Don’t Scare Your Readers: Five Tips for a Friendly Voice

I fell in like with Meredith Gould, Ph.D., for her voice.

That was before I ever spoke with her. The voice I admired was in her tweets. I loved her friendly, conversational style – like this one she tweeted yesterday following our phone interview:

Gould is an author (seven books!) and social media trailblazer who has been named one of 11 social media faces to follow by Fierce Health IT.

I’ve been following her on Twitter for awhile and met her at the Mayo Ragan Third Annual Health Care Social Media Summit last week. Yesterday I called her for some pointers on developing a friendly healthcare voice.

People are already nervous

“When people search for healthcare information it’s usually because they have something, they think they have something, or they know someone who has something,” she explains. “So they’re already nervous. Formal, authoritative or authoritarian language is going to scare them.”

Instead, Gould says, “the friendlier the text can be, the more accessible, the better off everyone is.”

Here are Gould’s specific tips for friendly – yet efficient – writing.

Use the active voice

Avoid phrases like “we have known that…” Turn it all to active. Strip out the “to be” language and move into action verbs.

Use contractions

Do a universal search-and-replace for words you can turn into contractions. Instead of “we will,” say “we’ll.” That immediately brightens it up. Sometimes I will send copy back to someone where I’ve just done that and they’ll say, “This is great. What did you do?”

Replace “which” with “that”

Search for every instance of the word “which.” I usually replace “which” with “that.” Then I search for the word “that” and I usually take it out, because it’s usually not needed.

Remove “the”

Search for the word “the.” If it’s not a modifier that absolutely makes sense and is absolutely necessary, take it out.

Look for phrases like “in order to”

I take out things like “in order to” and change it to “to.” Strike out “in order.”

Format shorter paragraphs 

If you’re writing for the web, you’ll see it on screen. I reformat it and put in a lot more paragraphs. With online content, it’s okay to have one sentence paragraphs.

When we were done with the interview, I went onto our Hive Strategies website and started removing the “that”s. Turns out it’s been one of my favorite unnecessary words.

And there’s more. Check back next week for friendly tips on length, leads and kickers.

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11 replies
  1. Ali van Dam
    Ali van Dam says:

    While we’re at it, let’s stop saying ‘source’ when we mean ‘find’, ‘moving forward’ when we mean ‘in future’, and anyone who uses ‘brand-savvy’ should be poked with sticks until they apologise.

    • Dan Hinmon, Principal
      Dan Hinmon, Principal says:

      I’m glad you like the tips. You might enjoy reading part 2 of this series where Meredith encourages us to “kill our copy pets” and gives more tips!

  2. Meredith Gould
    Meredith Gould says:

    Oh please can we BAN the use of the word “space” to refer to…who the heck knows?? I’ve been deleting “marketing space” and “healthcare space” from text for the past couple of months. Other jargon to ban from healthcare writing: cutting edge; state-of-the-art; world-class (hospital/physician/staff/facilities)…need I go on?

    • Dan Hinmon, Principal
      Dan Hinmon, Principal says:

      Great points, Meredith! There are so many lazy phrases we writers use that end up meaning nothing to the reader because they’re everywhere. Thanks for your inspiration!

  3. Beth Martin
    Beth Martin says:

    Great tips for ALL types of writing! “That” is also my favorite unnecessary word. Another tip: ban words like “utilize” and “facilitate” in favor of the simpler “use” and “help.”

    • Dan Hinmon, Principal
      Dan Hinmon, Principal says:

      Thanks for the comment, Beth. Amen to avoiding “utilize” and “facilitate.” I feel another blogpost coming: 10 Words to Ban From Healthcare Writing! Any other suggestions?


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