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How to write a resume

January 26th, 2017 Comments off

Your resume is the most important document you will write in your search for a medical writing or health or science job. You must pay attention to:
-format: how it looks
-content: what it says.

On another page, I have included videos on formatting and content click here.

Below are guidelines about content.


Look at my resume on Linkedin (Susanna J Dodgson, if you ask to link with me, I will accept when I determine that you are serious), it goes on for pages and pages. All throughout is sprinkled the names of professionals. Why do I do that? Because you can call any one of these professionals and find out if what I say is true. It is! My resume I have prepared so you know who I am and where I came from. It is not prepared to get me a job in a cubicle in a pharmaceutical company, or a job in a lab. It shows that I have had a long career as a scientist and teacher, and hopefully shows you that for many years, I have been training health and science professionals in the art and science of medical writing, and steer them towards jobs and contracts.

Do not say you solicited and edited articles for Medical Writing Institute when you haven’t solicited a single article or edited one! If you read that someone says that, ask them to show you the article. Since 2007, articled in MJoTA have been written by around 50 authors, and more have been edited from other sources. If someone claims they have prepared one of these, it remains online.

Preparing an article might have been your intent when you started with Medical Writing Institute, but if you haven’t done it, don’t say you have!

Every article I have ever read on writing a resume will tell you the same thing: do not list responsibilities, only what you have achieved. No-one wants to read what you meant to do, or want to do, only what you have done.


As with all writing, you need to know who is reading and what they want to see. What does the pharmaceutical client need to know that I know? Probably not that I know how to measure the reaction kinetics of gases with kangaroo hemoglobins. Although I did spend 4 years of my life doing this. Nor that I know how to manually sequence the amino acids from a beta globin from a monotreme. What they need to know is that I, or you, can be thrown into a cave with a laptop and a cell phone and can process huge amounts of data into documents that FDA and other health professionals can read and say yes! That drug needs to be in humans as quickly as possible!!!

So everything on your resume needs to show that you take orders well, work well with supervisors who are too busy to keep checking on you, and that you TELL THE TRUTH, and that you put data in the best possible light WHILE TELLING THE TRUTH.

And once they dig you out of the cave, they need to know that you have what they need.

One of my favorite Nigerian pastors and his wife had a new baby in 2007, and both were unemployed, she is a lawyer and he is a mechanical engineer. They asked me to fix their resumes. Well, hers was perfect, all she needed was to heal from childbirth.  Pastor had written that he would do anything, he worked as a merchant sailor in Malaysia, and a cab driver in Chicago, and did not mention the fact that he started and runs a church in Baltimore. I rewrote his resume leaving out the cab driving and the sailoring, and added the church administration. I could see he was scaring people, and he needed to show off his excellent management and people skills. He got a job immediately!


So if you haven’t spent 20 years writing CSRs, but have edited some, and translated some, make that stand out because what you need to show is that you know your way around a CSR template.



What is interesting to me is that marketing, and showing yourself in the best possible light, has been interpreted by some of you as permission, if not an order, to lie.

Big difference in a court of law. If you can back up what you are saying with evidence, it is not lying. If you cannot, it may not be lying, or it may be.

Every job I ever got I sent it samples as well as my resume. Every job. What did I send in? At the beginning, after I had more than 40 publications and a RO1 from NIH (none of which counted for medical writing, according to recruiters) I started an online zine on carbon dioxide metabolism, and I sent in an article or 2 from there. Later on, I edited the AMWA Delaware Valley newsletter, and I sent in that. Later still, I started writing essays for EMWA. NONE OF THESE WERE REGULATORY WRITING DOCUMENTS AND YET I GOT REGULATORY WRITING JOBS.

Why did I get regulatory writing jobs? Because in 1999 I got up at 5am every day, dropped my tiny daughter at the babysitter, drove an hour to sit in an office with icy air-conditioning. I  spent 3 months reading NDA documents and checking them for accuracy against tables and figures, and worked on an Investigator’s Brochure for a device.

