This funny but brilliant poster caught my eye recently.
After guffawing out loud, especially at the ‘I love you Dave xx’ sign off, it got me thinking about how we could all do with a reminder on the art of simplicity in communications.
I know from experience that when I’m surrounded by business minds and people who love writing, it can be easy to lose sight of the power of plain English. Documents quickly become littered with corporate jargon and it’s all too tempting to use 10 words when one will do. But the question you have to ask yourself every step of the way is, ‘Will my audience understand?’ Because simple but precise writing is crucial to understanding – no matter who your audience.
In the healthcare setting, it is more important than ever that people can easily understand what you are saying. The dangers of poor copy are that the message is lost or misunderstood. Not only will this leave your audience confused and disengaged but it may also have a negative effect on their treatment or self-care. Also, with so many official documents available online, these materials form a permanent digital record. There is no room for error or ambiguity.
Encouragingly, we are starting to see clients taking their responsibility to patients to the next level. One large multinational stands out for recognising that transformational change will only result from embedding the principles of good health literacy in the very fabric of their organisation. The Difference Collective is a year into a collaboration which has seen our health literacy experts provide strategic and practical support. This has included creating tools from scratch, including a bespoke health literacy framework and an online training programme. We have also supported brands ‘on the ground’ with appraisals, recommendations and hands-on revisions to materials.
Of course, good health literacy goes far beyond words. The team are currently creating a simple animation and bespoke icons for a disease awareness slide deck. Visual aids can be useful for recall and understanding but when added for pure decoration they can become distracting, confusing or even offensive. It is a breath of fresh air to reimagine content with patients and caregiver needs front and centre.
So, whether you are writing an email, press release, detail aid or web page, here is a quick refresher on the art of keeping it simple.
- Know your audience. Tailor your content, style and language accordingly
- Less is more. Focus on points the audience needs to remember or act on
- Use plain language. Use short sentences and everyday words, and define all medical terms. Avoid acronyms or spell them out, in full, after the first use
- Chunk into short sections. Regularly summarise key points and use bullets to break up lists
- Engage the reader. Use the active voice rather than the passive – ‘We strive…’ not ‘We are striving…’ Consider a poll or quiz
- Don’t add visuals purely for decoration. Visual aids may be useful, but only when they are understandable
- Test content, wherever possible, with the intended audience to ensure it is engaging and culturally appropriate
Happy writing…I love you Dave xx
We would love to help your organisation refresh or refine its approach to health literacy and produce better health information. Get in touch to discuss how our health literacy experts, communicators and healthcare strategists can help.
Stephanie Higginson is a healthcare communications specialist with over 20 years’ experience working in-house and in agency. Stephanie is commercially focused with a proven ability to devise and deliver plans, and a passion for making science interesting and accessible to everyone.