I’m Not a Doctor, But I Play One Online
When I first began writing professionally, I wasn’t exactly sure where my talents would best be used. For example, was I a real estate writer, financial writer, business writer or maybe a medical writer? I quickly struck medical writer from my resume ideas. While I have taken a first aid class or two, most of my knowledge of medicine came from watching Dr. House rule out a diagnosis of lupus or from researching my own symptoms on WebMD (a headache means I’m pregnant and have testicular cancer—how is this possible!?) I am simply not knowledgeable enough about medicine to write high-end medical content.
The Danger of Writing Quackery
You may wonder, what would it hurt to write a medical piece now and then? Chances are, it wouldn’t hurt a thing. Very few people blindly trust medical information they read online, and you will likely be able to find good resources to make sure you are passing along good information. However, if you are asked to write about a more complex topic, you may find yourself struggling in the research department. If you are referencing online forums, Wikipedia or other sites that accept user contributions, you simply do not know if the information you’re referencing is valid. Additionally, there is always the danger that you will misinterpret what you read.
A Few Tips
Full-time freelancers may find themselves having to play the role of medical writer every now and then. If it is a topic you are comfortable with, the client knows you do not possess a medical background (assuming you don’t) and you are willing to put effort into the piece, then everything should be fine. However, before you sit down to write a thrilling article about gout think about the following.
- Research, and Research Again – If you are stating facts, make sure you find the best possible references. If possible, find peer-reviewed medical journals or use Google to search the text of actual medical books. This information is a little more accurate than something posted in a forum by BigBadCharlie65.
- Consider the Destination – Are you writing something for a page that readers are likely to take seriously or not? This can be a determining factor in your decision of whether to take on the piece or not.
- Ask Questions – Talk to your client. Find out what he or she knows about the topic at hand and use this knowledge to shape your writing.
- When in Doubt, Pass – When deciding whether to take a piece or not based on your knowledge or lack thereof, do the “byline test.” Would you be proud to post this article if it had your name and email attached? If you are worried an angry mob would fill your inbox with hate mail because of less-than-stellar advice, it may be best to tell the potential client you don’t have the knowledge to write the piece well.
As a content writer, you may be tempted to dive into the world of medical writing. There are plenty of jobs in the field, and it is an industry that will likely only grow. However, use caution and don’t risk passing along bad information in your quest to make a few dollars. As much as it hurt me to say no, I recently turned down a $500 paycheck to create high end content about Alzheimer’s research because I knew I did not have the background necessary to give the piece the attention it deserved. However, when those clients come around who just want a simple blog posts about dealing with the common cold or sneaky ways to eat less salt, I feel confident enough to “play doctor”–for a few minutes at least!
Tracy S is an experienced content writer who loves cats, a good fantasy book, peanut butter and being right.