'D is for doctors. They are highly trained in medical matters; they are not usually highly trained in writing matters.'
Author Tim Albert should know.
He was editor of BMA News Review , the in-house British Medical Association magazine. His frustration over doctors reverting to type, in both senses of the word, is self-evident in this amusing and informative book.
Although directed towards medical writing, Albert's advice sits well with most forms of written communication and even presentations.
'L: Leaving things out. The real problem in writing is leaving things out, not putting them in.'
How true. A smaller alphabet would have sufficed. The British Medical Journal does, after all, produce an excellent series of 'ABC books'. This would release us from reading such useful comments as, 'M: Multi-author books. These abound.'
Still, there is a wealth of useful advice on, for instance, whether or not to employ an agent . Hinting gently at benevolent parasitism (symbiosis? ), we should only engage an agent if we think there is potential to earn enough money for two people.
What is 10 per cent of nothing?
'Meanwhile, ' suggests Mr Albert, 'don't give up the day job.' If only.
Technical advice specific to medical publication is interspersed with comments such as 'F: Fun. If you are not enjoying yourself how do you expect your readers to?'
The last time I wrote a paper on experimental transplantation of pancreas, 'fun' was not a word that sprang to mind easily.
I would have gladly ripped the still beating islets of Langerhans out of the nearest person who had the temerity to ask if I would like a cup of tea.
I enjoyed the book, but found the packing irritating. It reminded me of media training courses designed to make me short, sharp and to the point, yet invariably taking two very expensive days in the process.
Most respected journals, such as the BMJ , give good advice about what is expected from authors if their paper is to pass the first hurdle of review. Impressing your peers is unfortunately still a prerequisite, rather than making the reader laugh uproariously, even though mine invariably did so for exactly the wrong reasons.
'P: Peer review. Don't get depressed when the reviewers come up with criticism. 'How's the day job going, Tim?
Dr Ian Banks Chair Men's health forum.