Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Have a Conversation with Your Readers

As writers and editors, we’re taught to write content geared to our reader audiences. Janice (Ginny) Redish, PhD, of Redish & Associates, Inc., in Bethesda, MD, suggests taking the next step: think of your content as a conversation with your readers.

“Everything we write is part of a conversation. To have successful conversations (in e-mail, websites, apps, and more), we must understand what we are trying to achieve (our purposes), who we are conversing with (personas), and what they want and need to know (their conversations),” says Redish.

Redish understands that medical writing is always functional. Our readers have concerns, needs, or questions. We want them to do something. Therefore, we must go beyond thinking of our purposes as “to inform” or “to educate.” Better writing comes from stating our purposes more explicitly, whether it be helping a patient’s family, presenting new data to practicing physicians, or thoroughly describing clinical trials information to FDA officials.

Redish is a linguist by training, and her conversational writing approach is based on research in linguistics and cognitive psychology. She is a renowned specialist in plain language, writing for the web, and user experience research and design and has earned many distinctions around the world. She has served on the Board of Directors of both the Society for Technical Communication (STC) and the Usability Professionals’ Association and is currently vice chair of the Center for Plain Language.

A dynamic speaker, Redish is among the most sought-after speakers for training and keynote addresses in the field of communication. She will share her expertise in two sessions at the AMWA Annual Conference: “Purposes, Personas, Conversations: Practical Techniques for Everything You Write.” Redish’s unique conversational approach to all types of writing will help attendees of this session create content that is the most useful to their audiences. Session attendees can expect a lively conversation with many health and medical examples, rather than a lecture. To prepare for the session, you’re invited to download two free chapters from her book, Letting Go of the Words – Writing Web Content that Works, which she will refer to in her talk.

Redish’s presentation is an encore from this year’s STC Summit. The session features a second encore by another leading STC member, Ann Rockley, of The Rockley Group in Toronto, whose talk is titled “Structured Writing: Today’s Best Practice for Medical Content.”

Redish will also speak in the session “Putting Plain Language into Practice: Training, Tools, and Trends.” Here, Redish will discuss how to apply plain language to create online resources and describe a new training program for plain language practitioners. She will be joined by Diane Moyer, MS, RN, Associate Director, Health System Patient Education, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, who will discuss the use of plain language in patient education materials destined for translation. Moyer’s department of patient education is a member of the Ohio Collaborative for Clear Health Communication.

Expand your horizons and learn from these outstanding experts speak at the AMWA Annual Conference.

--Joanne M. McAndrews, PhD, 2013 AMWA Annual Conference Committee

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It’s the 21st Century and I am Still Using Scissors and Tape Instead of Copy and Paste

Seriously, I know there a lot of tools for writers out there but you know what I don’t seem to have? The time to explore them. Time. It is already a commodity in precious shortage so why should I use it learning to do something a different way when I already have a way that works. Who doesn’t think that is a philosophy for failure, yet what can we do about it?

I get so focused on meeting my immediate goals and deadlines I haven’t been able to even explore the tools I know are out there to make me more efficient. Is it the same for you? I expect it is because the 2013 AMWA Needs Assessment Survey shows that 34% of my AMWA colleagues are finding the work/life balance to be their biggest challenge. I wonder how much of that overlaps with the 18% who cite keeping up with technology and another 17% who state that keeping current with information as their challenges. There is relief out there and I am determined to use our AMWA 2013 Conference this year to help me find it. I am on a mission.

This year’s conference features a new session format Hands-on Demonstrations, and six of these sessions are offered. Hands-on Demonstrations are short (30 to 60 minutes), so you can easily fit them into your schedule, which is an advantage when you have tough choices to make. And, you bring your laptop or WiFi-enabled device to the session so you can learn as you go. That’s a time-saver right there.

As I look through the conference brochure, I see a Hands-on Demonstration on Word 2010 (as well as a session on advanced Microsoft Word), and another Hands-on Demonstration called “The ABCs of PDFS: Introduction to Adobe Acrobat X/XI.” I will choose one of these to brush up and enhance some existing skills. But I am looking for new tools. I will not be dissuaded. It is time for me to enter the 21st century. I’ve embraced social media with the same total enthusiasm I did the mosh pit back in the 90s (that’s a story for another day) so I have no intention of allowing technology to halt my progress now.

