You’ve decided to become a medical writer. You’ve set up your LinkedIn profile, sent out countless resumes, and networked yourself to death. You finally land the interview and realize, wait for it – they actually want you to write something before they hire you!
When I was applying for science writing jobs, no one told me to expect a writing test. I was completely caught off guard when I was told one was coming my way following a phone interview. In this blog post, I will describe the writing test I received as part of the interview process for my current position and share some things to keep in mind as you complete your writing assessment.
The test I received was actually two distinct assignments. My first thought was that it was not one, but two opportunities to make a mistake! I had a brief moment of panic followed by a moment of clarity. The components of this test were not two chances to fail; they were two chances to shine.
When you receive your tests, I urge you to think the same way! Before you begin the assignments, you are given a hard deadline. My deadline was one week from receipt of the test. On the bright side, though, most companies will confirm your availability to complete the test before they send it to you.
I was sent a scientific journal article and told to summarize the complex information it contained for 1) a physician audience and 2) a patient audience. The first summary was intended for doctors who would need to know the implications of the paper, but didn’t actually want to read it in its entirety.
The second was intended for the news section of a patient-focused magazine or website. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? The science in the article was pretty complex, but the directions were clear. I interpreted them as follows: summarize this article for a grad school colleague (someone who could understand more complex information similarly to a physician) and then summarize it for my mom (a non-science person, like most patients).
It was that simple. At that point, it was up to me, with the help of my scientific background of course, to read and interpret the data. That is a HUGE part of what medical/science writers do every day. I then had to present the data to my audience in a way that they could understand (another HUGE part of medical/science writing).
Ultimately, the recruitment team wants to know if you can read and understand scientific information. They also want to know how well you write, obviously. Do you present your ideas logically? Is your writing clear and concise? Did you spell everything correctly? How’s your grammar and punctuation? They will look at everything! Don’t sacrifice the content for the writing or vice versa.
Obviously, you won’t know what your writing test will include until you get it. The assessment described here is just one kind of test. The good thing is that if they want to give you a writing test, they’re probably interested in you. If they didn’t like you, they wouldn’t care about your writing skills, right?
Pointer #5: being asked to complete a writing test is almost always a good sign!
Remember that no matter what kind of test you’re asked to complete, spelling, grammar, and punctuation are VERY important. Always get someone, even if they don’t have science background, to read your work. Ask yourself what your audience needs to know and, more importantly, what can you expect them to understand.
Be concise, and make sure the information you’re providing is accurate. Check your numbers, conclusions, and key takeaways. Also keep in mind that your science background, how you interpret and understand data, is key to the completion of these tests and what you’ll be doing every day at work should you be hired.
Best of luck and happy writing!