Category Archives: Medical Writing

Is it Time to Shred the White Paper?

I recently talked about white papers as a good market for medical writers to tap into. And I additionally wrote this guest post on writing white papers for the medical industry.

But not everyone is a fan of this old favorite!

What’s the Problem?
They tend to get a bad rap. Painful, dull, and overlong are just a few adjectives that I’ve seen used to describe these important documents. Yet they’ve been around for some time, and their academic voice remains a high-impact asset in marketing.

Not all white papers are created equally though. Their quality varies widely, depending on the author. When written properly, they can be extremely effective marketing tools, even in simple PDF format. The flip side, however, is that when written poorly, they merely come across as a big old sales pitch in disguise (and sometimes not even in disguise!). A small bias is expected (it’s a document that aims to grab a sale, after all), but if the overwhelming message to the reader is a forceful sales pitch, it may just fall on deaf ears.

One problem with a white paper is its short half-life – once sent out, that’s it, it’s gone. And the reader may not even finish reading it. Another problem is inflexibility of content delivery – even if the reader likes it, he still may not be motivated to contact a sales representative.

Interestingly, many people believe that white papers may be on the way out due to the advent of new 2.0 technologies. Our ever-increasing immersion into the fast-paced digital era has, for better or worse, reduced our attention span. As a result, some feel that traditional white papers are less appealing, whereas digital information delivery allows the reader to become more involved in researching a product, thus enhancing product curiosity.

What Alternatives are There?
Consequently many feel that the traditional, thesis-like white paper may be outdated amidst today’s technology. Some businesses are therefore now reaching out to their audience via different platforms, and building client relationships in a more interactive way. A few of these include:

  • Microsites: These can be used to create a marketing message for lead generation. Information that would typically go into a white paper can be placed on the site, but in a more readable and interactive format. Information can be shared there in various formats (such as via a blog, surveys, webinars, and discussion forums to name but a few), and can also be updated as necessary.
  • Twitter: Social networking is becoming another useful method for reaching a target audience.  Twitter is a growing platform for this, with Twitter chats being increasingly used for marketing.
  • eBooks: Their landscape format is favored by some, supposedly because it makes for easier reading. Throw in some embedded links too, or interactive media “bells and whistles” such as video or animation. The finished product may then better engage the reader, increasing his interest, and making him more likely to finish reading it.


Where Does the Future Lie?
Having said all this, however, white papers have stood the test of time. After all, companies are still using them, and often still in their very traditional, bland form. Some critics argue that our reduced attention spans actually allow a paper document to function better than digital material. For instance, many people visit many websites, but how long do they stay to read them? Additionally, the viral “here today, gone tomorrow” nature of much digital material these days could work against its effectiveness as a delivery platform for product information.

Personally, despite seeing the value of new technology, I feel that white papers will remain steadfast. I think most of us would agree that attention-grabbing content remains king, regardless of format.  And likely the customer, not the marketer, will have the final say on whether white papers should be axed. At the moment though, there is enough evidence that they remain a valued marketing tool. So although change is always good as a process evolves, I suspect most companies will retain a special place in their heart for these documents. After all, marketing is still marketing, and the factors that drive sales haven’t really changed.


So what do you think? Is creativity the new white paper?


Image credit Photostock at Free Digital Photos

How Köhler Illumination Can Help You See The Light

Time for another fun microscopy update! If you’re working in a lab and use a microscope occasionally, you may have heard about Köhler illumination. It’s certainly worth knowing about if you want to get the most out of your microscope.



My article  at BitesizeBio will not only help to clue you in to its value, but will take you through the steps to achieve it.


Image Credit ardelfin at Morguefile

Writing Medical White Papers

Most of last week, and this week, I’m busy traveling. Combined ACVP annual conference in Nashville, and Exam Committee duties too. I decided to take some extra time before and after so I could actually drive there and back. A long hike from Boston to Nashville, but it’s been worth it so far – I’ve been able to see some lovely regions for the first time. Always good!

In the meantime…..

