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Regulatory and Medical Writing, A Consultant’s Perspective – Part 7 – Last Words

To conclude this series of posts, let us not forget the mechanics of our writing – by far the most important tool we have.  This includes grammar and sentence structure but also word usage.  All can affect the meaning we convey. 

Typing on keyboard

How many of us have found our way to the thesaurus and, in a panic of time, included lots of words which gradually move away from the original meaning.  My favorite episode of Friends portrays this very well.  Have you seen the episode where Joey is trying to write a recommendation letter to support Chandler and Monica’s hope of becoming adoptive parents? 

The original sentence was: 'They are warm, nice, people with big hearts'.

Which became, with the aid of a thesaurus: 'They are humid prepossessing Homo Sapiens with full sized aortic pumps?


Word usage is subjective and some terms and expressions are worn-out clichés that have outlived their usefulness.  Other expressions and terms, though not incorrect, are not precise.  In reporting and recording research we must be as accurate and precise in describing it as in doing it.  Try to avoid ambiguous or faddish terms.  So, some examples and some advice:

1. Aim for economy:

  • "Because" instead of "based on the fact that"

  • "Several subjects completed" instead of "There were several subjects who completed"

  • "n subjects" instead of "A total of n subjects"

  • "Four groups" instead of "Four different groups"

  • "Small" instead of "Small in size"

  • "Proximity to" instead of "In close proximity to"

  • "Close to zero" instead of "Very close to zero"

  • "Summarize" instead of "Summarize briefly"

  • "The reason is" instead of "The reason is because" 2. Aim for precision:

  • "Patient" instead of "subject"

  • "Concentration" or "frequency" instead of "level"

  • Don’t generalize unnecessarily – don’t say "some" if you know of only one instance.

  • "However" should be used sparingly – it is annoying to change the direction of thought more than once in a paragraph. 3. Take note of plural and singular forms:

  • criterion, criteria;

  • datum, data;

  • medium, media 4. Avoid doubling of words:

  • "Mutual agreement"

  • "Whether or not"

  • "Reconsider again"

  • "Inadvertent error"

5. Avoid formulaic phrases:

  • "At this point in time" instead use "now"

  • "With regard to"  instead use "about"

  • "Due to the fact that"  instead use "because"

6. Avoid intensifiers or hype:

  • "Very"

  • "A considerable amount of"

  • "Really"

  • "To a certain extent"

Consider these sentences:

"A surprising aspect of most labour negotiations is their friendly quality."

Or …

"Most labour negotiations are surprisingly friendly."

"The fact of the war had the effect of causing many changes"

Or …

"The war caused many changes"

"It is felt that an exercise program should be attempted by the patient before any surgery is performed"

Or …

"The patient should attempt an exercise program before surgery"

"It was Confucius who said …"

Or …

"Confucius said …"

There are many examples of both excellence and mediocrity in medical writing.  Try to expose yourselves to both – they provide invaluable lessons.  Last words of advice:

  • Be your own worst critic and test your work. 

  • Seek critiques of your writing from individuals whose opinions you value. 

  • Accept and give criticism with maturity and thoughtfulness

  • Always seek to improve your last best work.

I hope that you have enjoyed this series of posts.  Medical and regulatory writing is an art which, like a fine wine, will only improve with time and practice.


Regxia's regulatory and quality experts are available to support the whole lifecycle of your product. Learn more here.

Betty Cory

Author: Betty Cory, President

Regxia Inc.


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