Watch your language

Oct 13, 2006
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Singular mistakes

A company is singular, not plural.

  • Rx Communications is pleased to offer its services.

The same for teams and groups:

  • The team is working hard.


  • Team members are working on the new project.

Little words

That or which – a little grammar

Relative clauses modify the preceding noun. They can be restrictive or non-restrictive.
‘That’ and ‘which’ are relative pronouns.
Use ‘that’ for a restrictive clause – a clause that identifies what or who is being referred to by the preceding noun or pronoun:

  • The bicycle that won the race was stolen.

…without the phrase ‘that won the race’ we don’t know which bike was stolen.

Use ‘which’ for a non-restrictive clause – a clause that adds more information about the preceding noun or pronoun, but is not essential to its identification:

  • The winning bicycle, which was green, was made in Germany.

…without the phrase ‘which was green’ we still know which bike was made in Germany.

Its and it’s

Everyone knows this one, but it’s a common error, often arising when typing in a hurry.

its – possessive form of it

  • The cat licked its paws.

it’s – shortened form of ‘it is’

  • It’s raining again

or ‘it has’

  • It’s disappeared.

Macro- and micro-editing

Oct 13, 2006
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by Ruth B Murray

Editing a manuscript through the draft stages to produce a final product is time consuming, but the process ensures clarity, sense, accuracy and consistency.


Macro-editing involves rewriting and reorganising the document by asking:

  • is there sense and clarity?
  • are the title and abstract concise, accurate, informative, of the correct style and length?
  • are the paragraphs in the right order?
  • is the emphasis correct?
  • are the data accurate?
  • is the referencing adequate?
  • are the tables and figures consistent with the text and presented effectively?
  • is the document relevant to – and at an appropriate level for – the reader?
  • is the document concise?


Micro-editing ensures that the language and style are correct and consistent. Look for:

  • completeness;
  • correct grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation;
  • abbreviations, acronyms and symbols (are they correctly defined and consistent?);
  • capitalisation;
  • numbers (i.e. words or numerals?) and units (correct and consistent?);
  • heading hierarchy, fonts, consistency of bulleted listed and justified/unjustified text;
  • references (are they in the correct style, are all cited references listed and are all listed references cited?);
  • tables and figures that are complete with title, legend and axis labelling, are consistent, and are correctly numbered, cited in the text and in the correct position in the text; and
  • drug names and medical terminology that are correct and consistent.

How to select a healthcare agency

Oct 13, 2006
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By Clare Gurton

There are hundreds of healthcare agencies and trying to find one that will suit your needs is difficult and potentially time-consuming. The key is to limit your choice, and these simple steps will help you develop a shortlist of suitable prospects:

First, try to decide what you want from an agency and then categorize this need into one of the following types of services:

  • General medical communications;
  • Public relations;
  • Medical education;
  • Training; and
  • Specific modeling or other tasks that require a full understanding of health economics processes.

Then decide whether you need a full-service agency, or a more specialized one that will tailor its approach to individual projects. Even if you want a full service agency, it’s better to ‘pilot’ a specific task first since working with an agency on a day-to-day basis will be the best test of compatibility.

Also, restrict your choice of agency by deciding what features are important to you – for example, you might decide that an experienced agency with a reputation for quality is of high priority or you might want to go for a new agency with some exciting approaches.

Geographic location might be unimportant, but how the agency works with the client might be critical. Once you have a list of key needs, ask colleagues for personal recommendations before you try the internet. Finally, search websites; often, these will give you an immediate feel for an agency and allow you to include or discard it.

By now you should have a much shorter list. The final factor that can limit the choice will be experience within your specific area of need; not all agencies have experience in health economics and not all have generalized experience. Decide how important this might be to you.

Lastly, try speaking on the phone with an agency – this can be an important and direct way to find out how an agency operates; sometimes, agencies that pride themselves on their PR record can have poor PR themselves.

Book review: Prevention effectiveness – 2nd edition

Oct 13, 2006
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Edited by Anne Haddix, Steven Tuesch, and Phaedra Corso, Oxford University Press, 2002, US$45, £26.99, 286 pages.
Reviewed by Kevin D. Frick

36This text is required reading for students in my introductory cost-effectiveness course. Why? Because it combines a discussion of the United States Panel on Cost-Effectiveness in Health and Medicine’s recommendations, general readability, and an introduction to decision analysis.

First, for most students in an introductory course, knowing what the US Panel’s recommendations were and that they were the result of well-reasoned debate is sufficient. The US recommendations are likely to remain relevant to US audiences as they have been the only federal government-based recommendations.

Second, the Haddix et al. text is readable.

Third, the book provides an introduction to decision analysis, an integral part of many cost-effectiveness studies in the literature.

Finally, this is a useful text for an introductory cost-effectiveness course for anyone with no decision analysis background who needs to be aware of US recommendations.

Copyright and plagiarism: be aware

Oct 13, 2006
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By David Woods, HOC editor

It’s been said that copying from one source is plagiarism; but copying from several sources is research.

Whether you’re an experienced writer or a neophyte, you’d be well advised to keep a wary eye on issues of plagiarism and copyright, in part because the internet has helped to create both dangers and protections in both – and penalties can be tough.

For instance, a journalism professor told me recently that one of his graduate students produced an uncharacteristically polished and literate essay. The professor Googled a few sentences and discovered not only that the work had been lifted wholesale from another author’s published document… but that the student hadn’t even bothered to change the distinctive typeface of the original.

The result: a failing grade. And The New York Times, with its perennial front-page slogan “All the news that’s fit to print” fired star reporter Jason Blair for flagrant fabrication of stories.

Copyright is governed by the Berne Convention which is international and which protects intellectual property. It states that all works except photographic and cinematic shall be protected for at least 50 years after the author’s death.

In addition, the US has a federal Copyright Act. It’s important to remember that medical writers hold the copyright of their work, not the commissioning pharmaceutical company – and that if significant amendments are made at first draft, those amendments are then owned by the writer who did them!

That’s why Rx Communications has a copyright release in every contract, and why you should ensure this is so in your contracts with your agencies and writers, if you use editorial support.

Thorley Mills, head of the international intellectual property division of a Philadelphia law firm, says that while “there is no definitive judgment of copyright-worthiness in the registering of copyright, but registration, if the copyright proves valid, offers valuable additional remedies against infringers and shows the world – and the courts – that the copyright holder claims rights in good faith”. Mills contends that applying for copyright is “simple, user-friendly and inexpensive”.

So if you want to be sure that your original work doesn’t crop up under someone else’s name, register it. And if you’re thinking of claiming another author’s work as your own – be warned!

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