foot in the door. It does, however, get you out there, and lets clients see that you are real and also serious about what you do. I feel that it keeps you accountable too – a huge help for someone starting out, especially a non-scientist without publications to use as a springboard – your blog can help you to “keep on keeping on”. Given that it’s easier to give up than keep fighting the fight, if you commit to writing a little something regularly – even once a week – you can maintain business motivation while trying to catch some initial projects, and also build up your online portfolio in the meantime.

So if you are new to your medical writing business, think of your blog as the first step in self-marketing. Maintaining it can be time-consuming, but nevertheless, very beneficial. Writing begets writing.

 

What’s your favorite use for your blog?

 

Join me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

 

Step 3: Time To Socialize

Time for Step 3 of the “Beginner’s Medical Writing” series – a step-by-step guide to getting yourself started in freelance medical writing – an extremely basic guide for making the first move into medical writing.  

If you’re just arriving, feel free to check out the earlier steps:

So, where are we up to now? Hopefully by now you have a blog or some kind of website “out there”. And I haven’t forgotten that I left you with some assignments to get you started with writing for your blog.

If you haven’t yet posted them to your blog, then go ahead and do so – this is the start of your showcase, so the sooner they are up and running, the better. As for the next step – it’s time to link up with some other folk in your field.  Gathering a new social circle can be a wonderful way to help propel your new business.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Does the very thought of being involved in social media leave you kicking & screaming? If so, you have a big decision to make. On the one hand, if you are social media-phobic, then it might be a waste of your time setting up accounts for your business – there’s no point pretending you’re going to give it a go, if you already know you’ll never use any of them. On the other hand, however, this is 2011 & like it or not, social media is now part of our online business DNA.

So before you dig in your heels & declare your business a failure when it’s just getting started, I’d urge you to give it just a little thought. These days, many small businesses are successfully using Facebook, Twitter, & LinkedIn (amongst others) to promote their services. So it is absolutely in your best interests to at least consider using one of them. Decide which of the social media sites might appeal to you most – take your pick based either on which will be a better choice for your type of freelance business, or which of the networks you are most likely to actually feel content about using.

 

Some benefits of social networking to help persuade you in the right direction:

  • Improves marketing of your services
  • Allows business networking with others in your niche
  • Increases visibility of your business
  • Drives traffic to your website/blog
  • Builds credibility for your services
  • Provides a simple method of enabling feedback on your services
  • A great way to gain moral support

 

Just One?

If you are looking to maybe just take on one of the social networks, I’d advise using LinkedIn – this will at least expose your business to the world (including potential employers) and is probably the one that requires the least maintenance once you’ve set it up appropriately. So this might be the choice for you if you absolutely know that the Facebook, Twitter, or other universes are simply not where you want to place your energy.

I use 3 networks for my business, so feel free to link up with me at any of them:

There are also direct links to my Twitter & Facebook profiles at the top right of the screen.

Whilst the situation will be different for different individuals, I have to say that Facebook has been the least useful for my business purposes – although LinkedIn & Twitter have proven to be great ways to network and for me to be found.

So go ahead & explore some of the social networking options for yourself, & see which you might be interested in trying out. Your assignment today is to set up at least one social networking profile and link it up with your business site online.

Which of the social networks have you used, and which has been most useful for your business?

Step 2: Get Yourself Out There!

Time for Step 2 of the “Beginner’s Medical Writing” series – a step-by-step guide to getting yourself started in freelance medical writing. Remember – this is not a “get rich quick” guide, but merely an extremely basic guide for those of you who are pondering branching into medical writing, but don’t quite know how to make the first moves.

A couple of days ago, I suggested in Step 1 that it would be a good idea to start right from scratch – literally just trying to decide which area of medical writing you wanted to focus on initially. So hopefully you now know whether you are going to venture into the scientific or the non-scientific/marketing side.

Step 2: Get Yourself Out There

Now that you know you want to branch into freelance work, it’s time to put yourself out there. Let’s face it, if you don’t tell the world where you are & what you can do, it can’t find you!

So you need an online presence. There are numerous ways for you to accomplish this – you can set up a website or a blog yourself – free or paid – or you can pay someone to set you up with either one, with all the bells & whistles that a web designer can throw your way. If you are a procrastinator, you could spend weeks or more, just pondering on how to do this perfectly. During this time, you might lose time that could be spent working on your first project, & earning your first $100.

So why procrastinate? Obviously if you’re extremely organized & focused & know exactly what you want, then go for it in however which way you prefer. But if you’re hesitating because you’re still not sure what you ultimately want your site to look like, & if you’re living in a world of “what ifs” then my advice is this:

Just sign up for a free blog now!

 

 

But What If?

I know, you probably can’t make up your mind about what to name your business.  Maybe you’ll even want to change its name later? And what if you don’t like the blog in 3 months? Maybe you’ll change your writing focus at a later date too?

None of these things matter – your business will be forever evolving. The most important thing right now is that you get started. If you’re not even sure what to call your business right now, just register the blog under your name initially. You’ll be able to change the header of the blog page any time you like – it could start off as your name & progress to a business name at a later date. Likely you’ll be more tech-savvy than I am too, so if I can cope with an online presence, then so can you!

