Thursday, January 5, 2012

Add Punch to Your Portfolio Writing Patient-Education Materials

One of the first steps you'll need to take as a novice medical writer is to determine the type of content you want to write. That might be regulatory writing, promotional content, or educational pieces. Target audiences of educational content can be professionals or consumers. If you're used to writing for scientific audiences, shifting your focus to writing patient-education materials for consumers can be tough. But it can also be just as rewarding!

A necessary skill when writing patient-education materials is to use simple language and avoid the jargon. Here are some tips on how to write simple, easy-to-read content consumers will understand the first time they read it:
Start by asking your client to identify the target audience and the learning objective or overarching purpose of the particular document you are creating. It's also a good idea to inquire about the literacy level of the audience. Low-literacy audiences have very different needs from the general consumer audience. Develop a short title for the piece that explains the content. For example, "How to Use an EpiPen®." Separate ideas in text using headings and subheadings. Express only one key point or message in each paragraph. Write sentences and paragraphs that are short and to the point. Use active voice rather than passive. Write, "Push the EpiPen into your thigh," not "The EpiPen will be pushed into your thigh." Don't be wordy. Include only information that is relevant to the purpose of the document. In our EpiPen example, you wouldn't include an explanation about how allergies develop or list common allergens. Keep the piece jargon-free by using common terms rather than technical ones. In our example, instead of anaphylaxis, say severe allergic reaction. Use graphics and pictures to illustrate more complex concepts.

Health Literacy

When you're finished with the first draft, assess the reading level. If you work in Microsoft® Word®, you can check the reading level when you perform a grammar and spelling check. First, click on "spelling & grammar," then click on "options." In the Options window, check "Show readability statistics" then click "OK." The Flesch-Kincaid reading level appears after the spell-check is complete. For general consumers, shoot for about a 7th-grade reading level.

Add Punch to Your Portfolio Writing Patient-Education Materials

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