How to write for medical and scientific journals

  • Books
  • Friday, 22 Jul 2016

Prof Ng with his and Prof Peh’s book, which came about because ‘both of us have interest in writing and mentoring people to write’. Photo: The Star/Raymond Ooi

During our recent interview, Prof Dr Ng Kwan Hoong wryly points out the last chapter of his coauthored book, Effective Medical Writing: The Write Way To Get Published, entitled “Publication Ethics And Scientific Misconduct”, and observes that the book, launched in June, is timely in light of the recent Universiti Malaya (UM) probe that concluded four UM scientists had falsified research data.

Prof Ng, himself a professor of medical physics with UM’s Faculty of Medicine, feels that the topic, along with general scientific writing skills, is not one that is taken seriously by medical students, as it is not an exam subject.

However, as with other scientific branches, conducting research and clinical trials and publishing the results are an important part of a medical doctor’s career, especially those attached to academic institutions.

According to Prof Ng, the book is actually a compilation of 31 monthly articles published between June 2008 and December 2010 in the Singapore Medical Journal (SMJ).

The articles had been co-written by himself and his old friend, Prof Dr Wilfred C.G. Peh, who heads the Department of Diagnostic Radiology at Singapore’s Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

“It’s not exactly the same,” Prof Ng says, though.

“We updated it, we made it more consistent and continuous so that it reads nicely, and we got a copy editor to edit it.”

The series itself was inspired from medical writing workshops given by the two professors around Malaysia and South-East Asia over the years.

Explains Prof Peh in an e-mail: “We prepared lecture notes as supplementary material for the workshop participants. After a few years, Prof Ng suggested that we compile our material and our wealth of writing, editing and teaching experience into a how-to-do-it writing book.

“However, we both knew that it would be a difficult task as both of us were so busy with other commitments – hospital work, examining, teaching and research, among others.

“We anticipated that both of us would not be able to spare the time to sit down and write such a book from scratch.”

As Prof Peh was then the SMJ chief editor, the duo decided to start a monthly series named “Effective Medical Writing: Pointers To Getting Your Article Published” in the journal instead.

The positive feedback for the articles encouraged them to update and compile the series into the book.

Although the book focuses on medical writing, Prof Ng points out that the principles of scientific writing are the same.

“(The book) can cover pharmacists, nurses, nutritionists, physiotherapists, lab technologists – all scientists, besides medical doctors,” he says.

Says Prof Peh: “For many who are starting off on writing up their research, it is not easy to know where to start and how to prepare a manuscript in a suitable format that will be acceptable by reputable journals.

“This book aims to remedy this situation and has been written in an easy-to-read manner, covering all the steps required to prepare manuscripts for medical and healthcare publications.

“The book also covers many other points relating to publications, such as the various types of papers, manuscript processing, reviewing, editing and ethical issues.”

Prof Ng adds: “What I like a lot are the boxes highlighting things like common errors, tips and take-home points.”

In addition, there are cartoons scattered throughout the book for some visual humour, drawn by Prof Ng’s 18-year-old niece.

Despite minimal publicity, Prof Peh notes that the first print run of 500 books has almost sold out, and there are already orders for the next print run.

“We are indeed pleasantly surprised by the response to date,” he says.

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