Do’s and Don’ts of Healthcare Writing

Healthcare writing is a delicate art. Often the people consuming healthcare content are doing so with their own fears, questions and grief swirling at the surface. Healthcare writers must be accurate, compassionate and realistic — a feat easier said than done. To help, we’ve compiled some of the most common mistakes seen in healthcare writing and advice on how to avoid them.

Not knowing your audience

Is your audience young and active? Do they all share a certain health condition, or are they all physicians in the same field? Meet your audience members where they are. If your wording is confusing or unclear, you’ve missed your chance to educate. Are you targeting a general consumer audience? Write to a reading level at or below 7th grade. If you’re targeting a highly educated group of clinicians, avoid over-explaining a subject they’re familiar with, but keep the language simple. Most people prefer to read at a lower level than they’re capable of reading — especially if they are busy and on the go.

Using exclusive language

Your readers likely include a wide range of demographics, cultures, interests and backgrounds unlike your own. Include various viewpoints in your writing and be sensitive to alienating people with word choice. Use “they” instead of he/her when the subject is unspecified. (Don’t worry, AP Style said it was OK back in 2017). When writing for or about specific groups of people, consult trustworthy resources to avoid language that could be offensive or exclusionary. Make a conscious effort to expand your audience to include more diversity.

Leading with the negative

Many topics in healthcare are delicate. You could be speaking to an audience who is discouraged or even in despair. While you should be careful to give your audience the facts, you can avoid framing your content with negativity. Are you writing about obesity or substance abuse? Treat the subject with positivity and encouragement, presenting empowering actions and available resources. Are you covering a difficult subject, like a terminal illness? Present the positive, when possible, while keeping the language precise and realistic. (For example, say that 5% of patients survive, instead of saying 95% do not.)

Identifying people as their condition

People aren’t defined by their health condition. Use “people-first” language to avoid dehumanizing your reader. The subject of your story isn’t “a diabetic;” they’re a “person with diabetes.” The student isn’t “learning disabled;” they “have a learning disability.” Take the time to research the specific condition you’re covering to identify any phrasing that may be off-putting, and always have a face behind the story.

Ready to start writing like a healthcare pro? Check out our list of 200+ content ideas for every healthcare observance.