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By Marithea Goberville, PhD
The project-based nature of medical writing lends itself very well to freelancing. With thousands of medical writers completing nearly $1 Billion in projects annually, the industry is flush with talent at all levels. So just how do you go about finding them? Once you find them, what criteria can you use to select the right one for your project? And finally, once you have found and selected a medical writer, what steps can you take to ensure an effective working relationship? This three-part mini-series addresses these questions for the benefit of anyone seeking the services of a medical writer.
Part 3: How to Work Effectively with a Professional Medical Writer
5 key factors to ensure a good working relationship
If you’ve put reasonable effort into the search and selection process, including the final step of checking references, chances are you’ve selected a medical writer who already works quite effectively with most clients. Nevertheless, to ensure the best results and make sure you don’t become the exception, the following issues should be addressed up front, at the beginning of the relationship:
Contract – It should go without saying that using a written contract is imperative to spell out clearly the tasks, responsibilities, deadlines, compensation, etc. in as much detail as reasonably possible. Yet I hear stories about freelancers who still avoid this ‘confrontational’ step in their business. Both sides make assumptions when the specifics are not reduced to writing in a contract, and this is where trouble and misunderstandings arise. I have seen and used contracts ranging in length from 1 page to 18 pages. Generally, simpler is better, provided all the basic points are clearly addressed. Allow sufficient time to ‘work through’ any issues in negotiating the contract, so this is not left to ‘the night before’ with untimely compromises or hasty omissions for either party.
Timetable – Next to compensation, the project timetable is probably the most common source of misunderstanding or friction. The timetable must address not only the final deliverable deadline, but first and/or interim draft dates, database lock date(s), data availability, and turnarounds (both writer and client). A complete understanding of potential changes/impacts to the existing timetable must also be reached: will all future dates slide if one earlier date is missed? Good medical writers have developed strong project scheduling skills – it is generally not “OK” for a client to fall a couple of weeks behind schedule and expect previously missed deadlines to simply be ‘made up’ by the writer via faster work.
Contact Person(s) – Specify clearly to whom the writer will report, their availability, and if there are multiple people, what function or priority is to be paid to each. Nothing frustrates a writer’s efforts more than conflicting feedback from differing client team members without clarity as to whose feedback should prevail. Please also clarify with whom the writer should correspond regarding invoices and payment, if different from the main contact person.
Feedback: Form and Timing – will feedback take the form of a review meeting/call, or will it be written comments in Word or Acrobat? How specific and detailed? Will there be one or multiple reviewers, collated/collective feedback or independent. In a new writer-client relationship, more frequent interim feedback serves to make both parties more comfortable with the direction of the project. Note, however, that the number of reviewers and process can significantly change the timing and effort required to get the job done.
Meetings – It is a good idea to set expectations about the number, length and frequency of meetings the writer may be expected to attend, even if just telephonically. Remember, you are probably not the writer’s only client. Unscheduled meetings can wreck havoc on the writer’s schedule and cause great friction, as he/she may be juggling other client deadlines, too.
Ultimately, the best working relationships are grounded in superior communication. The stage is set by the contract process and discussion of the areas mentioned above, but both parties must be committed to open and frequent communication throughout the project to ensure that a remote working relationship goes as smoothly as possible. This includes setting expectations about the methods and frequency by which the parties will communicate, as well as general availability and anticipated response times.
Marithea Goberville, Ph.D., is President & Principal Medical Writer of Science Author, Inc., providing medical writing services to clinical audiences since 2004. Visit www.scienceauthor.com to learn more about her expertise in regulatory documentation, journal publications, and presentations for medical meetings and CME.