Good writing tips

Last updated: Friday, August 03, 2018

Whole books have been written on good writing. Assuming you’re writing a response to a clinical problem by e.g. email, we have a few suggestions for you, based on the experience of people who’ve tutored many trainee and junior pharmacists over the years. Think about the acronym FACE – you need to be Focused, Accurate, Clear, and Engaging:

1. Focused

Concentrate on what the person you’re writing to needs to know:

  • Summarise the problem you are responding to at the beginning of your response so that you make clear what question(s) you are answering. “Thank you for asking me to look into alopecia as a side effect of warfarin…”

  • Keep the text of the answer as concise as you can, to avoid over-burdening people with details. Stick to the point and don’t go wandering off into irrelevant areas. Be brief.

  • If there’s lots to say about one particular point, then summarise it and add something like: “This is a brief overview, but please let me know if you would like more detail on this aspect.”

  • Present your arguments and facts in a logical order.

  • Unless your response is very short, try to summarise your answer in the final paragraph. “In summary, the evidence suggests that the dose of Mayduppapil should be reduced by a third.”

  • Have you answered the problem for the person you’re dealing with? When you’ve finished, read your response and ask yourself the question: “Will the person receiving this know what to do next?”

2. Accurate

Do not make factual errors. People rely on pharmacists to be thorough. Only send a response when you’re confident it is correct.

  • Have you looked in all the right places for the info you need? If you’re uncertain ask a more senior pharmacist or your MI centre for advice.

  • If different, good quality sources offer different advice, then tell the person you’re communicating with. Don’t plump for one source and hope it’s correct. “Whilst the Royal College says A, the BNF advises B.”

  • If there are limits on your answer, then say so. If you can’t answer the enquiry completely explain why. Maybe there are no data available, perhaps your sources are not adequate, or sometimes you may feel the enquiry is beyond your sphere of expertise. There may be occasions where you cannot provide an answer at all. That’s fine, but say why.

  • It’s good to offer professional advice or an interpretation of the evidence, but be certain that you can back your advice up with evidence and/or experience. Also explain that you’re doing it:

    • “My suggestion, in these circumstances, is that you…”
    • “Since there seems no clear-cut evidence to guide us, I would advise…”
    • “An option I recommend that you consider is…”

  • When you’re junior, it’s a good idea to ask someone else to check your written work before you send it out.

3. Clear

Read through your text carefully and make sure that your answer is clear.

  • Are there ambiguities? Have you been a bit woolly? Could what you say be misinterpreted?

  • Make sure that the way you’ve presented your answer does not impair readability – e.g. Have you used an appropriate font size? Are your sentences too long? Are they punctuated properly?

  • Use the spellcheck facility on your computer.

  • Don't use words that you're not sure you understand.

  • Avoid jargon and abbreviations. You may know what pharmacodynamics means or an SmPC, but do patients? Do doctors?

4. Engaging

Make some effort to engage your reader:

  • Use link words and phrases to make your text flow, to connect one idea with another, and to avoid presenting a series of short staccato sentences. Use words like these at the beginning of sentences: Consequently… As a result… Conversely… In addition to this… However…

  • Include some pronouns to establish a relationship with the person you’re writing to: You asked me about…”; “I hope this advice is helpful” etc.

  • At the end, include an offer to provide further assistance if needed.

  • Make sure that you have included your full name and job title in your email sign off.