Should I Buy My Own Domain?

Many business-related sites advise just buying your own domain from the start – go for it if this is what you want, but if you’re still wondering where the freelance world might take you, then starting out with a free blog gives the advantage of zero financial risk for you. If you decide that this isn’t for you in a year’s time, then you’ve lost nothing financially. If your business takes off, however, you can break into your own domain whenever you feel comfortable. There are plenty of talented web designers around who can help you convert your current free blog over to your new domain if necessary (and if you’re lucky, you may even have a friend in the business to help!).

Back To The Free Blog

Probably the two main, free blog-hosting sites are WordPress.com (which I use for this blog) and Blogger.com, although there are other options available too (do a Google search so you can be sure you’ve covered all bases). I’ve used both of these options, and have found pros and cons with both. Overall though, I do prefer the cleaner, crisper look that the WordPress themes seem to offer. You can easily do some shopping around though and check out the free themes that the blog hosting sites offer – this will help you decide which site to choose initially. And again, you can still swap sites whenever you choose, so all is not lost if you have second thoughts somewhere down the line.

My Blog Is Set Up – What Now?

Very basically, to get you started you’ll want to at least add the following:

  • Title header (your business name, or just your name)
  • Descriptive subtitle (be as descriptive as you like, but write something so that when visitors land there, they immediately see exactly what your blog is about
  • About Me (tell visitors who you are, what you do, any relevant qualifications, & how to contact you)

OK, so now you’re moving!  Next up is your homework assignment. I’m going to ask you to decide on titles for three posts (maybe around 500-1000 words each) – then plan an outline for each of them, and lastly, get started writing them.

If you are stuck for ideas to get you started, why not make your first post an introduction to who you are, and what kind of medical writing you are offering? Other ideas include choosing to write about a couple of medical conditions that interest you, or maybe a condition that’s prominent in the news right now.

Step 3 will follow soon, but in the meantime, get your thinking caps on & enjoy writing……..

Step 1: Breaking & Entering

A couple of days ago I talked about my guest-post at Anne Wayman’s great freelance writing site where you’ll find a wealth of advice for writers of any genre.

I was astounded by the response. In addition to a few people dropping in on Anne’s site with comments & questions about how to further themselves in freelance medical, I also received many emails from folk looking for any information on actually breaking into the medical writing world.

So I decided it might be a good idea to share some of my insights for starting-up. Maybe a “Beginner’s Medical Writing” series – a step-by-step guide to getting yourself started in freelance medical writing.

I can’t tell you how to get rich quick, how to become an overnight success, or give your any links to sites advertising heaps of high-paying writing jobs. But I can share some tips based on how I got started in the freelance medical writing world.

I’ll be sharing some very basic things from the ground upwards – most of the people who contacted me had questions that focused around the “breaking in” aspect, so I hope to be able to provide some encouragement for anyone thinking of becoming a freelance medical writer (or a freelance “anything” writer, for that matter).

I’m no techno-guru (quite the exact opposite, as it happens!), so if I can do this, you can too!

Which Branch Of Medical Writing?

Just as for any career, whether online or offline, you first need to decide which area of medical writing you’d like to be involved in. Naturally this may change as time goes by & you take on different projects and develop different preferences; however, at least initially it is wise to target some area to get you started. In determining which type of writing you would like to do, you will also have to take into account your educational qualifications and professional experiences.

Although there are large numbers of medical writers who do not have any scientific educational qualifications, there is no doubt that having some scientific qualifications is necessary for some areas of medical writing. Pharmaceutical companies, for instance, typically employ scientifically qualified individuals as regulatory medical writers.

Of the medical writers who I know who are non-scientists, the majority either have a degree in English, or journalism, or some other field that translates into “communication”. Additionally, some have professional backgrounds in marketing, public relations, as well as other similar careers. And certainly, much of the work undertaken by non-scientific medical writers tends to revolve around marketing.

So certainly your initial leap into medical writing might be better accomplished if you focus in on an aspect that you can more easily lever your way into, based on either your educational qualifications, or previous professional experiences.

Examples Of Work Typically Undertaken By Scientific Medical Writers

  • Preparing scientific journal articles, abstracts, posters or presentations
  • Medical editing
  • Preparation of medical education materials
  • Writing white papers
  • Preparing regulatory documents

Examples Of Work Typically Undertaken By Non-Scientific Medical Writers

  • Patient education material
  • Proposal writing
  • Public relations
  • Training manuals
  • Magazine articles
  • Newsletters
  • Internet content

These are by no means exhaustive lists, and there’s no divisive wall between the two types of writers – you’ll certainly find both types of writer in both types of work category. But hopefully this is a general guide that will help you decide what type of medical writing might be a good area for you to kick-start yourself into.

So I’ll conclude “Step 1″ by encouraging you to spend a little time thinking about which area of medical writing might be for you initially.

Stay tuned for Step 2!

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