Cochrane 2015 – writing for a non-expert audience

Cochrane15Apologies to anyone reading this who is not currently listening to me live at my Cochrane Symposium writing workshop (Melbourne, Wed 25 Nov); I’m teaching clever researchers how to write for ordinary folk. I have just dumped a few exercises and links for workshop participants.

If you’ve been falsely lured here via automated social media alerts, and have read this far (second paragraph means you’re a bit curious) please feel free to browse around my other posts. If nothing else, the tedious nature of this one makes the others look brilliant in comparison.

Given the Cochrane theme, I humbly suggest starting with, How Archie Cochrane flipped the medical world on its head

The workshop content starts below:

Writing for the non-expert reader

Your reader is NOT

  • —an expert in your field
  • —intrinsically any more interested in your field than 50 other fields
  • —a picky academic critic
  • —interested in methods
  • —interested in reams of caveats and comprehensive naming of things (including numbers)

Your reader IS

  • —interested because they are curious
  • —good at reading and reasonably intelligent
  • —sometimes interested in you
  • —appreciative of a touch of clever irony, or wit

From light bulb to bookshelf



Macro editing

Micro editing*

Proof reading**


*Line edit

** Copy edit

Article on how important editing is, by MJA editor Peter Arnold

A few ‘track changes’ hints, by Shauna Kelly

Editing exercise 1

Edit for brevity and clarity. Original text, as sent to me:

Most people with heart failure will be taking medications that aim to improve the function of their heart by slowing down the rate at which it pumps.

For people taking any of these medicines, it means that increases in heart-rate that normally occur with exercise, will not happen to the same extent and only small changes in heart-rate are usually seen.

This doesn’t specifically effect your ability to exercise but it does have an impact on how hard you should be exercising.

(84 words)

(My edit came in at 55 words.)

Exercise 2 – edit the middle sentence (in bold)

Breast self-examination has often been recommended for women to prevent breast cancer, but has it been shown to make difference? This literature review will give an analysis of the extent of the issues and offer an interpretation of possible contributory factors. It appears that the majority of women still believe that their GP should teach them self-examination techniques.

Further reading

So You’re a Scientist Wanting to Write a Popular Science Book? Caleb A Scharf, Scientific American blogs, Jan 2013


About Dr Justin Coleman

Justin is a GP in Brisbane and Director of Education for GPs in the NT. He edits a medical journal and two medical textbooks, and is a medical writer and educator. Further details at
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