Successful health content motivates people to do things that are good for them, like cutting back on salt or having a colonoscopy. But writing about health can be tough, especially when you’re asking readers to do things they’d rather not do. Like cutting back on salt or having a colonoscopy.
Good health writing has the power to change lives. It can make people feel excited about starting an exercise program or scheduling an appointment with a urologist or having that weird pain in their elbow checked. Well, maybe not excited, but willing.
Want to change your readers’ lives? Here are eight ways to make your health content more effective.
- Know your audience.
Are your readers old or young? Male or female? Sick or well? Patients or family members? Are they dealing with a minor health issue or a major, life-threatening medical condition? What else might be going on in their lives?
Understanding your audience can help you decide which type of information to include and what tone to use. If you’re writing for affluent baby boomers who need knee replacement surgery so they can get back out on the golf course, for example, you’d use a different tone than you would with metastatic lung cancer patients or family members of people with Alzheimer’s.
- Know your readers’ level of health literacy.
People who don’t pay much attention to medical information might not know the difference between an aneurysm and an embolism. But patients with a specific condition, such as breast cancer or ulcerative colitis, may know nearly as much about it as their doctors. Meet them where they are, and match their level of health literacy.
- Write clearly but professionally.
Even if you’re writing for medically literate readers, keep your content clear and straightforward. Don’t dumb it down, but don’t make it complicated, either. Use short, precise sentences. Avoid medical jargon, which is tedious for anyone to read — even people who understand it. Talk to your audience directly, addressing them as “you.” Be conversational but professional. Avoid puns and chummy talk.
- Write with empathy.
People don’t consume health content for fun. They’re reading what you’ve written because something is already wrong with them or might go wrong in the future. Your readers may feel vulnerable, worried or even ashamed of the choices they’ve made, like gaining too much weight or having unprotected sex. Write in a way that makes them feel understood, supported and respected.
- Include patient stories.
Patient stories grab readers’ attention, create emotional resonance and offer meaningful insights. They can also empower your readers to take action. If the patient you’re profiling can rebound from a stroke by following your advice, your readers may decide they can, too.
Find patients through word of mouth, doctors, support groups devoted to specific medical conditions, Facebook, LinkedIn, PR people, hospital communications offices and health advocacy organizations.
- Don’t get lost in the scientific weeds.
While mentioning medical studies provides credibility and context, it’s easy to lose your readers when you add too much detail. Keep research results simple, but give identifying info about the study (including a link, if possible) for readers who want to look it up.
- Make advice easy to follow.
Again, meet readers where they are. Don’t just tell them to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. For a sedentary person with type 2 diabetes, that might feel like climbing Everest. Make it less daunting by suggesting five or 10 minutes a day of gentle walking with gradual increases over time.
- Provide a clear call to action.
What do you want your readers to do after they read your content? Cut their sugar intake below 25 grams a day? Schedule an appointment with a cardiologist? Sign up for an information session? State your call to action clearly, and provide the info your readers need to make it happen. If you do your job well, they’ll feel motivated to act even if they’d rather sit back and eat a bowl of ice cream.
Some Final Thoughts
Good health content is more than just information; it’s also inspiration. Readers often know what they should do but can’t quite get themselves to do it. A well-written piece of content can give them the nudge they need to take responsibility for their health. Yes, even if it means cutting back on salt or having a colonoscopy.