As responsible medical writers, we draw on high-quality evidence to inform our work. We cite research whenever we’re making a health claim, and we look to the science to make sure our writing is compliant and accurate.
We can also use evidence to inform the way we write or frame health messages – enter the notion of evidence-based writing.
What is evidence-based writing?
Evidence-based writing is about making sure your writing incorporates best practices and recommendations as determined by communication-related research.
Utilising writing strategies based on research makes your health content more effective and engaging.
Evidence-based writing is a principle I use in all the Health Writer Hub health writing courses and resources. I review the latest health communication research to ensure that the tips, advice, and techniques in my courses are based on evidence.
Where can I find research about effective writing strategies?
To start, you can look at research in any of the following areas:
- Health communication
- Public health
- Social media
Evidence-based writing involves thinking critically about your writing style, word choice, tone of voice, content inclusions, and overall approach.
After reviewing relevant research, you may find that you need to adapt the way you might otherwise have ‘framed’ or communicated a health message.
You may need to change your writing style, write a more positive message, communicate with extra empathy, or focus on a quick win rather than a long-term gain.
Why use evidence-based writing strategies?
As a health writer, you can write better health content by using evidence-based writing strategies because the findings:
- Have shown promising results in select groups – so you know the strategies have worked in some contexts
- Can make your writing more targeted – giving you a better chance of engaging with your audience and creating messages that ‘stick’
- Have measurable results – you already have an expectation of how the messages may be received
- Can make your writing more effective – which helps you achieve your purpose and project goals
- Help take the guesswork out of creating meaningful messages for your audience – you’ll get ideas for framing health messages, getting started with a blank page, and avoiding writer’s block
What are some examples of evidence-based writing in health communication?
Here are some suggestions for how you can use health communication research to inform your writing in various contexts:
- Teenage girls and messaging – young girls are more influenced by appearance-framed health advice that is about ‘looking better’ as opposed to ‘feeling better’
- Fear-mongering and scare tactics – messages of fear (the dangers of sun damage) combined with hope (‘here’s what you can do to avoid the dangers’) showed promising results influencing perceptions of sun safety
- Humour – using humour in your writing can be an effective health communication strategy in some, but not all, contexts
- Delivering bad news in writing – a patient-centred communication style is associated with better health-related outcomes for patients when communicating ‘bad news’
- Quitting smoking – ‘short and sweet’ messages about the ‘immediate gains’ of quitting smoking help to persuade smokers to quit
Where can I find evidence-based writing strategies to help me write better health content?
If you’re new to health communication research, the best place to start is our Health Communication Research Review.
We regularly review new health communication research and collate what we believe are the most relevant findings for health writers in our Review.
You can also browse these journals:
- Journal of Health Communication
- American Journal of Public Health
- Health Communication Journal
- Journal of Communication in Healthcare
So, register for TOC (table of contents) alerts and keep an eye on what the major general medicine journals are publishing.
You can also consider looking beyond health communication research, to communication and social media messaging in general.
Here are some general journals that publish interesting research about social media, communication and marketing:
- The Journal of Social Media in Society
- Social Media + Society (open access)
- Journal of Communication
- Journal of Research in International Marketing
Over to you
Do you read health communication research or use evidence-based writing strategies in your work? What are your go-to sources? Let us know in the comments!