If you’re reading this, you’re probably a marketing manager or other executive thinking about engaging a creative agency, or a business owner looking to improve your communications.
Regardless of which of these categories you fall into, I am confident that you are busy and don’t have much time to read blogs. I also assume that, like most modern readers, you don’t necessarily read a piece from top to bottom – rather, you scan the text for information that interests you.
If I make scanning hard by waffling, using jargon, or, say, presenting the rest of this article as an epic poem, I will lose you before you can take in my message. My job as a writer is to make it quick and easy for you to get the information you need from my article.
So, what follows are 21 simple ways to make it easier for healthcare consumers to stick around long enough to hear your message. These tips will also help you write for the modern reader, allowing them to more easily scan your work. While most of the tips are geared towards long-form writing (articles, website copy, etc.), many can also be applied to shorter pieces, such as social media posts.
Planning for success
- Understand your audience. Knowing who is going to read your piece, what they need from it, and even something about their mental or emotional state, can help you tailor your message to your reader. For example, an article on introducing solid food to babies is likely to be read by overwhelmed, sleep-deprived parents who need clear, no-nonsense instructions. Spend a few minutes getting into your reader’s mindset before you start putting pen to paper.
- Plan to answer your reader’s questions. Make a list of questions they are likely to have about your topic. You can enter your keywords into answerthepublic.com for ideas. Answering your audience’s questions in a logical order will give your piece a well-organised structure.
- Create an outline including your key messages. What are your piece’s key takeaways – what knowledge do you want your audience to gain from reading it? A good rule of thumb is to make 3–5 main points per longer piece. Short pieces should only have 1 or 2.
- Keep AHPRA top-of-mind. If you are a registered healthcare practitioner or writing on behalf of one, familiarise yourself with the latest AHPRA advertising guidelines. Most consumer-facing communications are classed as advertising and subject to the guidelines. For a run-down of what’s changed in the most recent update, read our article, ‘Navigating the latest AHPRA advertising guidelines’.
Content that counts
- Tell your reader why they should keep reading. Most people won’t make it past your opening paragraphs unless they are convinced that your piece will provide the information they need. In the fourth paragraph of this article, I spelled out what you will gain from it (‘What follows are 21 simple ways to make it easier for healthcare consumers to stick around long enough to hear your message.’). Those who were looking for this information would have been compelled to keep reading (I hope!).
- Don’t assume prior knowledge. Make sure you clearly define any clinical terms you use. For example, if you mention a colonoscopy, also include a brief description of what it is and why it’s performed. Those who don’t know the term will appreciate the explanation, while those who do will simply skim past.
Structure your work
- Write a great headline. There are many different approaches to writing headlines. For healthcare consumers, I tend to keep it simple by basing my headline on a reader question, search term (for online articles) or straightforward description of the topic. This approach allows them to quickly decide if they are interested in my piece.
- Use clear subheadings. Subheadings act as signposts, directing readers to the information they need. Clearly labelling each section with a subheading will help scanners navigate your piece. I find that reader questions make great subheadings.
- Top-load your article. To ensure your reader walks away with your most important message, place it in your first 1–2 paragraphs. For example, suppose you are writing an article about endometriosis. If your reader’s most pressing question is whether it’s possible for someone with endometriosis to get pregnant, answer this in the first paragraph. You can also let your reader know that your piece will discuss fertility treatments for those with endometriosis who are struggling to get pregnant. If the reader wants this information, they will know to keep reading.
- Keep your sentences short. Short sentences are easier to read and understand. Wherever possible, keep them between 5 and 20 words.
- Write short paragraphs. Limiting your paragraphs to 3–5 sentences makes it easier for scanners to navigate your piece. This is especially important for online content, as paragraphs can seem much longer when read on a phone than on a computer.
- End with a call to action. What should your audience do after reading your piece – book a consultation, fill out a form, read something else? Make this clear at the end of your piece (or throughout, if appropriate).
Tone and style
- Use plain language. Replacing complex words with simple ones makes your piece easier to understand. For example, use ‘about’ instead of ‘regarding’.
- Avoid jargon and unnecessary acronyms. Remember that you’re not speaking to healthcare professionals. If there’s a simpler way to refer to something, use it. If not, make sure you clearly define clinical terms in plain English.
- Adopt a conversational tone. Imagine you’re explaining your topic to a non-medical friend or family member. How would you describe it to them?
- Use the word ‘you’. Address the reader as ‘you’ instead of talking abstractly about ‘patients’ or ‘individuals’. This will make your reader feel like you’re speaking directly to them, helping to keep your tone conversational.
- Use sensitive and inclusive language. To give just one example, it’s best to avoid defining people by their health condition – use ‘people with diabetes’ instead of ‘diabetics’.
Edit and polish
- Read your article aloud. You’ll be surprised at how many grammatical and spelling errors you pick up. Reading aloud also helps you identify long or overly complex sentences. Generally, if you have to take a breath in the middle of a sentence, it’s too long.
- Give your article to a lay friend to read. Ask them what your key take-home points are, which parts of your piece are unclear, and whether they have any further questions about your topic.
- Use readability statistics such as the Fleisch-Kincaid Grade Level Score. Readability stats give a broad indication of how easy your piece is to read. Aim for grade 9 or lower.
- Revisit the AHPRA guidelines. If relevant, check your article against the guidelines and make sure it is compliant.
Using these 21 tips will help you communicate more clearly with healthcare consumers and enable them to get what they need from your writing. Readers who have their needs met are more likely to think favourably about your brand and remember you when they need your services.