Tailoring medical messages to different audiences


Phil Lucas | MPH
10 minute read

Within the healthcare sector and pharmaceutical industry, there is an ever-increasing demand for medical writers to not only create content that captures the attention of the intended audience but create content that the intended audience can access and process. Medical writers must not only abide by strict clinical and publication processes but also be able to communicate key messages or potentially complex medical or scientific data in a clear, relevant, and compelling format that caters for the audience’s needs, interests and level of understanding of the subject matter.

Let’s look at some of the key steps in tailoring your writing to a target audience.

Build an audience persona

Although you may think you know who you are writing for, it is essential to identify and clearly define the target audience before putting pen to paper – taking time to really figure out who your actual audience is key, as the content will need to be tailored accordingly.

A good starting point in understanding your target audience is the creation of detailed audience personas. These semi-fictional representations of your intended audience are an extremely valuable asset that provides in-depth insight into how to tailor content so that is valuable, relevant, and engaging to your readers. This exercise should allow you to discover the audience's level of understanding about the subject matter and any behavioural, demographic, and cultural characteristics they might possess.

Ask yourself as many questions about your audience as possible – remember the more questions you can think of the greater your insight into who your audience is will be.

Consider some of the following questions:

  • What is their background?
  • Consider demographics – How old are they? Are they male or female? What is their occupation? Cultural habits? etc.
  • What is their level of education/reading level/health literacy?
  • What kind of language do they use?
    • What jargon can they understand and what terms/language should be avoided?
  • What do they already know/feel about the topic/are they engaged?
  • What information gaps exist?
  • What tone and level of formality are best with each different audience?
  • What are the appropriate communication channels that will be most likely used by the intended audience (websites, social media, presentations, conferences/events)?

To answer these questions, refer to demographic information, databases, surveys, focus groups or even one-to-one interviews. If budget and time is an issue, free resources and tools that may be of use when creating audience personas include:

Understand why you are writing

Once you have a clear understanding of your audience, it should become clear:

  • What the overall objective and desired outcome behind your communication is – is it to inform, initiate behaviour change, create a call to action?
  • Appropriate tone to be used
  • The audience’s background, experience, knowledge etc.
  • The audience’s interests
  • Demographics
  • What the core ideas are and how they need to be delivered
  • The best channels to get this information across

Write with your audience in mind

The final step is the actual writing process itself. Ensure that you get into the ‘mind’ of your intended audience and structure your content in a logical order.

Here are a few tips to help you tailor your content:

  • Inform your readers: As a medical communicator ensure that the information you are providing answers the questions your intended audience would ask.
    • Include your ‘must include’ messages: It is key to keep your intended audience at the forefront of your mind – make the content relevant to that specific audience by identifying all the information that you need to deliver to this audience. Remember the best content often focuses on small and specific topics rather than wide-ranging subject matter.
    • Find a new way to present the information: Identifying an unusual angle to present your content will drive engagement from your intended audience.
  • Use data: A good statistic from a respected source gives the content gravitas and demonstrates your expertise in the field.
  • Make it relatable: ‘Shape’ the content so that it’s relevance to the intended reader really shines through. This will keep the reader engaged and feel more connected to you and your content.
  • Use appropriate tone and language: Based on your audience analysis choose appropriate terminology and phrases throughout your material. Always consider whether the language you are using is compelling and clear for your intended audience. Remember that the tone and language for a piece of content submitted to a medical journal will differ drastically compared to content for dissemination to the general public!
  • Maintain a balance of text and visual aids
  • Spellcheck and proofread content: Typos and grammatical errors are unprofessional and will reduce the audience’s confidence in you.
  • SEO: Work on your SEO; focus on keywords that your audience may use.

For further information on producing accurate and engaging health-related content, check out this useful checklist to guide you when creating your content.

An example of tailoring messages

A new technology-enabled care service that empowers patients and supports them in taking greater control over their own health and care, requires increased patient uptake, as well as political and financial backing. The ‘must include’ message around the purpose of the work is relevant to all the identified audiences; however, their messages must be tailored to reflect the priorities of each audience.

Let’s take a look:

GPs: Inform your patients about this new technology to empower them and support in taking greater control of their own health and care. Dr. Spence, the lead trial coordinator of the pilot study, indicated that his practice saw the following benefits….

Politicians: Patients and carers are telling us that this new service has changed the way that they receive their care. A patient questionnaire indicated that 90% would recommend this new service to others. Let us secure further financial support for this work as it could help up to X people within your constituency.

Providers and commissioners: The pilot study showed an X% reduction in emergency referrals, better patient compliance, and a £X cost saving. Funding this service will help you meet your objective of ‘moving care closer to home'.

So, what have we learned? Different audiences require different writing styles! You must be able to tailor your content based on the research you have done into your intended audience. Remember if the same health-related content is intended for very different audiences (i.e., payers, patients, health care professionals, government agencies), it must be communicated in differing ways to ensure that the key messages are understood by all these sub-groups.

If you liked this article, you might also like our article Medical Writing – what is it?

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