Last week I introduced the concept of white papers as a good market for you as a medical writer to think about tapping into, if you haven’t already done so.

My favorite business writer, Cathy Miller, writes a lot of white papers, so while she was away in San Diego last week on her 8th, 60 mile walk for breast cancer, she kindly allowed me to write a guest post on writing medical white papers.



Feel free to check it out if you’re new to the white papers scene and are looking for some pointers on writing white papers for the medical industry.



Image credit Photostock at Free Digital Photos

An Introduction To The Light Microscope

For those of you working in the realm of biological science, whether you’re just starting a PhD or working your way through your graduate studies, it’s likely that at some stage you’ll be needing to use a microscope.

And if you’re anything like most people, the idea of this might fill you with dread. Or should I say, the idea of trying to use it properly might fill you with dread!



I use one every day, so it’s second nature to me. But I’m a pathologist, so I should know what I’m doing. Most scientists have other priorities, however, and aren’t accustomed to this. So it’s not surprising that most people don’t get the most out of their microscope – why would they when the last time they used one was maybe 5 years ago in some early university practical class?

I recently joined BitesizeBio as a staff writer, and I started off with an introductory article on how to use the light microscope. It’s a “101 Guide” for anyone who wants to get some pointers on using a microscope. So if it’s been a while since you needed to use that old lab ‘scope, don’t panic! The article will help you get set up and ready to go.


Image Credit ardelfin at Morguefile

White Papers

What Is A White Paper

Chances are you’ve probably heard this term, even if you’ve never paid too much attention to what it means. Basically, a “white paper” is just a specific type of report. Importantly though, it’s a report with a mission – to act as a powerful marketing tool. Typically they’ll be about 4-10 pages long, but can in fact range from something resembling a 2 page flyer, to as much as a 100 page book.

Check out this white paper on nanotechnology-enabled drug delivery systems to give you an idea of what they can look like.

Who Uses White Papers?

You’ll find them used by all kinds of business organizations, and the medical industry is no exception, and healthcare, biotechnology and pharmaceutical organizations in particular benefit from their use. They are are used as a marketing aid in many areas of these organizations, from financing to new drugs, or even new medical devices.

So How Do They Work?

White papers are often described as being a cross between a magazine article and a brochure:

  • The Magazine Article: Typically the report opens up with this portion, educating the reader about a problem that is affecting them, and suggesting potential solutions.
  • The Brochure: This portion closes out the report, and is where it switches to describe a product or service provided by the company – something that can provide a solution to one of the problems described earlier. It tends to support its message with well-researched facts and data.

The number one focus in medical marketing is to produce a well-constructed white paper that propels a product along a pathway to a final sale. It needs to convince the buyer that the product is of some benefit to them. There’s a fine line to walk, however, since the pitch needs to be “just right”.

Most importantly the white paper needs to be readable to allow the potential buyer to develop trust and confidence in the product or service on offer. It needs to engage the customer, providing evidence that it can serve a purpose for them.

In summary, white papers are used to educate their readers and hopefully help them to make an informed decision on why a company’s specific product or service should be used. If the paper is intended for the general public, it should not be too medical jargon-filled, and it certainly shouldn’t read as a report with an overwhelming sales pitch that drowns the reader.

Why Do Medical Writers Need To Know About Them?

If you’re a medical writer, it’s worth knowing about white papers because they represent a great source of business for you. You don’t even have to be a scientist or even a medical writer to write white papers for the medical industry – you just need to be able to write persuasive copy using a tone that is appropriate for the intended audience. But your scientific background can certainly come in useful.

So if you haven’t already done so, it’s certainly worth using your medical writing skills to tap into this market.

Image credit Photostock at Free Digital Photos

AMWA-New England Chapter Day

Wednesday turned out to be a big AMWA day for me – there were two meetings of our New England Chapter that day, and I managed to get to both!



The first was a lunch meeting in Cambridge. That was perfect for me since the meeting place was a Chinese restaurant just a couple of miles from where I work. It was a cosy gathering of about 11 of us, so we all managed to fit around one large, round table. I’d met a couple of the members before, and there were numerous new members in attendance too.

