By Mary Barlow
Senior Director of Media Production
When it comes to writing about diseases, viruses, and drugs, it’s a given that our work must be accurate and credible. But being understandable—so audiences are able to absorb the essential content the first time through without having to reread the hard parts—is also imperative.
I recently read a piece in Forbes by Bruce Y. Lee, a healthcare writer who nailed this task with exceptional expertise. Each turn of phrase in Lee’s article, titled “No, COVID-19 Coronavirus Was Not Bioengineered. Here’s the Research that Debunks That Idea,” felt like unwrapping a present. That’s how reading should be. You don’t stop unwrapping a package because you’re bored—you want to know what’s inside.
After giving us the scientific angle on the origins of SARS-CoV-2 from a research paper, Lee describes the virus in his own words: “The virus looks sort of like a medieval mace with multiple spikes sticking out from its spherical shape. These spikes aren’t just for show as the virus uses them to latch on to a cell that it wants to invade and then push its way into the cell. Very medieval stuff.”
Wow. I see it. I get it. Then Lee goes on to explain how portions of the “spike” proteins effectively target human cell receptors, making the notion of a human creating such a phenomenon highly improbable.
“You see, humans can make useful stuff like ride-sharing apps but are still quite puny compared to nature when it comes to making stuff like viruses,” writes Lee.
Yes. I agree.
Earlier in the piece, Lee lays out the research diplomatically, like a science writer should, detailing both sides of his argument and leaving all the politics out of the mix. Then he breaks down for us the evidence supporting the origin of SARS-CoV-2—that it likely jumped from a bat to an intermediate host, a masked palm civet (an animal indigenous to Asia akin to our opossum). Who knows for sure? I am not asserting agreement one way or another. My only point here is in examining the writing—taking a “reading-like-a-writer” moment.
One of the most important jobs we commit to as medical communicators in the training industry remains bringing our readers along for the entire ride. To keep them reading each sentence and all the ones that follow, understanding what we mean the whole way. This can be tough to do through bumpy, technical literature. However, we can achieve this goal by interspersing analogies from the mundane to help make sense of the complex. Good writing unwraps new knowledge before our very own eyes. It’s a gift.
Mary Barlow brings to Encompass more than 30 years of experience in healthcare, including in training, quality management, and communications with insurers, as well as writing for pharma, medical device companies, physicians, hospitals, distributors, labs, and clinical trial awareness. She has been recognized for her writing with participation in writers’ symposiums and membership in industry-specific organizations.