Writing Guidelines

Part 1: The Basics

In all likelihood, none of us are professional writers; however, as medical students, we are enrolled in professional programs. The quality of the pieces submitted to in-Training should reflect that. In this spirit, in-Training has provided you with a guide to refine your articles, stories and poems before they are submitted to the in-Training server.

  1. Use spell check. Any words underlined in red should be fixed unless they are, of course, medical terminology.
  2. Read your piece aloud. Reading aloud forces you to slow down and look at each word. If the piece doesn’t sound right when you read it aloud, it will not flow smoothly when others read it.  
  3. Ask someone else review it. After you have read something many times, your brain often fills in the “gaps.”  Give your finished product to someone to read silently and then aloud. A fresh set of eyes will more easily identify mistakes which you can then change prior to submission.

Eliminating easy-to-fix mistakes allows the in-Training medical student editors to focus on the really important aspects of your work. Now break out that dragon quill pen and parchment, and show us what you can do!

Part 2: The Format

in-Training uses the Associated Press (AP) format, so please submit all manuscripts in AP format.  Guidelines for AP format can be found here.

Common tips:

  1. Commas: Do not use the Oxford comma per AP style.
  2. Ages: Always write ages in numerals. (i.e. 1-year-old).
  3. Numbers: Those that begin sentences are always spelled.
  4. Years: Even at the beginning of a sentence, they should always be in numerals.
  5. Ages: One through nine should be spelled. If the number is 10 or more, use the numerals.
  6. Sources: The sources should be cited as hyperlinks.
  7. Spacing: Use only one space between sentences.
  8. Time: Do not use the minutes placement for hours (i.e. 3 a.m. not 3:00 a.m.).
  9. Characters: Use % instead of percent, but use dollars instead of $.
  10. Ellipses & em dashes: Place a space on both sides. (i.e. She – my best friend – is nice. He — the underdog — won.)
  11. Words: Use “all right” not “alright.” Avoid contractions (i.e. don’t, , I’ll, I’d).
  12. Abbreviations: Spell out the acronym the first time it is used, then add the acronym immediately after in parentheses. (i.e. emergency department (ED)).
  13. Capitalization: Do not capitalize “important-sounding words” aka common nouns (i.e. marketing director, cardiology, emergency department, foster care, plastic surgeon.) When in doubt, leave the word in lower case as you will be correct more often than not.
  14. Paragraphs: Do not indent them. Start a new paragraph with each new speaker if using direct quotes.
  15. Clauses: Do not use a comma between an independent clause followed by a dependent clause.  Do use a comma to separate a dependent clause followed by an independent clause.

Part 3: The Structure

A body without structure is an amorphous mess; a building without structure is a pile of steel and glass and concrete. And it’s the same for writing. You can have the great ideas and beautiful prose, but without structure, your message will be lost. Structure not only enhances the flow and logic of your piece, but also allows the readers to remember what they have read and anticipate where you’re going with your argument.

The classic five-paragraph essay format–with an introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion–is an extreme example of imposing structure on writing. Although it’s an adequate starting point for developing writers, this format is not necessarily the ideal way to structure all writing. Important steps in making sure your writing does have some structure include:

Have a clear thesis. What should people to get out of your essay, your story or your poem? Provide a clear direction, because this is the foundation onto which you append all of you arguments, evidence and imagery. Everything is in service of your thesis for example:

  • Medical school should be three years long.
  • Medicine is really the art of listening to your patients.
  • Doctors need to be politically active if they want to effect real change.

If you are arguing that medicine is really the art of listening to your patients, then you can write open-ended questions about how patient satisfaction increases when they feel like they’re being heard and how prognoses improve if treatment is aligns with a patient’s lifestyle and beliefs.

Make an outline. Outline the topics of your paragraphs, outline your arguments and outline your story point by point. Create topics, subtopics and sub-sub topics if you wish.  An example of a simple outline in five-paragraph essay format might be:

  • Intro
    • Discuss doctor-centered medicine;
    • Thesis
      • Medicine is really the art of listening to your patients.
      • Medical school should be three years long.
      • Discuss doctor-centered medicine.
  • Paragraph 1
    • Discuss the link between patient satisfaction and patient outcomes.
  • Paragraph 2
    • Patient satisfaction is based on perceived engagement by their physicians
    • Use the JAMA here.
  • Paragraph 3
    • Make the connection between physicians practicing patient-centered medicine and improved outcomes.
    • Add evidence from latest research.
  • Conclusion
    • Summarize key points.

The beauty of outlining is that, when done well, it makes writing feel effortless. The ideas are already there, and you just need to fill in the spaces between them. In addition, when you revise your piece, it’s often much easier to move ideas around in an outline and keep yourself organized.

Part 4: The Transitions

Transitions govern how your piece flows from one thought to another. They need to be crisp, to the point, and most importantly, they need to make sense.

“Patient-centered medicine improves patient outcomes. Now let’s take a second to talk about how student debt is increasing.That’s an example of a bad transition: switching from one topic to a completely different points.

Adding a transition statement brings the two ideas together by explaining how medical student debt affects the greater population (by driving them away from primary care). Try to create similar transitions between all of your paragraphs. Combine similar ideas using words like “and,” “furthermore” and “in addition.” If you’re examining two sides of an issue, your transitions might include “but,” “whereas” or “in comparison.”

Ideally, a transition statement helps connect two ideas that are already logically related. That’s why it’s often best to structure your ideas in an outline and then use transitions to weave your thoughts together in written form.