A medical writer plays a unique role in connecting consumers with information, resources and support they need at different times in their life. It’s an exciting role when you can empower and educate readers and help them feel confident about their health decisions.
Writing for healthcare is a little different than other types of writing. While you need the same general skills all writers need, you also need to keep a few specific skills (and traits) at the top of your list to create powerful, hopeful and helpful content for clients.
There’s no one size fits all approach to healthcare. A medical writer needs to be able to adapt to different mediums, different goals and different brand voices. You may be writing a blog post about a fun, lighthearted topic for one client and reviewing subject matter expert notes for a new web page about cancer treatment breakthroughs – all in the same day.
It’s important to stay flexible and focused to meet the needs of your reader and client. One of the best ways to do this is by spending time at the beginning of each project reviewing the basics. Read the brief you have from your client or project manager. Visit the client’s website to get a feel for the layout, look and tone of content. Look over brand materials, including the brand story, voice and writing guides. These steps can help you focus on each project and drive a little clarity about the difference between clients.
Have a strong vocabulary (or a good thesaurus)
Breaking down medical content into clear, concise and easy-to-understand writing can be difficult. A strong vocabulary and excellent thesaurus can come in handy. A strong vocabulary can help you explain complex health topics. A thesaurus helps you find a new way to describe an overused term, such as breakthrough, innovative, cutting-edge and multidisciplinary.
A client will likely review your work before hiring you. Pieces peppered with the same language can be a tough rut to break out of. As a writer, a few of my favorite tools include:
Pay attention to details
Medical writing is precise. A missing word or swapped phrases can mean something completely different when it comes to healthcare. Accuracy is key in all health writing, and hospitals, providers and SMEs take it seriously.
When I’m talking to a subject matter expert (SME) about what I know to be a complex subject, I do my best to record the call. TapeACall is a free and easy to use app that lets you record a phone call. It’s a great resource for several reasons: I can go back to double-check what exactly an SME said if I can’t remember when reviewing my notes. It also helps me focus on having a conversation with another person instead of frantically trying to transcribe the call as it’s happening.
Another important way to pay attention to details is by listening. Listen closely to what your client or SME is telling you or not telling you. Be ready to ask follow-up questions on things you don’t understand, but also details that you think may be missing.
And, of course, details always matter in the proofreading process. Double-check everything – the project request, notes from the interview and the finished written piece. You may notice you forgot a section that was included in the outline or realized you added something that wasn’t necessary.
Check for errors in your writing. Make sure it’s in line with brand voice and hits each note the client wants. This not only makes the piece strong, but it demonstrates your attention to detail to the client – and cuts down on revisions.
Get a handle on trends
It is important to stay familiar with what’s happening in the healthcare industry – and to stay on-to-top of search and how consumers are finding information.
Google releases new algorithms on a regular basis that impact how consumers find content. Keep an eye on a few reliable sites to make sure your best practices stay on target.
Technology is also constantly changing how consumers find and interact with information. Take voice search, for example. Voice search is skyrocketing thanks to the rising popularity of personal assistant devices like Siri, Alexa and Google Home. These trends influence how and where people are finding information – and providing exciting new ways for healthcare systems to interact with target audiences.
When consumers are seeking out healthcare content, they are on a unique journey. They may be looking for advice on how to build healthy lifestyles or preparing to welcome a new baby into the family. Or, they may be facing an unexpected diagnosis.
When you’re writing about health issues, it’s important to put yourself in the readers’ shoes. Consider why they are seeking out the article, blog post or web page you are writing. Coming from this perspective helps you establish an outline that meets your client’s goals and leads to meaningful, informative and empowering content.
Focus on the positive
Health writing can get a little heavy. A sense of levity (and a little sense of humor) can help you stay focused and bring a positive voice to the piece.
This positivity and sense of humor also makes it easier to connect with clients, physicians, subject matter experts and editors. Sharing a laugh and having a little fun is a great way to bond and get to know the people you work with — and it’s an important part of our core values here at WriterGirl.
We are honored to use these skills — and many others — every day as we work with our clients to bring their voice, passion and expertise to life as they connect with consumers.
What skills do you think every medical writer should have? Share your health writing tips in the comments section below.