Medical Writing Post-Approval Regulatory Writing The Light Stuff

Volume 23, Issue 4 - Post-Approval Regulatory Writing

The Light Stuff

Anecdotes and quotes related (more or less) to scientific writing


Pigeons are like editors, they both do the icky to your most cherished work, but at least pigeons don't say, Now it really sings.

Cecil Adams, The Straight Dope

Ignorant people think it's the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so, it's the sickening grammar they use.

Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad

Those who have knowledge don't predict. Those who predict have no knowledge.

Lao Tzu (6th century bce)

If only he had had to prepare timelines and cost estimates! (editor)

Work on good prose has three steps: a musical stage when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, and a textile one when it is woven.

Walter Benjamin, critic and philosopher (1892–1940)

A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Alexander Pope, poet (1688–1744)

The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed.

Lloyd Jones, New Zealand author (1954)

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words, and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.

Mark Twain, Letter to D.W. Bowser, 20 March 1880

… and finally a Light Stuff challenge:

In the earlier part of the Twentieth Century, in the County of Caithness in the north of Scotland, great excitement arose when a pot (or part thereof) was discovered, apparently stemming from the Roman occupation of Britain. It was exciting because there was no archaeological evidence up to that point of the Romans having been that far north. The local newspaper, The Caithness Courier, gave prominence to the find, and quoted in full the inscription on the artifact. It was ITI SAPIS SPOTANDA BIGO NE (read slowly without the word breaks). The Courier never lived down its naivete.

I have seen the preceding text in several magazines over the years, including Nature or the BMJ once, if I remember correctly. When I was considering it for inclusion here, I googled it and was rather dismayed to find the exact text, word for word, on several internet sites – always without source. Does anyone know if this rather charming story is true or is also an attempt to fool the reader?

Oh, my brain!

A colleague alerted me to this brilliant bit of text from a document that she was editing:

Some different types of leukemia have been found to respond differently to different treatments.

This is like when Spock, attempting to disable an evil android, said to it, ‘Listen carefully. Everything I say is a lie. I am lying’. The android then proceeded to melt down.

Phil Leventhal




Post-approval regulatory writing
President's Message
Responding to concerns over the PSMF: Inspectors offer key insights
Post-approval regulatory writing – How different is it from writing pre-approval documents?
Strategic medical writing in the post-authorisation phase
Non-interventional Post-Authorisation Safety Studies (NI-PASS): A different type of report
Writing publications for advisory boards
The EMWA Budapest Working Group: A 2-year collaboration to make recommendations for aligning the ICH E3 guideline with current practice and developing clinical study protocol guidance
Profile: An interview with Esther Moreno Barriuso: On some fundamental concerns of medical interpreting
English Grammar and Style
News from the EMA
The Webscout
In the Bookstores
Out On Our Own
The Light Stuff


The Write Stuff Archive Contact Instructions for Authors Article Template (Word) Journal Policies

Editoral Board


Raquel Billiones


Evguenia Alechine

Jonathan Pitt

Managing Editor

Victoria White

Deputy Managing Editor

Alicia Brooks Waltman

Associate Editors

Anuradha Alahari

Jennifer Bell

Nicole Bezuidenhout

Claire Chang

Barbara Grossman

Sarah Milner

John Plant

Sampoorna Rappaz

Amy Whereat

Section Editors

Daniela Kamir


Jennifer Bell


Nicole Bezuidenhout 

Digital Communication

Somsuvro Basu

EMWA News 

Ana Sofia Correia 

Gained in Translation

Ivana Turek

Getting Your Foot in the Door

Wendy Kingdom / Amy Whereat

Good Writing Practice

Alison McIntosh 

In the Bookstores

Maria Kołtowska-Häggström

Lingua Franca and Beyond

Maddy Dyer


Lisa Chamberlain-James

Medical Communications/Writing for Patients

Payal Bhatia

Medical Devices

Evguenia Alechine

My First Medical Writing

Anuradha Alahari

News from the EMA

Adriana Rocha


Tiziana von Bruchhausen


Clare ChangZuo Yen Lee 

Regulatory Matters

Sam Hamilton

Regulatory Public Disclosure

Claire Gudex

Teaching Medical Writing

Louisa Ludwig-Begall / Sarah Kabani

The Crofter: Sustainable Communications

Louisa Marcombes

Veterinary Writing

Editors Emeritus

Elise Langdon-Neuner

Phil Leventhal

Layout Designer

Chris Monk