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Biomedical Writing Grad Student Publishes Survey Results

By Lauren Whetzel-Siburkis

Rowan Valenzuela BW'16 is a regulatory medical writer for a contract research organization based in New Jersey. He earned a bachelor of arts in biology from Rutgers University and is currently a graduate student in the Biomedical Writing program at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. Rowan’s professional career allows him to combine his passions for both healthcare and writing. He is also involved with different aspects of the arts and religion, being a strong advocate of creative expression and critical thinking.

“How We Work” Survey Results

I would like to sincerely thank all those who took the “How We Work” survey- every response mattered, and I know your time is valuable. As promised, please find the results of the survey below. I am exploring the possibility of publishing a manuscript. You may reach me at if needed (please include “How We Work” in the subject line).

A total of 88 survey responses were recorded in about 1 month of active solicitation for responders. The following were the results for each survey question:

How many years of Medical Writing experience do you have?

  • < 2 years (9; 10.23%), 2 to 5 years (26; 29.55%), 6 to 10 years (11; 12.5%), >10 years (42; 47.73%)

Are (were) you a Regulatory Medical Writer?

  • Yes (62; 70.45%), No (26; 29.55%)

What state or country (if working outside the US) do you work in?

  • USA (69; 78.4%), UK (7; 8.0%), India (5; 5.7%), Canada (2; 2.3%); New Zealand (2; 2.3%), Unknown (2; 2.3%), Germany (1; 1.1%), Denmark (1; 1.1%), Switzerland (1; 1.1%)
  • Within USA: Northeast (35; 52.2%), Midwest (14; 20.9%), South (10; 14.9%), West (8; 11.9%)

Which MSFT Word features do you regularly use that increase your work efficiency the most? Top 3:

  • Keyboard/click shortcuts (88.6%), find and replace techniques (75.0%), Split screen (72.7%)

Which single feature (from Question #4) would you say has improved your efficiency in Word the most? Top 4:

  • Split screen (22.9%), keyboard/click shortcuts (21.7%), macros (13.3%), customized ribbons (12.1%)

Think back on when you first started as a Medical Writer. What MSFT Word features did you discover for the first time, which you now consider are absolutely essential for any Medical Writer to know? Top 3:

  • Review tools (66.3%), styles (including heading styles) (60.5%), captions/cross-references/field codes (48.8%)

Which MSFT Excel features do you regularly use that increase your work efficiency the most? Top 3:

  • Format cell tools (67.5%), sort and filter tools (61.3%), formulas/function library (41.3%)

Which single feature (from Question #7) would you say has improved your efficiency in Excel the most? Top 4:

  • Sort and filter tools (41.9%), format cell tools (16.1%), formulas/function library (12.9%), macros (8.1%)

What other software do you use to improve your efficiency as a Medical Writer?

  • EndNote (56.9%), Write-in (43.1%), MSFT Project (20.8%), PerfectIT (18.1%), time tracking tools (16.7%), Dragon (1.4%), LaTeX (0.0%)
  • Free response answers: Adobe Acrobat (7), MSFT PowerPoint (7), Reference Manager (3), SharePoint (2), MSFT Visio (2), MSFT Outlook (2), MSFT Lync (2), GraphPad Prism (2); 1 of each of the following: ISIToolBox, Mendeley, Documentum, Adobe Illustrator, Grammarly, Stedman’s Spellchecker, Workshare, Dropbox, Google Drive, Adobe FrameMaker, Scrivener, Asana, Trello, Snipping Tool, MSFT InfoPath, Filemaker, and Evernote.

Summary of complex macro survey questions:

  • 9 (10.2%) knew how to program/code complex macros. 40 (45.5%) had access to complex macros through their company/clients. Most complex macros created by programmers (47.5%) and medical writers (35%). Of those with access to complex macros, 57.5% had access to 1 to 5, 12.5% had access to 6 to 10, 5.0% had access to 11 to 20, and 7.5% had access to >20.

The complex macros are used to help create the following document types:

  • Narratives (24), TFLs (13), CSRs (8), tabulated summaries (3), support documents (1), filing deliverables (1)

The complex macros function in the following ways:

  • Extracting/importing data or information (24), document formatting (18), combining/dividing documents (11), document editing (6)

What kinds of specific tasks do these complex macros perform/automate? (>2 responders)

  • Extracting Comments from Word to Excel (4), combining Word files (4), extract Excel data into Word templates (2), file manipulation (2), formatting TFLs (2), adding/removing section/page breaks (2), formatting text/repairing text formatting (2), inserting TFLs (2)

What kinds of complex macros would you like to see developed? (>1 responder)

  • Macro that takes SAS outputs (".lst") and ".rtf" table files and formats tables appropriately for CSR in-text use (3), macro for producing in-text tables and figures (2), macro for creation of narratives (2).

Summary of computer monitor questions:

  • Number of computer monitors used: 1 monitor (3; 3.57%), 2 monitors (54; 64.29%), 3 monitors (13; 15.48%), 4 monitors (3; 3.57%), ≥5 monitors (3;3.57%)
  • Size of largest monitor: 21” to 30” (56.6%), 16” to 20” (31.3%), 10” to 15” (6.0%), 30” to 50” (6.0%), ≥50” (0.0%)
  • Of the 71 responders who did not have touch screen monitors, 50 did not think a touch screen monitor would increase work efficiency

Can you access your work email via your mobile phone?

  • Yes (58 of 83; 69.9%), No (25 of 83; 30.1%)

What other hardware/equipment/ergonomics do you use which you would consider as tools that improve the way you work as a Medical Writer?

  • Special mouse/keyboard/printer (77.5%), monitor risers (46.3%), back support (32.5%), footrest (30.0%), standing workstation (31.3%), tablet devices (22.5%), USB-powered monitors (21.3%), write-in (13.8%)

Summary of special medical writing tools/services questions:

  • 5 of 83 (6.0%) have used special services; of these, 2 found the service to be useful.

What best practices have improved the way you work as a Medical Writer? Top 4:

  • Personal file organization systems (64.6%), document version controls/appropriate audit trails (64.6%), custom templates (63.4%), document checklists (62.2%)

Are there any other tools that you use which have not been mentioned in this survey?

  • SOPs, guidance documents written by other Medical Writers, style guides, Google scholar, PubMed, Word paste special shortcut using simple macro (code below, then apply a custom shortcut like Ctrl-Z), copying and pasting tracked changes or comments in Word while retaining user identity (copy and paste with tracked changes turned off in both documents), Microsoft Word 2010 for Medical And Technical Writers, hard-copy calendar, etc.
  • Code for paste special macro:
    • Sub PastePlainText()
    • On Error Resume Next
    • Selection.PasteSpecial DataType:=wdPasteText
    • End Sub

Are there other tools that you would like to see developed?

  • Responders generally cited CSR and protocol development tools, project integration tools, and specific Word or PowerPoint features.

Categories: News, Feature Story, Students, Research, Mayes College, Biomedical Writing