Last fall, I was part of a Zoom meeting with a group of other medical developmental editors discussing how our roles seemed to be metamorphosing. Some of us were experiencing loss of work and felt opportunities seemed to be disappearing. Others saw our roles expanding with new and exciting opportunities. But we all agreed we needed to do better at communicating our worth and the service we provide.
Developmental editing is rarely discussed—and even less so in the context of medical content. Even other editors are often unclear on the day-to-day of what we do and the value we provide. So, what does a medical developmental editor do and what opportunities might you discover in this role?
What do we do?
When developmental editors are mentioned in editing groups, it is often in reference to someone who works with novels. Occasionally in-house content project managers have the same job title even though they do not perform hands-on editing, which can be confusing. Much like our counterparts in fiction, we provide the deepest level of editing for the work.
We recommend big picture changes and edit according to our own distinct brand of minutiae. Depending upon the scope of the project, here are some tasks we are responsible for:
Some of the best feedback I ever received was from an author who was ready to give up on their chapter. They wrote, “You have vastly improved it through reorganizing. I told [my coauthor] we should delete this chapter because I was unhappy with it, but your reorganization has changed my mind.” Through a bit of help with the structure and sharpening of what was already there, the client was able to fall in love with their work again and see their ideas come to fruition.
What opportunities are available?
Professional development: Medical developmental editors may work on professional development curriculum for organizations like the American Heart Association or continuing education for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. For example, I’ve edited and written scripts, interactive case studies, and lessons for an e-learning product and the corresponding print handbook for the American Red Cross. My role included being on set to help complete necessary changes to the scripts during production and to note any deviations from the script that might introduce errors.
Medical education: Developmental editing has a long history in medical education. We tend to provide a deeper level of editing in textbooks intended for undergraduate nursing students and other healthcare disciplines than we do for physician textbooks. This is because unclear language or inappropriate reading level can distract from the intended learning. In this role, we often create special features for the book or activities for e-learning modules to highlight critical learning for better retention.
We sometimes co-lead focus groups for market development to understand how best to develop a product to meet instructor and student needs. Educational publishing has gone through an upheaval in the last few years, and these roles and opportunities are ever in transition.
Converting dissertations to journal articles: Recent doctoral graduates may wish to publish their dissertations as journal articles. These graduates could be nurses, physical therapists, those within other healthcare disciplines, or even physicians with dual degrees. The purpose and format of a dissertation and a journal article are quite different, and we can help parse out the content.
Sometimes the research conducted for a dissertation warrants more than one journal article. We can help the author shape their ideas and revise their approach. It can be difficult for the author to stand back and see the bigger picture after having already worked so closely toward finishing the arduous work of a dissertation.
Other opportunities: We can help in many other areas as well, such as fleshing out ideas for a grant application, working with a healthcare provider who is publishing a trade book for a lay audience, or even working on websites.
A good medical developmental editor helps a writer organize their thoughts, scrub away excess language that’s obscuring the existing excellence of the work, build missing connections for the reader, and feel confident they are translating their ideas to the page in the clearest and most accessible manner.
Want to be a medical developmental editor? was originally published in Tracking Changes (Summer 2021 edition). Members receive a PDF of the quarterly Tracking Changes newsletter by email.