Talented writers are turning their backs on ineffective writing techniques in healthcare. And I, for one, have had enough.
Just take a look at the WriterGirl blog, where you’ll find myriad posts on related topics, from “why patient-friendly language matters” to “how to make your website content accessible to everyone.” Do a Google search for “clear healthcare communication resources,” and you’ll get an astounding 1.16 trillion results. Read the Plain Language Act of 2010, which requires federal agencies to use plain language when communicating with the public. There’s an entire website dedicated to the subject—your tax dollars at work!
For creative types like myself, this emphasis on effective healthcare communication feels a bit…confining. Experts say clear communication makes health information easier to understand and use. But shouldn’t readers have to work a little bit for comprehension?
I’d rather dazzle my audience with a unique turn of phrase than bore them with clear descriptions. And don’t get me started on programs like Readable and Grammarly, which alert writers to long sentences and complex word choices. When I’m on deadline, the last thing I want is to hear it from some algorithm, amirite?
So without further ado, I present Leigh’s Top 6 Tips for ineffective healthcare communication.
1. Chunking, schmunking. Don’t make your copy scannable.
Chunking is a technique writers use to organize content into manageable paragraphs or bullet points. It makes copy easier to absorb. However, I consider it a mark of quality when readers must linger over my laborious content. The more time they spend trying to interpret what I wrote, the better. Especially when reading it on a smartphone. Heads down, everybody!
2. Abandon humanity, all ye who post here
Too many writers produce warm, relatable healthcare content. They believe it makes readers feel welcome and cared for. Pu-leeze. I’m partial to a more cold, abrupt writing style, and I think people who are sick and looking for medical care probably feel the same way. So whenever possible, I:
- Steer clear of “you-oriented” writing.
- Avoid personal touches in physician bios.
- Strike an unempathetic tone when describing medical conditions.
- Eschew phrases like “we understand,” “we are here to help you,” and “you are in good hands.”
- Overexplain technical procedures.
- Scare readers with harsh statements that help them face reality.
Pardon the bullet points.
3. Ignore SEO recommendations
If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?
If you ignore SEO keywords, does your writing exist?
The only way to find out is to disregard your web team’s search engine optimization recommendations. Page one Google search results are so overrated!
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4. Passive voice should be used often
You’ve probably heard about the evils of passive voice since your 11th grade English comp class. Some writers say it sucks the life out of a sentence, makes copy flat and uninteresting, and even obscures the meaning. But without it, you can’t write gems like this:
The medical form must be submitted before you are seen by the doctor.
You are encouraged to call your insurance company prior to scheduling the procedure.
And, my favorite: Mistakes were made.
Is it just me, or does passive voice inject a little mystery into the proceedings? The reader must ponder: Who submits the form? Who wants me to call my insurance company? And who is responsible for the mistakes?
5. Incorporate as much medical jargon as possible
Using medical jargon makes me feel smart. I like big, juicy clinical terms, like salpingo-oophorectomy, subcutaneous and idiopathic. I relish opportunities to use two big words in a row—“comprehensive, multidisciplinary care,” anyone? And I favor complex alternatives to simple descriptions—such as edema instead of swelling and tachycardia instead of “fast heart rate.” If readers don’t get it, they can just ask Siri. She knows everything.
6. Resist the urge to partner with WriterGirl
I’m doing what I can from the inside to promote ineffective writing techniques in healthcare communication at WriterGirl. But it’s an uphill battle. Our growing team of writers, editors, project managers and content strategists appears to prioritize clear communication. To wit: One of our senior writers, Hannah Barker, is presenting a talk about plain language at a conference sponsored by the Georgia Hospital Association—in fact, she’s the keynote speaker! Our content strategists develop highly detailed site maps from which writers must work to ensure Google finds our clients’ content. And WriterGirl actually pays our editors to comb through first drafts and achieve an appropriate reading level based on the audience. These so-called “best practices” are enough to make a grown woman cry.
So, unless you’re looking to enhance your healthcare communication with customized, readable content that connects with your audience, avoid contacting WriterGirl. You can thank me later.