By the time I left, I knew MS Word Styles, document handling, and I knew what IND and NDA documents looked like and I can write well, and that was what my next clients needed.

We have given you the opportunity to work on regulatory documents at the Medical Writing Institute, to build your portfolio, to feel and handle regulatory writing documents.

As an employer, I am more impressed with the skills of a medical writer who can pull together an article all the way from conception to publication, than with one who says she is a medical writer but all she claims she can do is fix some sentences.

I am very happy to give references to professionals who are or have been medical writers and medical editors for MJoTA, but check with the Medical Writing Institute first before you believe a resume saying that. Because inaccurate health information kills, and we do not want you hiring someone who claims to understand that, but does not.

And what is an editor anyway? An editor can do deep editing, copy-editing, style editing and content editing. Medical Writing Institute only accepts professionals as students capable of editing and understanding the content.

AMA Style Guide, Chicago Manual of Style, or whatever style guide your client wants you to use: they are your best friends:+

-Content editing

 -examples of this are you check the data, you make sure the article makes sense

Copy editing

 -you make sure all instances of any word, such as sub-Saharan, are always spelled the same way
-subject and verb agreement
-no split infinitives

-Style editing

 -make sure you have capitals consistently, periods consistently

-Deep editing

 -ah, you may as well have written the piece yourself, make sure your client or employer pays you appropriately

So what truths are missing from your resume that need to be included?

1. administrative skills

Were you a medical consultant for 10 years? You probably have excellent administrative skills that involved interacting with a whole team of health professionals. Make these skills known: employers want to know that you are a team player.

2. teaching skills

Did you give classes on health, teach Sunday School, coach children?

3. writing skills

You only have writing skills if you have written something. What have you written? Don’t be shy, add it to your resume!

4. editing skills

Get some press releases or some PubMed abstracts and edit them down and we can publish them. We have 2 articles like that in vol3no4. The byline will say “compiled and edited by”

5. adaptive skills

Most of us came from some other country, and have done very well. Find a way of making clear that you did well at home, and you are doing well now.

6. you are non-threatening and realistic

You are a career changer! Totally brilliant, quick learning, but you are changing your career! Don’t say you want a senior medical writer position or an executive position. The employer will think you either are an idiot, which is not so bad, idiots can be hired, or, far worse, that you want his job. You need to convince the employer that hiring you for the contract or full-time job will enhance him, not drown him.

Look at my resumes which are posted on Linkedin. They are absurd. I have added everything there. And I have 2 downloadable documents: different jobs require different skills. For every job you apply to, adjust your resume so your client understands you have everything they need.

I have summarized everything about reg and marketing writing on the first page.

At the back I have listed all my publications, leaving out abstracts (too many) and all my invited talks. No reason to leave out abstracts, mostly professionals include them, I left them out because I was going to 1 to 3 meetings a year for 23 years, and a lot of them ended up as publications.

Invited talks I did not sit around waiting to be invited, that only works in the US for white men. I talked to colleagues and told them I was coming to their university or town, and said I would be available to give a talk. Or I organized the conferences myself. Women and minorities are invisible: you have to make yourself visible.

Academic qualifications You need these somewhere, just not right at the beginning. Notice I go down all the way to kindergarten. This is to show that I have always lived in diverse environments and because I am immensely proud of hanging out with Maoris in New Zealand when I was little.

I know some immigrants who soak up every academic training they can, one was working full-time in a pharmaceutical company and working on two master’s degrees at the same time. Another completed one Masters and immediately started another, which was completed after 6 months. And I know professionals who are full-time nurses, lawyers and pastors.

To my European eye, this looks absurd and looks like the professionals could not decide what to do when they grew up, and were no good at anything so they tried everything. If that describes you, leave out some of the degrees that make you look restless, or describe your journey to where you are now in logical terms.

