Research: Conducting Medical Research - article

Of all the topics about which to write with authority and credibility, medicine is the most difficult. Medicine is extremely complicated; there are many differing opinions on procedures and medications, and the knowledge base changes rapidly. A medication that is part of your story may have outlawed by the FDA while you were writing your manuscript. If your story is about a murder, the “untraceable” drug that causes heart attack-like symptoms now may be detectable (can you say, “succinyl choline”?).

Is there a doctor in the house?

As an author, it’s important to achieve a high level of credibility when you’re writing involves medical topics and procedures. That’s why so many novels with medical topics are written by authors who went to medical school or have some other medical-related background. But all you want is to advance your story, not revise the Physicians’ Desk Reference, so where do you find the right amount of medical information for your project?

One simple method is to ask your doctor or nurse if you have a specific medical question. Take him or her to lunch or coffee and pick their brains. You can also seek out medical reference books at your library or bookstore. has a complete inventory of medical reference guides, including information about drugs, procedures, instruments, forensics, poisons, and other medical information. As with any research topic, the Internet can be an invaluable resource. There are even a few guides targeted at aspiring medical writers. They’re searchable just by googling “medical reference books for writers.” Another option is to search on medical sites, especially if what you are looking for is symptoms and treatments. Two good sites include MayoClinic.Com and WebMD.Com. Of course, as with all online research, the biggest caveat here is that items on the Web are often out of date, and unless you’re careful, you can end up using information that was current in 1996. Be a good consumer of information... check multiple resources and use sources known to be reliable.

The medical field is huge, and the resources available are vast. In order to write an effective novel that involves the field of medicine, you have to hone in on your specific subject. It’s not necessary to write a book that reads like an article in The New England Journal of Medicine, but it is necessary to portray your story and your characters in a convincing and credible fashion.

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