How do you deliberately downplay how good a new product actually is?

This turned out to be part of the challenge for me when I was asked to help rebrand, improve and promote a smartphone app for health scientists which is now called the Medical Writing Checklist.

Still from the promo video for the Medical Writing Checklist

If you are a scientist, a good part of your life will be spent on improving the phrasing, style and grammar of English-language scientific publications. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if you could just put your scientific article through a piece of software and PLING!! — a perfectly-phrased-piece-of-polished-prose was ready for submission to a journal.

The trouble is: This software does not exist. For your basic grammar — maybe — yes. But for higher order phrasing and readability, most definitely no.

And so millions of man-hours are spent in the world of science editing and improving the quality of English-language scientific publications — mostly by people who do not have English as their native tongue.

So there is a demand for a ‘killer app’ that would do all this work. In fact, there is so much demand that people are often surprised that a machine-learned, artificially-intelligent thing that can do this work does not already exist.

The Medical Writing Checklist can be used to check:

• Articles
• Reviews
• Case reports
• Letters
• Editorials
• Abstracts for conferences
• Theses
• Dissertations

The Medical Writing Checklist does not claim to be this thing, this killer app that takes your writing as input and sends out perfect prose as output. The Medical Writing Checklist is, in fact, exactly what it says it is. A checklist. You can have it on your phone as a second screen while you systematically read and edit your own manuscript, or you can open it up and learn from it in the downtime in your editing process.

As you go through your manuscript and the list, you click on the headers, and different examples of sentences with typical mistakes in English usage are unfolded, also with examples of the same sentences written correctly.

It is, in other words, low tech. But it is easy to use, gives you an overview so you can quickly check through your own work, and keeps track of what you have checked before you submit a paper.

Finally, and this is important, it can give you confidence in the quality of your paper’s English-language writing. Hey!! You actually learn to write better English!

All in all, it is an app that helps you get your medical and health science paper published, but it does not do the editing work for you.

The Medical Writing Checklist is a tool for scientists, academic secretaries, assistants, and anyone else who has to check medical/scientific texts.

The Medical Writing Checklist was developed by Christine Møller and her collaborators Claire Gudex and Jude Pedersen. Christine Møller has a Danish-sounding surname, but she is a native English speaker with many years of experience as a journal editor and medical writing teacher, and runs this Copenhagen-based medical writing consultancy.

The idea for it came from PhD students attending a medical writing course at the University of Copenhagen. The PhD students wanted an overview to quickly check through their work and make sure they hadn’t missed anything. The first version of the app, the CCJ Checklist, was the result of this.

You can see the promotional video for the new updated app below:

Last year Christine Møller decided to rebrand and improve the app, and she got me involved in the project.

Our first discussions and decisions were about the pricing. I advised that the value of a free and more widely available app would surpass the value of a paid version, and we ended up making the app completely free. If it really takes off, we may have a few ideas for some nifty premium features.

This app does exactly what it says it does. No frills.

The app works well for all science writing, and not just for the medical and health sciences. So our first intuition was that a new name for the app should reflect that. However, all of the specific examples in the app are within the field of health and medicine, and these examples are very good. So we ended up going for this, hence the new name for the app: Medical Writing Checklist.

As for getting it more widely distributed, the first version was for iPhones; now we needed Android. This was contracted out to partners in the Philippines, who also helped with a short promotional video.

Once that was done, Christine and I edited the wording on the app store and in the app itself to better reflect what the app can actually do.

Christine Møller teaches Medical Writing. The idea for the app came from participating PhD students.

People want a killer app so they don’t have to do all the editing work on their scientific papers.

This app does not do that. But it does exactly what it says it does. No frills. Hopefully our efforts to downplay the app will have people not only downloading it, but actually using it.

You can download it here on Google Play.

The Medical Writing Checklist has its own Twitter account (by Christine Møller), that I am shadow-curating at the moment, and that regularly tweets examples from the app. Go ahead and follow her!