Write to be read
By: Christopher Kelly, MEd | November 22, 2016
How to produce industry content that professionals will actually read.
When people hear the term “health literacy,” most envision patients struggling to find and digest information about their own health care needs. But health literacy principles also apply to physicians and other industry professionals who rely on journal articles, conference posters, research reports and other materials to understand ongoing trends in their field.
Professional literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, understand, and act on complex, scientific information needed to make appropriate clinical or health system decisions. According to a 2015 survey, physicians spend an average of nearly six hours per month reading medical publications, and review an average of four journals per month. Fully 60 percent of them regularly or often use peer-reviewed journals as a source of continuing professional development.
These materials have significant impact on their careers and the patients they serve. A report published in 2014 shows 16 percent of physicians reported saving a patient’s life in the previous year due to news they read in medical literature, and nearly 75 percent said they change their clinical practices quarterly or monthly based on reading these materials.
The goals of most health care publications, scientific posters and other material is to communicate relevant information and context to enable appropriate clinical decisions and stimulate research while establishing a peer-reviewed evidence base. Yet these goals can sometimes conflict with needs of busy health care professionals. Anyone who has ever tried to scan a peer-reviewed scientific journal knows how difficult it can be to find a specific piece of information, or to get an overall sense of an article.
Common barriers such as time constraints, fatigue, the desire to skim for information, and an overload of information can further impact a professional’s ability to select and process the valuable content offered through these publications. And as they transition from print to mobile device formats, these may barriers only get worse.
These obstacles can be counterproductive for authors and readers, both of whom benefit from content written and published in a way that is easy to comprehend. Authors who produce material that is engaging and digestible are more likely to garner a broad audience and to provide readers with a clear understanding of their work and message, and readers are able to absorb those messages more readily so they can apply them in their work.
The good news is that we can leverage the same best practice guidelines that drive clear communication in patient-focused health materials for professional literature:
Use active voice, concise sentences, and shorter paragraphs
Follow a consistent format throughout
Use white space to improve readability
Include charts, graphs, bulleted lists and informative subheads to break-up content
Choose fonts, font sizes, and color schemes that make content easier to read and understand
Submission guidelines and required styles for some scientific publications can make it difficult to incorporate all of these health literacy guidelines, but even small changes can have an impact. Whether you are producing a peer-reviewed article, news story, blog post, or an industry presentation, writing with a clear purpose and creating content designed with the reader’s needs in mind will make it easier for your audience to engage with your work, and for you to share your knowledge with your peers.
> This post -- co-authored by Sharon Suntag, MS, CMPP, medical communications director at QuintilesIMS -- originally appeared in the DIA's Global Forum.