As you probably know, medical editing and medical writing are two distinct skill sets. Good writers are not necessarily great editors.
Editing takes time, patience and perseverance. We need to train ourselves to look for all the things – from grammar to punctuation, messaging, formatting and more – that we could improve in our writing.
You can think of editing, which is essentially the art and science of improving your first draft, in two stages:
- big-picture editing, and
- small tweaks that make a huge difference.
But before you start editing or paste your work into your favourite readability tools – before you even think about what needs to be corrected – you need to know WHY you’re editing. You can’t assess your writing properly if you don’t know your “why”.
Understanding your reader’s needs
Before you start editing, you need to know who your reader is, what the purpose of your content is, and what your reader needs to do after they’re finished reading.
You can not edit effectively if you don’t know those three things.
When you’re editing health and medical content, you need to be aware of your audience’s needs, goals, feelings and hesitations. Understanding your reader in the context of their health concern and writing for them is the key to successful health content creation.
It’s also important to consider the purpose of your content. If you’re writing patient education material, the purpose may be to educate and inform. If you’re writing health blogs or sales content, your goal may be to persuade.
So if the writer – that’s you, or someone else – hasn’t properly understood the reader’s needs in the first draft, it’s your job as the editor to correct the content and ensure it’s targeted appropriately.
Editing isn’t just correcting errors
Medical editing isn’t just fixing typos and grammatical errors – it’s the process of improving your messaging and making sure you’ve captured all the best practices of high-quality health communication. Editing involves everything from checking that your subheadings are effective to writing engaging bullet points.
As a writer, you know that your writing is never “done”. You can always tweak the phrasing, remove words, add words and fiddle around with sentences.
But with a good edit and proofread, you can feel confident that your work is ready for publication. You can get to a place where your writing doesn’t need anything else done to it, that it’s as strong as it can be.
Let’s take a moment to think about the entire content creation process.
You can break down the content creation process into five distinct stages: planning, background research, drafting, editing and proofreading.
As a health communicator, you’ll spend a lot of time planning, researching and drafting your content. There are so many variables – from credible references to messaging – and it’s hard to capture them all when you’re writing the first draft.
With a powerful edit, your health content can really come to life
Medical editing is, in fact, a mindset – an approach, a way of thinking.
And I want you to think of editing as a mindset from now.
You’re the one who needs to care about making the first draft as good as it can be.
You’re the one who needs to be aware of what to look out for – from whether research is written correctly to consistent use of dashes.
You need to care about the detail, and you need to care about consistency. As a medical editor, it’s your job to care about the detail.
Your edits need a reason
All edits need a good reason. Don’t just suggest changes because you think your edits sound better.
Your personal preference isn’t necessarily a good reason for an edit. There should be a rule supporting your suggestion or a specific reason why you’re making a change.
We’ve all known someone in the workplace who loves to make a change for the sake of change – hey, we may even be that person!
But when you’re editing – and especially when you’re editing someone else’s work – it’s important to stick to the necessary changes. You’re not rewriting, you’re editing. And there’s a big difference between those two jobs.
Having a reason for your edits can also be helpful if you’re editing someone else’s work and they don’t understand the need for the change.
Or maybe they are resistant to change.
When you include a reason, your writer or client will understand why the change is needed. Hopefully, they’ll learn from your feedback and write better next time.
Including a strong reason, like “this change helps enhance the readability” or “this change ensures this claim is now compliant”, helps the writer, client or editor be more agreeable to the change.
Including a reason also helps you ensure you’re not only suggesting change for the sake of change or a personal preference. Remember: you need a good reason for the edit.
Understanding medical editing boundaries
So, you need a reason for your edits, and you’re the one who needs to identify that reason. THAT’s the editing mindset. As an editor, you need to know your purpose.
You can think of this concept as knowing your editing boundaries or the scope of your editing.
One of the most difficult aspects of editing – especially when you’re editing someone else’s work – is knowing how much content to change.
In health communication, there are different levels of detail, or boundaries, depending on the work you’re editing and the purpose of the content.
If you’re editing academic papers, there are strict guidelines and medical writing style guides you must follow. Your job is mostly ensuring the content meets those guidelines. You need a strong consistency mindset.
If you’re editing someone else’s book chapter or social media post, you need to keep their voice but improve what they’re trying to say. And that is not an easy thing to do.
And if you’re editing your work, it can be tempting to rewrite the entire first draft if you’re not happy with how it’s sounding. So you end up rewriting instead of editing.
Editing can be challenging when you’re working with someone else’s content and discover that the first draft needs a lot of work. Sometimes it’s easier to rewrite the content altogether! But that’s not always possible.
So that’s why you need to know the content’s purpose and your boundaries.
Keen to learn more about medical editing?
Do you want to brush up on your medical editing skills and make sure your editing process captures all the fundamentals of high-quality health communication?
Check out my on-demand Principles of Health & Medical Editing course.
This post is a sample of the first lesson of Principles of Health & Medical Editing.