Domhnall MacAuley is a CMAJ Associate Editor and a professor of primary care in Northern Ireland, UK.
In my capacity as Chair of the Jury for the National Research Award of the Swiss College of Primary Care Medicine, I was recently invited to give a Plenary lecture at the Early Career Researchers Academic meeting for academic primary care physicians in Bern, Switzerland. I enjoyed listening to other great speakers at the event. One was Kali Tal, a professional writer, who, in addition to her many other talents and accomplishments, works as a senior Editor, grant writer and qualitative researcher at the Institute for Primary Care Medicine at the University of Bern. Kali gave a workshop on research writing at the recent early career researchers’ group meeting.
Many researchers struggle with writing research papers, grants and reports. Perhaps it’s a function of our educational systems that stream able students towards scientific subjects at an early age. Coursework, assessments and exams are often in multiple choice or short answer format with the emphasis on delivering information in short bites rather than as a narrative. As a result, many doctors may not have had to construct a paragraph, never mind write an essay, since they were about 15 years old. It can be even more difficult when English, the universal language of science communication, is not your first language. How do doctors relearn those skills?
Writing is not a skill that’s taught in the undergraduate or postgraduate medical curriculum but Kali's workshop made it seem easy and fun. She had some wonderful tips including to think of your writing as a story and practice saying it aloud to refine your message. But I was most intrigued by her analogy of the research paper as a fairy tale and I invited her to explain it further in this video.