Health Literacy Consulting How-To Tip
Tone: Inviting Your Readers to Read
You have a lot of important health information to share. But will your intended readers really read it? You can help by setting a welcoming tone that invites readers to believe in, engage with, and learn from your information. Here’s how-to:
- Speak directly to the reader, using words such as “you” and “your.” This is much more welcoming than impersonally writing about “the patient” or “people with [x] disease.”
- Frame information in an honest way. Admittedly, many medical procedures are unpleasant or otherwise “yucky.” Be honest when writing about such topics. In writing workshops, I often refer to a pre-procedure instruction I've seen that informs patients they will be given a “pleasantly flavored drink.” But it’s not true. This drink really tastes yucky. In my opinion it is better to say nothing at all than describe something in untrue or misleading ways.
- Frame information in a positive way. Health instructions often include activities that patients cannot, or should not, do. As much as possible emphasize the positive, such as “You can lift up to 5 pounds” rather than “Do not lift heavy objects.” It's often best to start with what people can, rather than cannot, do.
- Encourage interaction with your readers. One way to invite readers to read is with interaction. At the very least, this could be a line to write their name or that of their doctor. Other interactive ways include simple quizzes and check-off lists that reinforce points you've just addressed or are about to describe.
Ways to learn more:
- Osborne H, 2011. Health Literacy from A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message, Second Edition. Jones & Bartlett Learning. At most online bookstores. Learn more about this award-winning book.
- Osborne, H (host), Fisk J (guest). April 30, 2013. “How Visual Cues Help Readers Read,” Health Literacy Out Loud Podcast #95.
- Osborne, H (host), Schriver K (guest). December 9, 2007. “Using Design to Get Readers to Read and Keep Reading,” Health Literacy Out Loud Podcast #29.
For permission to include Health Literacy Consulting Tips in your organization's newsletter, please contact Helen Osborne by e-mail at: email@example.com, or by phone at: 508-653-1199.