A few weeks ago, an obstetric colleague send me an email with a link to the Cochrane review on High-dose versus low-dose oxytocin infusion regimens for induction of labour at term with a note pointing me to the first line of the plain language summary.
“Some women do not begin labour spontaneously and may need assistance”, it read.
“Really???!!!”, wrote my obstetrician friend underneath. “Like they stay pregnant for EVER?!”
My friend was entertained that this had got past the proofreading stage, and thought it might be a good example to use when I’m teaching students dissertation tips. And so, with my friend’s permission, I’m sharing it here, because it is a great illustration of why, when writing academic work, it is a good idea to put it away for a few days and then proofread it. Ask yourself whether you are including unsubstantiated statements, confusing statements or things that could be misinterpreted. Then ask someone else to proofread it and maybe then read your work out loud in order to double check. We – and I include the authors of this and every other Cochrane review in this, because they do fabulous work – are only human and have all done all of these things and there’s always the odd line that will slip through the net, but it can still be useful to have reminders of the value of double checking.
And yes, by the way, my friend and I know that there is a very tiny debate about whether there are a very few women who wouldn’t go into labour spontaneously without some kind of assistance, but we really are talking miniscule numbers here and this isn’t what the authors of this review are talking about. If you’d like to discuss that or learn more about the ins and outs of induction for so-called post-term pregnancy then take a look at my induction book or come and chat with me about that here, if you like.
The point is a simple one. It’s good to think carefully about what you’re writing, especially in academic work, and about whether and how it might be interpreted by those who will read it.