Untitled Document
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
16-31 October 2010  
Untitled Document

Pharma Life
Pharma Ally
Packaging Special


Pharma Bio Career Guide 2009
Express Biotech

Editorial Advisory Board
Open Forum
Media Kit
Contact Us
Network Sites
Express Computer
Express Channel Business
Express Hospitality
Express TravelWorld
Express Healthcare
Group Sites
Indian Express
Financial Express

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Home - Management - Article


The art of crafting effective medical copy

In the second article of a series, based on his forthcoming book, Dr Rajeshwar Singh, Head, Scriptamedica Farmaceutica, looks at the need for persuasive medical copy, the rules which govern the profession and lastly, shares some tips on crafting effective medical copy

Art or a craft? Science or semantics? Copy is the core of brand communication in any mode, digital or printed. Incidentally, ‘Copy’ has many connotations—carbon copy, copy book, exact copy of a CD, photocopy of a document.

Copy in the world of advertising means any text in any form on any surface that announces and sells a product or a service or a concept. Copy which conveys the profile of a medication is a Medical Copy. Medical devices and diagnostics, too, need medical copy for promotion.

Writing medical copy differs from consumer copywriting, unless the brand is an over-the-counter (OTC) product legally permitted to be promoted via lay media (magazines, TV). An OTC brand’s copy has the same approach as that of a consumer brand’s copy.

Tips offered here apply mostly to medical copy ie. the advertising text composed for prescription-only-medicines (POM), the UK term for formulations that can be sold only on a doctor’s prescription. Promoting POM medicines requires medical copy to be written in the Rx mode since the audience in this context is the prescribing medico.

There is though a lot of common ground between OTC-mode medical copy and Rx-mode medical copy: both presume an in-depth understanding and knowledge of disease. Medical copywriters are expected to know both sides of disease: as the doctor perceives it, and as a patient feels it.

Both modes of copy also need some knowledge of diagnostic workup for each disease.

Finally, the medical copywriter, in Rx or OTC mode, must be thoroughly aware of the competing lines of treatment for a disease. To illustrate this point:

  • a backache can be relieved by pain-killers, muscle relaxants, yoga and physiotherapy; all these compete for the backache sufferer’s purse
  • diarrhea can be controlled by oral rehydration therapy, by anticholinergics, and by antiperistaltic agents, or binding agents.

Six different habitats of a medical copywriter

1. Packaging Copy
2. Promotional Copy
3. Medical backgrounders
4. Detailing Manuals
5.Field-force-directed communications
6. Taglines for gifts and brand reminder iInputs

In most pharma organisations, the habitat of medical copy is print promotion. Accordingly, it is also the focus of this article.

Tools of the trade

Plumbers, carpenters— and medical copywriters— depend on the efficiency and reliability of their tools to execute a professional job. Medical copywriters, ideally, should have access to a medical library. The following books should be handy, almost always.

  • A good English Dictionary (Webster’s)
  • A good Medical English Dictionary (Webster’s)
  • A Thesaurus (Roget’s)
  • A Usage Manual (Fowler’s)
  • A book on Medical Quotations (Strauss)
  • A book on Medical Abbreviations
  • A book on Diseases, Diagnosis and Treatment: Merck Manual, 18th ed.

This indispensable source is also accessible on www.merck.com.

Seven rules for medical copywriters in Rx mode
1 ) Aim your copy at ‘your patient ‘/ ‘your patients symptoms’ – and not at the patient

2 ) Never use ‘CURE’ (doctors either manage a disease or treat a problem or relieve a symptom)

3 ) Use ‘GUARDED / QUALIFIED’ expressions (hyperbole or exaggeration erode credibility)

4 ) Translate technicalities of mechanism of action or pharmacokinetics or the chemistry of drug-delivery system into CLINICAL BENEFITS or PATIENT BENEFITS

5 ) Keep away from fancy phrases or clever ‘lines’ (a fancy phrase attracts attention only to the phrase, not to the product)

6 ) Cater to all levels of medical reps : a B Com from backwaters or an MPharm from metros.

7 ) Modulate the Copy for all levels of audience: the QUACK as well as the CONSULTANT

The final rule: You may break all the rules! But keep in mind the Chinese statesman’s famous statement: “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white so long as it catches mice”(Mao ZeDong aka Mao Tse Tung)

The need for persuasive medical copy—Rx or OTC mode

In a literate society, the prescribers as well as the consumers of modern medicines, first like to absorb information on a drug before they can absorb the drug. This is true for almost all patients in western culture, and increasingly so in India.

