Thought experiment series: famous writers of history


In this series, we’re going to ponder the works of famous writers from throughout history. Inexplicably transported through time to the present day (and hired as medical writers), how would these legendary figures approach Med Comms? What could we learn from them?

After all, we are writers at heart – and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. So, let’s stand on the shoulders of giants.

famous writers of history

In our first thought experiment, we’re going to turn to the dashing Oscar Wilde, one of the most beloved writers of all time. Like the immortal Dorian Gray, he is forever captured in history as a renowned impeccably dressed man.

Wilde was a fan of placing unexpected opposites in sentences to create lines that delivered mental clashes, which – upon exploration – send the recipient down a rabbit hole of confusion and paradoxical enlightenment. This Wilde-ian trick produced such quotes as:

‘Only shallow people do not judge by appearances.’

‘I can resist everything except temptation.’

So, turning to Med Comms, let’s take an imaginary claim about a therapy. This will do:

‘WONDERDRUG offers your patients complete remission’.

Boring? You betcha. So, compliance aside, how might Oscar have written this? We need to take the reader on a journey, and then, BANG – an unexpected outcome. Let’s re-write this snooze-worthy promotional banner as:

‘WONDERDRUG doesn’t offer your patients remission. It offers them complete remission.’

That’s better – it’s now slightly Wilde-r.

Wilde was also known for his unnatural ability to deliver beautifully descriptive text, his literary aesthetics shining as stray refracted light from a diamond. Indeed, it doesn’t take a scholar to point out that Wilde’s own appearance could be another reflection of his literary skill; both his works and his attire are distinctly elegant. That’s right, before Nando’s, Wilde was the only entity whose style could truly be described as ‘cheeky’ – but not in a tasteless way (again, like Nando’s, with its red-hot sauce).

So, what does this mean for our little Med Comms thought experiment? It means that appearance is everything. Let’s think back to this quote:

‘Only shallow people do not judge by appearances.’

Is this a shallow statement per se? It could be argued, no: what if appearance in this case does not mean physical ‘looks’? Wilde could have been taking the position that appearance means all aspects of a person’s persona – be it their attire, skilfully crafted like Wilde or otherwise – or their societal performance, behaviour, and manner. I’m almost certain that this is the case, because it would again deliver the unexpected; to even consider that Wilde’s quote is shallow means that the reader believes appearance to mean physical appearance in isolation, thus themselves rendered ‘shallow’ by Wilde’s wordplay. Ironic.

What this means for Med Comms is that the service or therapy needs to shine to its core – it needs to look good, and it needs to sound good. This can only be delivered by a coherent, overarching ‘image’ for the product – so we, as medical writers, need to ensure that our messaging is always ‘on-brand’, and that the associated marketing imagery works in tandem to deliver a beautifully dressed, intelligent, thoughtful product. Like Oscar Wilde.


Wilde in America: Oscar Wilde and the Invention of Modern Celebrity. David M. Friedman. W. W. Norton, Incorporated, 2014.