Not everyone likes to read. While some people may have difficulty due to limited literacy or language, others simply may not enjoy the act of reading. This can be especially true when people read about topics they are not interested in, such as ways to stay well or risks and benefits of a medical procedure.
Our challenge as health writers is to create materials that not only are informative but also appealing. This month’s Health Literacy Consulting How-To Tip looks at ways to invite readers to read.
- Write directly to the reader. You can do so by using words such as “you” and “your,” rather than terms like “the patient” or “people with [x] disease.”
- Be honest. Admittedly, many medical procedures are unpleasant and yucky. Be honest when you write. I still recall an instruction sheet stating that patients would be given a “pleasantly flavored drink.” But it’s not true; the medicine tastes awful. In my opinion it is better to say nothing at all than write in ways that are untrue or misleading.
- State information in a positive way. Medical instructions are often about things patients cannot, or should not, do. As possible, present this information in a positive way. An example is writing “You can lift up to 5 pounds,” rather than the more negative (and vague) statement, “Do not lift heavy objects.”
- Encourage reader interaction. One way to invite readers to read is with interaction. This might be a space to write their (or their doctor’s) name, a checklist list of actions to take, or a simple yes/no or true/false quiz.
- Include print and non-print ways to learn more. At the end of each document, list a few credible resources where readers can learn more. Ideally these will include a place to go, a phone number to call, and perhaps even a podcast to listen to—not just documents and websites that require reading.
More ways to learn:
- Health Literacy from A to Z: PracticalWays to Communicate Your Health Message, Second Edition. By Helen Osborne. Updated in 2018, this award-winning book is available in print and on Kindle.
- “Using Design to Get Readers to Read and Keep Reading (HLOL #29).” Here’s a link to listen and learn more.
For permission to include Health Literacy Consulting Tips in your organization's newsletter, please contact Helen Osborne by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at: 508-653-1199.