Thus the more absorbing the drug information, more the urge to prescribe or pop a pill.

Medical Copywriting is all about conveying this drug information in an engaging style, with clarity and authenticity, and with flair and finesse, because of the sophisticated and exalted status of readership—the medical fraternity.

Good medical copy is, therefore, the only way to get a ‘Share of the Mind’: of the prescribers’ mind in Rx mode, or the patients’ mind in OTC mode.

Without acquiring a ‘Share of the Mind’, there is little chance of getting a share of the market.

Rx mode Copy, of course, is also ultimately aimed at selling a brand in the market place, although via the prescribing doctor’s mighty pen. It is this pen that moves Rx brands from a factory to the retailers’ shelf, where, finally, the patient gets the written-down prescription filled in.

Professional medical copywriters keep in view the neurolinguistic axis that starts at ‘top of the mind’ and ends at the ‘bottom of a ballpoint pen’.

A tip for beginners with shaky command over basic English and medical English

Among the most important prescriber take-aways in a print promotion input (PPI) are the so-called ‘selling points’, also called unique prescribable propositions (UPP). Each selling point is traditionally highlighted by a bullet. These bulleted selling points, the distinguishing features of a brand, should ideally begin with an active verb.

Copywriting after all is ‘salesmanship in print’. Thus, if you begin each bullet point with an active verb, you’ll notice that the active verb also plays a selling role. An active verbs adds momentum to each selling statement, lends a human dimension to each statement, reinforces the credibility of each statement, as if it is coming from an authority and facilitates detailing by even newly-inducted medical reps.

Elegance in copywriting—medical or consumer—demands, however, that the same active verb should not be repeated on the same page. This concern for elegance can become a major ‘block’ for beginners, and occasionally, even for professionals.

Here is a list of possible ‘active verbs’ with which to begin your medical copy in a ‘bullet-point’ orientation to convey any pharma brand’s significant attributes:

  • Relieves pain
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Provides better symptom coverage
  • Offers additional safety
  • Induces prompt relief
  • Clears lesions faster
  • Tackles coexisting nausea
  • Prevents frequent recurrence of attacks
  • Precludes the need for adding another drug
  • Lessens dependence on nursing staff
  • Improves the quality of life
  • Offsets high-cost of multi-pill regimens
  • Counters beta-lactamase-induced resistance
  • Mitigates the misery of chemotherapy-induced vomiting
  • Carries less risk of drug interaction.
  • Preserves renal function
  • Protects liver from viral attacks
  • Results in better pregnancy outcomes
  • Elicits greater patient acceptance and compliance
  • Permits titration of dosage
  • Delivers precise quantities of the drug
  • Ensures freedom from morning stiffness
  • Produces minimal side-effects
  • Achieves consistent serum levels
  • Facilitates diagnostic work up
  • Attains high tissue concentration
  • Shortens duration of treatment
  • Speeds up recovery
  • Accelerates tissue penetration
  • Retards progression of disease process

References in medical copy

Medical copy, in the hands of a beginner, often leans heavily on ‘References’. Quoting references, though, is itself a professional activity, fraught with regulatory restrictions or risks of copyright infringement. The current environment of Intellectual Property Rights, following the signing of TRIPS agreement by India, dictates caution in plagiarism—intended or unintentional.

Further, modern software such as <turnitin> can detect plagiarism in seconds, and land the organisation in serious trouble. The temptation to use a ‘reference for every bullet point’ should be curbed. When a reference must be quoted to support a new argument, a new use of the drug, or a new medical angle, the act of quoting must follow certain accepted conventions. A separate article, devoted to ‘QUOTING REFERENCES’, will appear in a forthcoming issue of Express Pharma.

Four print promotion formats that work

IEC Format for Vyatra, marketed by M/s. Limboceutica


A walk-in introduction




Cilostazol from Limboceutica

Directly Targets Vascular Musculature and Platelets -

The Real Culprits Behind Intermittent Claudication (IC)


Corrects The Underlying Disease Mechanisms

“The mechanisms of cilostazol’s therapeutic action seem to be related toa combination of beneficial activities, including smooth muscle relaxationand vasodilatation, platelet inhibition, inhibition of vascular smooth muscleproliferation, and modest improvements in serum lipoproteins and ABI (ankle-brachial index).”1


Demonstrably Improves Walking Profile

“In a large, multi-center, randomised prospective, double-blind study of 516patients with lower extremity PAD and IC, cilostazol (100 mg twice per day)produced a 51 percent (129 m) increase in maximal walking distance and a 59 percent increase in pain-free walking distance.”2


Intermittent Claudication Calls For Vyatra“

Cilostazol should be the first-line pharmacologic agent prescribed for symptomaticrelief of IC.”3

1,2,3, Brook et al, Cardiology Clinics Vol. 20(2002) 521-534

The ASK Format

WALKING…is every human being’s birthright –and medical science has the means to protect it !