Finally, I found just what I’ve wanted to explore. Since a good portion of my writing these days is for educational courses and public health programs, an enormous amount of research and documentation is involved. I have been interested in learning about tools to catalog resources as well as keep those citations and bibliographies accurate and manageable. I am constantly collecting resources, many of which I’ll use repeatedly, and it would greatly improve my work/life balance if I could find an easier way to sort through that vast collection of archived material. A couple of the tools I had been hearing other writers banter about recently were Zotero and Scrivener.

How useful is Zotero? “Oh, I think it probably saved my life and my marriage,” says Judy Stone, MD, who is leading the Hands-on Demonstration “Beyond Index Cards: Using Scrivener and Zotero.” Dr. Stone, who writes the blog Molecules to Medicine on the Scientific American Blog Network, has used Zotero for organizing factoids for her book as well as for tracking references throughout her blog series about Dan Markingson and the University of Minnesota that explores the ethical lapses behind a patient death in a clinical trial. She will tell this story while she demonstrates how Zotero and Scrivener helped keep all her documentation accurate as well as preserved for future use. As Dr. Stone says, “When you are blogging about sensitive topics it is especially important to keep your documentation accessible as well as accurate.”

And Scrivener? When I heard about how Dr. Stone uses this versatile tool to organize her writing I couldn’t help but be embarrassed for myself as I was staring at my feet. Yes, my feet, because they were at that moment surrounded by pieces of 24 pages of course content that I had in desperation cut out with scissors and lined up with tape on the floor. This was my low-tech solution to reorganize them because my word processing program just was not flexible enough to quickly give me the vision I needed to reorganize my content without stopping to print it. With Scrivner, Dr. Stone outlines her thoughts on virtual index cards that she can shuffle and move about on the screen. Yes, I think Dr. Stone’s session is just the venue I need to examine these tools. It is past time to put my scissors away.

If you plan on learning about these tools at the AMWA Annual Conference, download the programs in advance so you’ll be able to follow along as Dr. Stone demonstrates their use. Zotero is an open-source reference management software that can be downloaded free. One important point: Zotero does not work with Internet Explorer; you must have Firefox, Netscape 9.0, or the Flock browser. Find more information about Zotero on its website or the Educause site. Scrivener requires purchasing, but you can download a free 30-day trial. You can learn more about the virtues of Scrivener for all types of writing and for novels in particular Dr. Stone will present two articles on the Markingson case and demonstrate how she imported these two articles into Scrivener. Download “A Clinical Trial and Suicide Leave Many Unanswered Questions” and “How the FDA Got The Markingson Case Wrong,” and you can walk through the process with her.

Other Hands-on Demonstrations at this year’s AMWA Annual Conference focus on EndNote, open-source website builders, and e-mail domains. And the National Library of Medicine is featured in two sessions, one of which offers a comprehensive approach in an extended format (2.5 hours).

So, what do you say? Time to learn about tools to make you more efficient? Look no further than the 2013 AMWA Annual Conference.

--Larry Lynam, 2013 Annual Conference Committee

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Art of Networking

Do you consider networking to be an essential part of your professional growth? According to Career Search Counselor John Hadley, the greatest value you can get networking at a conference will come from the conversations you have and the connections you build with colleagues at networking events and between sessions. To make the most of the opportunities you’ll have to meet people face to face, Hadley advises coming to a conference ready to put some effort into doing effective networking. Hadley recommends setting a goal, such as building a connection with three people you don’t know. Such a goal is attainable enough that you won’t feel overwhelmed, yet it will keep you focused. Hadley will show you how to flex your networking muscles at the 2013 AMWA Annual Conference in the Thursday morning session “Networking to Great Career Opportunities.” You can preview some of Hadley’s networking tips by tuning into his AMWA Journal podcast.

