Writing medical content for websites or blogs does differ from other forms of consumer orientated media like in magazines and newspapers. The key for writing medical articles for the web is simplicity while maintaining the technical detail required to accurately relay clinically relevant points to the reader.
This is often easier said than done –for the medical professional it is difficult to exclude the jargon, whereas for the professional writer there is confusion about which information has clinical relevance.
However, another factor that affects the writing of both the medical professional and the professional writer is search engine optimization (SEO). Medical SEO, and specifically on-page optimization or content SEO will be discussed in future articles. For now, it is important to focus on orientating and optimizing medical content for the Internet user rather than a search engine.
Reading medical articles on the web
The first two aspects that any writer has to be in mind when compiling medical content for the Internet is that of the reader demographic and reader behavior. Remember that the writer who understands the readership is better poised for creating suitable and interesting content that the writer who writes for him-/herself.
The Internet being a medium that is accessible to almost any person across the globe, and usually being unrestricted, means that people of different socioeconomic, academic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds are accessing the same content.
This is important because most other forms of media are geared towards a specific demographic and therefore maintain their editorial guidelines with their reader in mind.
Therefore it is the prerogative of the writer to ensure that the medical content can appeal to either end of the spectrum, without compromising accuracy and technical detail.
The other factor that has to be kept in mind when writing medical content for the web, is that readers do not usually take the time to read and comprehend every sentence. Instead readers scan through content, looking for key factors and highlighted points that may be relevant to the questions on his or her mind.
In this regard long and drawn out sentences, which then leads to other points and gets to the crux of the matter after several lines would easily be misunderstood. Ultimately this confuses the reader. Salient points need to be relayed in short sentences and highlighted appropriately. Quite simply, the content of needs to be succinct.
Getting started on medical articles
Many writers or medical professionals may have a thorough understanding of the subject matter yet experiences considerable difficulty in getting started on the topic. When in doubt, always bear the 5 W’s and 1 H of writing technical content – this applies to writing content for any science or subject matter.
5 W’s and 1 H for Medical Articles
Although the exact format is open to interpretation, in terms of medical content this can be simply laid out with regards to the standard layout of information in clinical medicine. It should also answer the questions on the mind of the reader who is accessing the content with the goal of having his/her questions answered. Therefore the 5 W’s and 1 H for writing medical content will be as follows :
- What = definition of the subject matter, for example what is acne?
- Why = basic pathophysiology explaining the disease mechanism, with a brief overview of the system/organ anatomy and physiology. Why does acne occur?
- Who = epidemiology. Who suffers with acne?
- When = causes and risk factors. When does a person get acne?
- Where = signs and symptoms of the disease, although this may infer only localized clinical features whereas in any disease there are several equally important generalised signs and symptoms. It should also touch on complications of the disease. Where does acne appear?
- How = diagnosis, treatment, management and prevention of disease. How is acne diagnosed, treated, managed and prevented?
Granted that many of these areas may overlap when viewing it from the perspective of the 5 W’s and 1 H. But for the proficient medical writer, the content should adequately gel in a manner that allows for all relevant questions to be answered in the article as a whole.
Length of a medical article for the Web
It is difficult to say with any certainty how long the medical article should be because this may vary significantly among different topics. It also depends on the content brief, stylesheet and editorial guidelines pertaining to the specific online publication.
However a few points should be kept in mind by the writer –most readers are comfortable reading 500 word articles, although their attention span starts reducing at 300 words. The avid reader and those with serious questions relating to the subject will easily read an 800 word article.
Therefore any article exceeding 800 to 1000 words, should rather be broken up into several articles of 300 words or less. Fortunately the Internet is a medium where this can be easily achieved with pagination, where a single article can be automatically divided into separate sections on individual pages.
Completing a medical article for the Internet
Although thus far we have not discussed search engine optimization which is an important factor , the key points in this guide on medical content writing for the Internet should allow the average writer to get started on quality medical articles for the Web. Writers should always read through their articles a couple of hours or even a day later to ensure that it suitable for an online readership.
What may seem like a great piece of medical content may be confusing, technically garbled and clinically irrelevant from the Internet reader’s perspective. Remember that the reader is often a lay person who is the patient or knows the patient intimately.
The content should be easy-to-understand and succinct yet technically detailed while excluding highly complicated information that may be of little use to any person other than the medical scientist or health care professional.