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Acknowledging professional writing support in publications – are we doing enough?

Formal industry guidelines clearly outline the role of professional medical writers in pharma-sponsored research, but it is not necessarily so clear when and how to appropriately disclose and acknowledge subcontracted or freelance medical writers.

GPP3 guidelines recommend naming the professional medical writer, the organisation they are employed by, and the source of funding for their assistance in the acknowledgments section of manuscripts. However, in a recent article published in Medical Writing, Blair R. Hesp and Marissa Scandlyn suggest criteria for identifying and appropriately acknowledging all professional medical writers who have made substantial contributions to manuscript development, particularly those who are not directly employed by the supporting agency.

Namely, Hesp and Scandlyn propose that individual professional medical writers should be personally acknowledged if they have:

  • made a substantial contribution to drafting the outline or full first draft of a publication, or
  • provided a substantial intellectual contribution to publication development.

The authors suggest that benefits of this approach will include increased transparency by way of public disclosure and discoverability of any potential conflicts of interest, and appropriate recognition for contractors’ skill and responsibility undertaken, which may have implications for their career advancement.

However, they note that the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommends seeking written permission from those named in the acknowledgements, as it implies endorsement of the content and the policies and procedures followed. As such, it is important that subcontractors should also be given the opportunity to decline acknowledgment.

As explained by Hesp and Scandlyn, “declining acknowledgement offers one method of balancing what can be a one-sided working relationship in the client’s favour.”

We look forward to seeing if these suggested criteria are incorporated into the next updates to the industry guidelines.


Summary by Robyn Foster PhD from Aspire Scientific


With thanks to our sponsor, Aspire Scientific Ltd

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