One of the highlights for me was hearing one member’s story. Larry Kerpelman is a health writer and author of Pieces Missing, a book that tells the story of his family’s perseverance following his wife’s traumatic brain injury. And the best part about it all was the fact that Larry’s wife thankfully eventually recovered.



As soon as lunch was over, I jumped in the car and headed down into Connecticut. The evening meeting was being held at an Italian restaurant in New Haven, so I had an almost two and a half hour journey to get there. It was a beautiful day here in New England though, so I really enjoyed the drive.

The evening meeting was a “speed mentoring” session. There were four speakers, all from slightly different medical communications backgrounds, and after they’d each shared their general stories, they each migrated to separate tables and small groups of us rotated around them to hear their stories and ideas in more detail.

Lots of ideas were shared by the speakers, as well as other members so another great networking session in general.

A few take-home points from the day:

  • Be sure to have business cards made
  • Have an elevator speech
  • If you’re just starting out (or even if you’re not), never give up – work through every “no”, and bust through any walls that you come across
  • Network as much as humanly possible
  • Have some kind of a presence – if not a blog, use LinkedIn
  • When sending in pitches to magazine editors, try sending them three or four ideas rather than just one – this helps them realize that you’re someone who isn’t just a one-hit wonder


It was a long day for me since I didn’t get home until about 11:30pm after my drive back to the Boston region at the end of the night. But it was a really fun day, I enjoyed it very much – two great meetings, getting to know lots of wonderful new colleagues, tasty food, fun conversation, and useful networking opportunities.


Science Writing and Editing Career Advice

“Science Careers”, from the Journal Science published this great article today – it’s a content collection comprising links to their best resources on careers in science writing. They all make for interesting reads in general for anyone in the medical communications field, but they’re especially valuable for anyone thinking about transitioning into medical writing.




Image Credit  Digital Art @FreeDigitalPhotos

The 2011 AMWA Annual Conference Is Almost Here

This year’s AMWA conference almost upon us, so don’t forget to register if you’re fortunate enough to be able to make it this year.



AMWA have published this presentation on Getting The Most From The Conference when you attend. It contains lots of handy tips to consider if you’ve never attended either this conference in particular.


Recruiter’s Tips

Inquill is currently hosting a Medical Writing Festival – you can check out the schedule and pricing for the seminars. I don’t know anything about the company, so can’t give any first-hand information about it, or about the festival for that matter. But they do have some very prominent names giving seminars, so even if just one of the talks appeals to you, you may find it worthwhile to register for it – you don’t have to sign up for the whole thing, you can opt to simply buy one seminar if you choose. And maybe you can even buy recordings of past seminars from the start of the festival if one of those catches your eye?

The main reason for me posting this, however, was to share a short video with you. One of the talks is by George Buckland, an experienced medical recruiter – click on this link and play the free 3 minute video clip that is about halfway down the page. He shares some important points about the need for medical writers to have an online presence, as well as sharing information about how he searches for writers.

LinkedIn is one great way to network with recruiters, so if you haven’t yet made yourself a profile there, now is the time to do it – you can use the search box to find recruiters looking for medical writers, as well as by joining medical writing groups where recruiters will often post job ads.


AMWA’s 71st Annual Conference

Registration is open for AMWA’s 71st Annual Conference in Jacksonville, FL, October 20th-22nd this year.

If you’re wondering whether or not to attend, here are 10 Great Reasons Why You Should!

Cover One Of The Open Sessions

Additionally, you can make the most of your AMWA Annual Conference attendance – AMWA are looking for writers willing to cover one of the 37 open sessions for the AMWA Journal.

Dr. Kristina Wasson-Blader advises AMWA members: “Writing a summary for the Journal will give you a published piece and also bring the conference to those who can’t attend the conference or a particular session. If you are interested in writing for the Journal, send an email to the AMWA Journal Editor at”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.