Scientific v. Consumer Writing with Joan Blumberg

Nice to see you again, Reader!

As I’m sure you’re aware of, there are so many wonderful sources people can turn to when it comes to writing. Today, I thought it would be best we turned our attention to Drexel Professor Joan Blumberg, who is, without a doubt, one of those outstanding sources.

Meet Joan!

Joan is a truly wonderful woman of many talents. When we met, she blew me away with her previous experience and insight. Joan has worked in executive positions for publishing companies and organizations such as WB Saunders (now Elsevier) and Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. She also worked (and continues to work) on boards and committees like the American Association of Publishers, Royal Pharmaceutical Society Publishing, American Academy of Neurology Publishing, and the American Medical Publishers Association.

Because of Joan’s unique background, we decided to focus this interview on the similarities and differences between scientific and consumer writing and her experiences with each.

Continue below for some interview Q&A!


Interview Q&A



Q: “Tell me a bit about yourself.”



A: “I have experience in professional publishing like scientific and technical writing. I also have experience in consumer writing to a different degree because I taught a freelancing course. I actually know both sides of it. I also ran the publishing program (at Drexel). It’s actually called trade publishing.

“I’ve been in both the publishing and education industries for quite a while. They work well together because, if you want to be a writer with integrity, there are certain principles you have to follow about gathering and presenting information.

“Anyone can write or do something for an educational reason, but there is a higher level of doing it, and I’m an advocate for that.”



Q: “How did you come to writing? What sparked your interest?”



A: “In order to do my job, I had to know who was a good writer. I had to look over what they were writing and, in some cases, finish what they were writing. I was the head of a periodicals department. That’s kind of the way I started, and then I taught a journals publishing course at Drexel and enjoyed teaching and helping students formulate the best ways to say things. There was an opening for the director of the publishing program – it was a Master’s degree. I was a Vice President of my other company at the time, but I applied. I got into the program.”


Q: “Could you tell me what your WB Saunders (now Elsevier) experience was like.”



A: “I did all things in publishing. I was a product manager and had a sales territory at an earlier time. We had a lot of interesting publications. I managed a series of publications, and then I got promoted to Vice President. I think one of the reasons was because I had a good goal and wanted to make sure whatever we published was high quality and cutting edge. A lot of people had/have talent, but I was recognized for mine.”


Q: “Did any of your ideas as a VP come to fruition?”



A: “A lot of them – especially medical and health care publications. When I started at Drexel, I was hired part time and the other half of the time I was a consultant.

“Then I was on the board for the American Academy of Neurology, and I did that the same time I was full-time at Drexel. I was instrumental in helping them with their publishing program. I helped start a really good trade journal for neurology – that was really satisfying.”



Q: “What’s your opinion on peer review?”



A: “I have a lot of respect for it, but it’s changing. Sometimes peer review would be done by the same people over and over again, and it might not have been fair if it was just a certain number of the same people. If you really find the right person to do it, it makes the article better. That goes for trade, consumer, and professional writing – all types of writing.”



Q: “What are the main differences for scientific writing and consumer writing?”



A: “Both are exciting. People think consumer writing is more freeing, but they are both fun.  In science there are very strict protocols as far as exactly the way different types of articles should be structured and their research. I teach that protocol now. They have a very good reason (for it) because papers can be searched, and if you didn’t use these protocols, you can’t find them easily.”



Q: “Do you prefer writing for one over the other (scientific or consumer writing)?”


A: “I actually don’t prefer one over the other . . . If you’re a scientist, you have to be interested in your specialization. I’m very interested in our publication. For other things – like hobbies in consumer writing – I’m interested in those, too.”



Q: “Was (writing for) one easier that the other (scientific v. consumer writing)? I imagine there’s a lot of technical terms.”



A: “I wouldn’t talk about the science per say, but I would talk more about the writing for it and be comfortable in that area. If I read enough that I wanted to write something about exercise, I think I could speak about that too. When I teach public speaking, people learn how to talk about the key elements.”



Q: “When you source things, how do you go about that?”



A: “In science, there are tools that you can use other than your own judgement. There’s something called the impact factor that explains how many times that paper has been cited by other journals. You can choose a publication where their papers are highly cited and can know about the credibility of a journal and a paper.

“There’s also the altmetric score that tells you how much it’s (a paper or work) referenced in social media. It’s really fascinating. You can see how many times it was mentioned in magazines or twitter, etc.

“For the consumer side, you have to really look up the references.”



Q: “What is your favorite thing about technical writing? I find I like it the more I learn about it.”



A: “It’s always for the result of someone taking action. So, if you explain it well, then they take the right action. It’s different than writing a novel because it’s much more direct. You don’t want to waste someone’s time. The clearer you say it, the better someone understands it. You have to structure things well so that they can be found.”



Q: “What is your favorite thing about publishing and editing. What’s the most rewarding aspect for you?”



A: “It’s always the quality of the final product. I think you know what you’ve got – whether it’s print, speaking, or editing – whether the piece was enjoyable to create and enjoyable for the consumer. That’s the pride in it. It goes from being intellectually stimulating to something that’s beautiful.”



Q: “Do you have a preference of republishing electronically or traditionally?”



A: “I think it’s important to publish on multiple platforms. Once you know the best database or format, you can have everything from a brochure to a professional article (out there). 

“If you structure things certain ways, that’s the challenge and fun of doing it.” 



Q: “Do you have a favorite genre that you like to write or read?”



A: “I’m reading novels. I like fiction and non-fiction. I’m currently reading a A Gentleman In Moscow.

“I also read online all the time. I read about politics, but I mostly do that online.” 



Q: “What is the best advice you have for new writers or writers working in publishing?”


A: “Certain types of publications – if they like them the best, they should read more so it becomes their expertise. Then they should know who starts writing in that area and look to question the writers. They can look to contact them – that would be a good idea. You could look to an editor for a magazine’s information on a writer. There’s an editorial purpose for a journal – and you should always look at that. 

“Writing small online articles like freelancing articles also helps.”

Share Your Thoughts! 

Reader, I hope you were able to learn much through Joan and her extraordinary advice as I did. Meeting with her was an absolute please AND an educational experience.

Again, thank you for visiting my page and learning more about Joan Blumberg with me. Don’t forget to follow our blog and Instagram @thereadywriter.blog. You may also follow me on our Facebook page for The Ready Writer at @thereadywriter.blog! Please, feel free to check both pages out.

See you next time, Reader!


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