Recently, I’ve been writing a lot of content for clients in the healthcare industry. And naturally, some of this content deals with delicate topics. My audience may be a person recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, or the parent of a chronically ill child. Those are drastic examples—other times I might be writing for an excited expectant mother or a young athlete recovering from a sports injury.
Thankfully, I’ve never had cancer. I’ve also never had a chronically ill child (or any child for that matter, at least not yet). And I wasn’t much into sports in high school (marching band was my gig). So how can a healthy, 20-something writer empathize with people struggling through arthritis, cancer, or disability—and how can she communicate that empathy clearly through every paragraph and word that she writes?
If you’ve ever written content for the health industry, I’m sure you’ve faced this challenge. Let’s look at a few ways to step outside yourself and write copy that breaks down barriers and reaches the heart.
Get it straight from your audience
With the entirety of the internet at your fingertips, you have access to a treasure trove of information on virtually every topic. And in this age of blogging, it’s not hard to find an article written from the point of view of, say, a cancer survivor. If you narrow your search even further, you’ll find articles written by patients who’ve only just been diagnosed, are starting treatment, and everything in between.
Short of experiencing it yourself, there’s no better way to understand what a patient is feeling than to read their story in their own words. Some of our team even drew on the personal stories of their friends and loved ones to get into the mindset of our readers. This helped us think beyond WebMD, giving us a firm grasp on the little details a patient will care about—like whether their room will include a pullout bed for their loved ones to sleep on when they spend the night.
Frame your narrative around the reader
If you want to speak to readers where they’re at, you have to create a narrative framed around them. Start and end with the reader. Make them the protagonist of your story—because after all, it’s their story you’re writing. That means speaking in terms of “you” and never losing sight of your protagonist as you expound on the technical details like certifications and diagnostic equipment.
It takes a little extra work to frame everything in terms of your reader, but if you really want to make a connection, you have to put in the time. They’re not going to think of themselves as just “the patient,” and neither should you.
Get a second opinion
I don’t write in a vacuum. Here at Marketsmiths, I’m surrounded by a plethora of other people with varied life experiences. Chances are, at least one of them knows what it’s like to go through a certain challenge or to watch a family member or friend go through it. And even if they haven’t, they offer a fresh set of eyes and ears that can help me gauge whether my copy feels authentic, empathetic, and on-brand.
If you’re not sure you’ve struck the right tone in your piece, it’s tremendously helpful to have someone else read over it and tell you what they think. You may not have a team of trusty writers on hand like I do, but you probably don’t need one. All you need is another human. If you can find someone who has a connection to your audience, all the better.
Be a human
At the end of the day, empathetic healthcare copywriting is less about knowing what a cancer patient wants to hear and more about knowing what every person wants to hear.
In times of distress, what do you want to feel? Reassured? Valued? Understood? It’s a pretty safe bet that your readers want the same things you do. After all, we’re all part of the larger human family. If you can place yourself in your readers’ shoes and think about what would comfort you in that situation, you’re ready to write copy that speaks in a human voice.
Empathetic, boundary-crossing copy is what the team at Marketsmiths does best. If you realize you do need that trusty team of writers after all, get in touch today.