Biostatistics, one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, is a subject that revolves around quantitative methods. You might not expect there to be much writing in this occupation, but in fact, communicating your findings is a key part of the research process. Even if you don’t feel that writing is your strong suit, don’t let the writing aspect of a biostatistician’s job dampen your enthusiasm for the career path. Writing and other aspects of communication are important parts of biostatistical research, but success in this field requires certain types of writing skills, like the ability to communicate scientific findings in clear written language.
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The Importance of Communication in Biostatistics
As a data science, the field of biostatistics encompasses a life cycle that you can apply to most research efforts. In addition to capturing, maintaining, processing and analyzing quantitative data, biostatisticians have to communicate the insights they learn by applying quantitative methods and methodologies.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics considers communication skills – like math skills, analytical skills, problem-solving skills and logical thinking skills – to be among the most important qualities for statisticians. In particular, statisticians in all fields need to be capable of explaining the technical concepts they use and solutions they devise in a way that is accessible to people with a non-technical background or, at least, a non-statistics background.
While many people who work in healthcare and other areas related to biological science have technical knowledge of their field, they may not have an extensive background in statistical methods and quantitative analysis. These collaborators need biostatisticians to interpret research findings into actionable steps. If you’re evaluating the quality of care or the likelihood of infections at a hospital, for example, you would need to share your findings with health care administrators who oversee facilities, manage provider training and develop internal safety policies. Although these professionals have technical knowledge of the healthcare industry, their area of expertise is different from yours.
Biostatisticians use writing in their core work activities in a few ways, according to O*NET. Before you can get started in research on any health or biological science topic, you need to get your project funded and approved. Writing grant applications and research proposals are important steps you must take before you can even begin capturing data. As you’re planning your research, you will need to create detailed plans – in writing – of the methods of analysis you will be using.
Once you analyze and interpret that data you collect, you have to communicate your findings, or your research will have no impact. Biostatisticians often publish their findings as articles in journals, which requires writing.
Even presentations given at professional scientific conferences include some writing, either for your own preparation or as a slideshow, visual aid or handout you give to the audience.
The Writing and Communication Skills Expected of Biostatisticians
Writing is an important part of biostatistics, but certain writing skills matter more than others. You don’t need to master the metaphor or otherwise develop a style of prose that would be at home in a novel. The writing skills biostatisticians most need are the skills to express information clearly, accurately and concisely. In professional communications from biostatisticians, a strong statistical voice is preferred over flowery language that leaves too much room for inaccurate interpretation or simply takes too long to read and understand. Plain language may not be the most exciting to read, but using it is ideal when biostatisticians want to keep communications clear and simple and ensure that the reader’s focus stays on what is most important – the clinical questions the research aims to solve and the findings it uncovers.
Writing is part of the communication stage of the data science life cycle in biostatistics, but so are other methods of communication. Data reporting, especially in biostatistics, is done with numerical data as well as words. Data visualization, often in the form of charts and graphs, is an important part of making meaning from quantitative research. Other aspects of data in research, like business intelligence and decision-making based on research findings, tend to fall more on other stakeholders such as hospital administrators, medical practice managers and government health agencies than on biostatisticians directly.
Some biostatistics programs include coursework in scientific communication skills. These courses tend to emphasize the techniques of professional writing for the sciences, as well as learning the skills of oral communication for public speaking engagements like presentations and visual communication.