Do you think networking is only for extroverts or people new to medical writing? Not so, according to Tracy Bunting-Early, PhD. “Anyone can learn to network (and enjoy it), even scientists and introverts,” says Bunting-Early, of the Delaware Valley Chapter. “Networking can enrich and stimulate your professional growth by helping to identify sources of collaboration, ways to work more efficiently, or connections that can benefit another contact.” Bunting-Early will teach you how to do just that in the Friday lunch roundtable discussion “What Really Is Networking? And How Seasoned Medical Writers Can Benefit from It.”

In yet another session, Kerri Hebard-Massey, PhD, will take a systematic approach to networking and give participants a chance to practice their skills and provide feedback to each other. Hebard-Massey’s interactive how-to session will be held on Friday afternoon.

If you’re looking for a chance to get acquainted with colleagues but in a more structured way, then you won’t want to miss “Speed Networking” on Thursday afternoon with Faith Reidenbach of the Northwest Chapter and Helen Rowse of the Southwest Chapter. Speed Networking is an event, not a presentation. You’ll sit with another person at a small table and have 5 minutes to share your professional and personal interests. Then one of you will quickly move to the next table. According to Reidenbach, “Introverts typically leave tired but pleased with themselves, and extroverts will be revved up for the networking session in the evening!”

With the greatest offering of sessions devoted to teaching you how to network, the conference also features the greatest number of networking events where you can practice what you learn. Five networking events with food are included with your registration fee. What a bargain! To get the most networking value from the cost of your registration, here are a few more tips.

Before the Conference
• Several weeks before the meeting, contact colleagues you would like to meet with and schedule a meal, drinks, or even afternoon tea or coffee. Schedules fill up quickly, so don’t wait until you’re at the actual conference to reach out to them.

• Buy and read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. (Remember to help out AMWA by ordering the book through AMWA’s Amazon page.) He’s a master at expanding your connections and building relationships. One of his tips: Don't schmooze. He asserts that at a 1-hour networking event it’s better to spend more time with fewer people, and have one or two meaningful conversations, than it is to flit from person to person. Check out Ferrazzi’s 12 networking tips for shy people.

• Stock up on business cards. You’ll want to hand them out at every opportunity.

• Polish your elevator speech. You’ll be meeting lots of new people (hopefully) who will ask you what you do. This is when that a 1-minute elevator speech comes in handy. At least you won’t have to answer that all-too-common question “What is a medical writer?” Harvard Business School offers a tool to help you build your elevator speech.

• Prepare your clients and colleagues for your absence so you can make networking a priority. There’s nothing worse than having to do work while attending the AMWA Annual Conference because it limits the time you have to network and socialize.

At the Conference
• Talk to complete strangers. A professional meeting is one of the few places where it’s acceptable—and expected—to talk to strangers without anyone labeling you as a stalker. So get out there and strike up a conversation with the person seated next to you at the keynote address, the person standing alone at the welcome reception, or the thought leader whose session you attended and who is eating lunch all alone. (She mustn’t have read Ferrazzi’s book!)

• Does the previous bullet scare the pants off you? Keep in mind that people like to talk about themselves so ask them. Here are some simple conversation starters: What brings you to the meeting? Is this your first AMWA Annual Conference? Which session have you enjoyed the most?

• Put away the electronic devices when you can. Although it’s unrealistic to unplug altogether, keep in mind that when you are checking your e-mails or sending texts during breaks or while waiting for a session to start, you’re creating a barrier between you and everyone else. So put the phone in your pocket and start talking to the people around you.

After the Conference
• Don’t file those business cards you collected in a drawer. Once you return home, personally follow up with the connections you’ve made. A short “I enjoyed meeting you” email is a nice touch. If you met someone new whom you would like to get to know better, schedule a future phone call or live meeting.

• Sit back and assess the outcomes you achieved. What worked? What didn’t? Did you manage to come out of your comfort zone? If not, then plan to implement at least one new strategy at your next AMWA conference.

Learn more about the networking sessions in the registration brochure. Expand your networking skills while expanding your horizons at the AMWA Annual Conference in Columbus.

--Cyndy Kryder, 2013 AMWA Annual Conference Committee