The Running Rectum Trial and other stories: a wry look at the challenges of medical editing

Using genuine examples from nearly 20 years of practice (anonymized and sometimes slightly altered to prevent identification of the author), this Power Point presentation takes a wry look at the work of a medical editor. It starts and ends with sometimes baffling, and sometimes frankly funny, examples of medical writing, but the middle section will take the form of a mini-workshop looking at ambiguity and the misunderstandings that may result from this. I will give the participants a little bit of background information and then ask them “How would you interpret this?”and “What do you think the author is referring to here?” It will be medical enough to justify its title but should be accessible to someone with an average knowledge of medical matters.  

From the start I emphasize that I am not poking fun at the authors. They are primarily medical doctors not writers. However, they appreciate honest, structured feedback and learn very quickly from the editor’s suggestions and changes and are often the first to laugh at themselves. I gave a similar presentation at a meeting of Dutch cardiologists and they enjoyed the interactive  session very much. 

About the facilitator

Daphne Lees hails from Manchester, England, and after completing nursing training arrived in the Netherlands in 1978 on a year’s contract to work as an operating theatre nurse. Within 3 weeks she met her future husband and is still here 37 years on. She rolled into translating and editing quite by accident when a vascular surgeon asked for her help with his ‘proefschrift’. One thing led to another and in 1997 armed with a diploma in translation studies she started her company ‘Meditrans’. Daphne continues to combine language activities with operating department nursing at the AMC, Amsterdam.


Talking the walk: helping non-native speakers to present scientific posters successfully

Posters are intended to get people’s attention. To present a short, simple message, they combine a strong image (such as a moustachioed officer pointing straight at the viewer) with a short text (“Your Country Needs You”). In principle, scientific poster sessions borrow from this tradition, aiming to present the essence of a complex idea quickly and accessibly. In practice, many posters fail, and all too few are read, a fact conference organisers now seem to recognise. To improve communication – and possibly to increase networking – many sessions now include a poster walk, in which successive scientists present their poster in a three-minute talk. But if you’re a junior scientist working in your second or third language in a setting without native-speaking inputs, how easy is it to give such a talk? You certainly won’t get the guidelines you need from a conventional poster, which is too cumbersome: wordy and poorly designed. And there’s no way you can make an overloaded scientific-sounding sentence trip off the tongue! In recent work with PhD students at Erasmus University Medical Centre, I have developed a set of style and design guidelines that seems to work surprisingly well. I will outline it briefly, providing a handout. One of my students has kindly agreed to demonstrate how she puts these guidelines into practice. Time allowing, we will also summarise the responses of PhD supervisors to this approach.  

About the facilitators

David Alexander has been living in the Netherlands for nearly 41 years, where he has worked in various commercial and academic settings as a translator, language editor and language-skills trainer. This presentation reflects 14 years of experience as teacher and co-ordinator of the course in English Biomedical Writing and Communication at Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam. 

Hannah Dekker graduated from VU university in medical sciences in 2008. After graduation she worked as a resident in general surgery for 3 years.  In 2011 she started studying dentistry at ACTA combined with a position as a PhD candidate for the department of oral and maxillofacial surgery and oral pathology. In 2014 she graduated from ACTA. In January 2015 she started as a resident at the department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the VU university medical center. She expects to finish her PhD project in 2016 and her residency in 2019.