VYATRACilostazol from Limboceutica

Helps Your Patients Regain Their Rightful Ability To WalkBy Focussing on The Underlying Pathology of Intermittent Claudication

(body copy same as in IEC format)


Inhibits Platelets: Relaxes Vascular Musculature…Without Twisting or Distorting the RBCs!

The AIDA Format


But prone to get grounded by Intermittent Claudication (IC)


(body copy same as in IEC)



To Your Grounded Patients and See Them Walking Pain-free!

The PAPA Format (appropriate for a visual aid)


You Have The Therapeutic PowerTo Offer Longer, Pain-free Walking For Patients With IntermittentClaudication

(body copy same as in IEC format)


Cilostazol from Limboceutica

The First Focussed Drug Treatment

For Lower Extremity

Occlusive Arterial Disease



The Alternative May Be Unthinkable!#

# Untreated Peripheral Arterial Disease can lead to amputation of the affected leg

Copy formats suitable for pharma brand managers

For the medical copywriter in the Rx mode, fortunately, the copy format is pre-determined, particularly because the final PPI is meant to be ‘detailed’ by a medical representative (MR), either as a carry-back sheet (visual aid) or as a leave-behind literature (LBL).

The printed page of a visual aid (VA) or an LBL in reality serves as a ‘prompting plank’ for the MR to take-off… and eventually to convey in the next 180 seconds—or less—the essential information already bulleted by the medical copywriter in the PPI.

Even a pre-determined format, though, needs continuity—a running ‘thread’ for arranging the components of information, like beads in rosary.

A Copy format therefore refers to a harmonious arrangement and sequenceof beads—perhaps ‘pearls’—to facilitate smooth and fluent detailing of the brand’s compellingly-composed Unique Prescribing Propositions (UPPs)

Experienced medical copywriters usually prefer to work within four Copy formats (when you become a pro, you can create your own formats).

Choice of Copy format is governed by the following strategic considerations:

  • is the PPI for launching a new product ?
  • is the PPI for promoting an existing product ?
  • is the PPI a visual aid sheet—to be shown and taken back, or an LBL ?
  • is the PPI meant to counter competitor’s claims (the ‘knock-out’ strategy) ?

The following four Copy formats answer these considerations, and facilitate the act of copywriting.

Once an appropriate Copy format is selected, there may be an additional benefit.

Besides arranging copy components in a detailable sequence, the format also helps overcome ‘writers’ block’, especially when one is stuck with ‘how to begin’ or ‘how to end’.

Four print promotion formats that work

Four detailable, field-tested approaches in medical copywriting are demonstrated here. Each of these four formats has a common structure: a headline, main copy, and a bottom line. In consumer advertising, the equivalent terms are headline, body copy and sign-off.

Seven habits of sought-after medical copywriters
1. Start by putting the date on top of the page

2. State clearly what you are about to write ‘copy for a 2-page card; 4-page folder Rx Pad; 16-page booklet on Brand x’

3. Begin the Rx mode copy with the statutary warning ‘For the use only of a registered medical practitioner or a hospital or a laboratory’, when it is an LBL

4. Set aside for a while that virtuosity with your laptop’s QWERTY keyboard: use a pencil, and an eraser that erases.

5. No matter how urgent the job, discard or revise your first draft.

6. Urgency be damned: create a ‘temporal’ objectivity between you and your copy by reviewing your final draft after half-a-day, or at least, after half-an-hour. Only then, send it up or down for further processing.

7. Insist on seeing the ‘final-final’ proof of the print promotion. Some howlers mysteriously become manifest at this last stage: A medical copywriter’s responsibility for accuracy extends right up to the ‘production stage’.

