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More About the Teaching of Scientific Writing

Hanna, Michael PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181c40900
Letters to the Editor

Principal, Mercury Medical Research & Writing, New York, New York;

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To the Editor:

Cameron et al and Shah et al should be commended for reporting on their experiences teaching scientific writing to international researchers1 and novice researchers.2 Having edited hundreds of scientific manuscripts for European researchers in every medical subfield, I can attest that the need for instruction in scientific writing goes deeper than mere instruction in English as a foreign language. And having delivered workshops on medical scientific writing for residents and faculty, I can confirm that researchers experience relief from cognitive burden when they finally receive some guidance on the complex process of writing journal papers. Every researcher should receive sufficient training in scientific writing to be able to meet the Uniform Requirements' second criterion of authorship: “drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content.”3

However, most researchers will never acquire enough writing skill to bang out one great paper after another as the sole or first author.4 Like statistics or radiology, writing is a specialized skill; it cannot be mastered in a semester. Although every researcher should receive enough training to become a not-bad coauthor, there is no reason to expect every researcher to become an excellent lead or solo author. Scientific research is multidisciplinary and collaborative, and writing is one of several specializations involved. Scientific writing is a skill that anyone can learn—if they spend enough time studying and practicing it.5 For everyone else, it may make more sense to just collaborate with someone else who already has expertise in scientific writing.

Michael Hanna, PhD

Principal, Mercury Medical Research & Writing, New York, New York;

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1 Cameron C, Deming SP, Notzon B, Cantor SB, Broglio KR, Pagel W. Scientific writing training for academic physicians of diverse language backgrounds. Acad Med. 2009;84:505–510.
2 Shah J, Shah A, Pietrobon R. Scientific writing of novice researchers: What difficulties and encouragements do they encounter? Acad Med. 2009;84:511–516.
3 International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Biomedical Publication. Available at: Accessed May 14, 2009.
4 DeAngelis CD. Foreword. In: AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors. 10th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2007:v–vi.
5 Hanna M. How to Write Good Medical Papers. New York, NY: Mercury Press; 2009.
© 2010 Association of American Medical Colleges