Volunteer activities Anything with religious organizations, community groups. They show you are well rounded and have a life and won’t go violent. Notice I was Quaker Quarterly Meeting Recording Clerk. I prepared a document every 4 months when 7 meetings came together to discuss Quaker business. This is on my resume because it shows that I can never stop writing: all my volunteer activities involve writing.

Summary of Rules:


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Grammar, spelling, and style

October 8th, 2017 Comments off

The most frequent roadblocks to a health professional or life scientist landing a job or contract as a medical writer are imperfect grammar, bad spelling and confusing style. In a cover letter to a recruiter, an errant capitalization, the lack of a “the” or “an”, and inappropriate adjectives can cause a client or recruiter to toss your resume in the trash can.

More than anything, I encourage mentorees in the Medical Writing Institute to slowly complete the Health Communications pages, reading through documents and watching videos until standard American spelling and grammar has seeped into their bone marrow along with an understanding of style required in all technical writing.

The Medical Writing Institute can help mentorees to some extent in grammar, spelling and style if they are willing to learn.

When I realized my own lack of understanding of American grammar and spelling, I had my PhD 20 years, and had worked progressively as a post-doc, research assistant professor, research associate professor, had work published in several PubMed-indexed papers, even had received an RO1 from the National Institutes of Health. I went to libraries, bookshops, and read every grammar book and style manual I could find. I discovered that words I had casually tossed around were barriers to clear understanding of data I was presenting, and that in a single document I was murdering the sense by occasionally capitalizing or hyphenating words that were pleading for conformity.

If your grammar, spelling, and style are the main roadblocks to your having a great career as a medical writer, please do take these pages seriously. If you are brilliant enough to complete several degrees, you can learn to be humble in your writing, and become expert at grammar, spelling and style.

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Writing grant proposals and business plans

July 7th, 2017 Comments off

A grant proposal is essentially a business plan. Someone has money you need to save the world, or a tiny corner of it, and you need to convince them that:
1) you know what you are doing
2) you have a great plan to do it
3) you have had great success in this tiny corner previously
4) you are not going to run away to Belize with the money
5) you are fiscally responsible with every step of your plan.

So you need to explain what, why, when, how, where you are saving the world, and who will help you and in what way. As long as you focus on what you plan to do, don’t add any nonsense.

I once saw a business plan saying that the PI was a good Christian and his 20-year-old daughter, who to be the main implementer even though she was on another continent, was really talented.

Quite simply, how much you believe that someone else’s money is the key to your family member having a stable future, a grant proposal is not the place to show it. What is key is having sober resumes, listing exactly what your team has done, and can do.

Another pitfall is the financial part. I went to a lot of trouble to help write a business plan which should have been successful. The main problem was that a key co-PI was just far too busy to provide any financial data or any data at all on his extremely successful business. The only part that perked him up was when he was asked what he would do with the money. He knew exactly. So he knew how to spend the client’s money, but was not willing to do the work that was needed to convince the client that he did indeed have a viable business.

I urge medical writers setting up their business to prepare a business plan to give to clients. Do a good job, and you will have more clients than you need.

However, if you are writing a grant for a client: before you start, make sure you know what you need to do and if the client is prepared. Make a fee schedule dependent on deliverables. These should be:

1) summary of how, why, who, when, how much, where. The summary should be prepared before the grant proposal is written, with the grant proposal fleshing out each section that is condensed in this summary.

2) what is going to be done

3) how it is going to be done

4) what has been done previously, this should be the introduction, and should not be an extensive literature review to prove how clever you are, but should be a streamlined description of why whoever tried to save that tiny part of the world did a great job, but parts were not completed

5) costs of what will be done, this includes supplies, travel, equipment, salaries

6) personnel, this includes resumes and letters from the personnel

7) permissions from institutions, review boards

How do you charge? Figure out how long it will take, factor in your hourly cost, and ask for a flat fee, with more if extensive rewrites are needed.

Grant proposal resources click here

Writing grant proposals and business plans. SJ Dodgson MJoTA 2017 v11n2p0707

To contact the director, Dr Dodgson,

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