I. The IEC / IEW format



Conclude / Wrap-up

II. The ASK format

Arrest attention


Knock out competition

III. The AIDA format





IV. The PAPA format





Pitfalls to be avoided

The author currently heads Scriptamedica Farmaceutica, a Consultancy Service specialising in pharma and medical communications. He can be contacted at scriptamedica@gmail.com

Spellings: Don’t depend entirely on Computerji. A spelling error will stop someone from reading. The readers might also assume that if there are spelling mistakes, there are other mistakes. They might even think you are a bad writer, and therefore, a bad brand manager. They will probably make more comments. The trouble caused by spelling errors far outweighs the effort required to correct them.

To emphasise once again…The computer is a moron. Spellcheck’ won’t distinguish…

between their and there,

between plain and plane,

between mail and male...and also between cervical meaning vertebrae, and cervical referring to cervix (men have the former; women have both) and a scan can mean many things—from medical imaging to one’s reading habits (funnily, you are scanning a newspaper—when you are turning the pages hurriedly, and also when you are reading every single line!)

Moral: Check the context, not just the spellings

Medical copy: Some benchmarks

effective medical copy

- is equally clear to the medical rep and the doctor

- gets appreciated by a GP as well as super-specialist

Successful medical copy

- is utterable and detailable

- is delivered with correct pronunciation and intonation

Good medical copy

- is error-free, conforms to medical writing style

- summarises patient benefits of the brand in four to six lines

Note: a medical copywriter has no control over the delivery, but can take care in choosing words which are easy on the tongue as well as under the ballpoint’s tip.

Adding a touch of positivity in Rx

Almost all drugs, available with or without a doctor’s prescription, have undesirable attributes. All, however, have been legally permitted to be marketed because their benefits outweigh their adverse effects. Ignoring the unwanted effects, or deliberately air-brushing them, is illegal as well as unethical (all POM brands are also called ‘ethicals’ in industry jargon). And yet the frequent sighting of ‘not’, ‘non’ and ‘no’ by a casual reader of medical copy can—and does—generate negative vibes. Indeed, most doctors give a cursory reading to medical copy, and react negatively to negative words.

Seasoned medical copywriters can overcome this issue thus:

- change ‘no adverse effects’ to “free from adverse effects”

- replace ‘non-irritant, non-greasy base’ to “skin-friendly, water-washable base”

- try incompatible for not compatible

-rewrite ‘not indicated in children’ as “indicated for adults and children above 12”

Evolving copy from a graphic perspective

1. Try rephrasing positioning statement / copy platform into a picturesque headline ie. a headline containing words that have imagery. Such headlines inspire the artist to come up with memorable graphics

2. Choose documentation / promotional data that are convertible into pie-charts, bar-charts or graphs

3. Begin each selling point with an active verb (and a different active verb for each point, as demonstrated earlier)

4. Keep in view the detailability - hence expand all first-time-occurring abbreviations, as also all journal names’ abbreviations

5. Try to structure your copy with short sub-headings followed by explanatory text / illustration: such a copy allows detailing flexibility—across 30-second to 120- second time windows

6. Prepare your copy meticulously—checking it for grammar, spelling, style, numbers, percentages, x-axis and y-axis in charts (preparing copy is not just proof-reading)

Epilogue: Love’s labour lost!

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,

For want of a shoe, the horse was lost,

For a want of a horse, the soldier was lost,

For want of a soldier, the battle was lost!

Similarly, for want of a hyphen, the meaning was lost

‘Six monthly doses vs six-monthly doses’

For want of correct spelling or a hyphen the credibility of copy was lost!

And perhaps, as a result..

The brand managers’

- Confidence was lost

- Self-image was lost

- Authority was lost

Is that why some folks prefer ‘Copying’ to copywriting?

Further Reading

1. Copy: the core of advertising, by Aesop Glim, Dover Publications, New York, 1963
2. The craft of copywriting, by June Valladares. Response Books (Sage Publications), New Delhi, 2000


1 . Medical Advertising Hall of Fame <mahf.com>
2 . The Medical Advertising Club of New York <therxclub.com>
3 . Pharmaceutical Advertising <adpharm. net> (it’s a paid site dedicated to pharmaceutical advertising in US and Canada: its excellent blog can be accessed free)


FEEDBACK: We would love to hear from you -- what you like about our content, what you dont, and even how you think we can improve. Please send your feedback to: editorial.ep@expressindia.com

© Copyright 2001: The Indian Express Limited. All rights reserved throughout the world. This entire site is compiled in Mumbai by the Business Publications Division (BPD) of The Indian Express Limited. Site managed by BPD.