Writing Tips: The Planning Stage


There are many reasons you might choose to write or produce your own consumer health materials. Maybe the brochures in your clinic are outdated and don’t provide patients with new treatment options. Perhaps the material already in your office is from an American organization and refers to different protocols in Canada. Maybe the poster in the waiting room is written in a language that is too difficult for patients to understand. Whatever the reason, before you set out to write new informational materials for your patients, a rigorous planning session is needed.

Planning

Who is this material for?

The information in your document will differ depending on your audience. Do you want to speak directly to the patient, or do you want to give instructions to the caregiver? Your tone and writing style will also change depending on your audience.

What is the purpose of this material?

Think about what you want to accomplish by writing this document. What should the reader take away? Are you explaining a disease or condition? Are you giving them information about treatment or a drug? Are you giving them prevention tips? Are you describing what will happen during their stay on the medical unit? Having a clear goal in mind will help you distinguish between important information that needs to be in the document and non-essential information.

Does the material already exist?

Before writing your material, do a little background research to discover what’s already out there about your topic. This could save you a lot of time and energy, especially if you find material that meets your needs. If you can’t find an exact match, perhaps there is something out there that you can pull from when writing your document.

Can other healthcare professionals help you?

Providing patient education is truly a team effort. Think of what you want to accomplish with your document and make a list of people, both in your own department and across other departments, that can help you.

Your colleagues are an invaluable asset to you when writing your own information, but they can also help improve your document once it is in its final stages. Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues to read over your material and offer advice on writing, word choice, images, or anything else they can think of! Be open to suggestions!

What format would best suit my patients?

Think about how you want to present your information to patients. Will they be overwhelmed with a large number of pages? Leaflets, one-page handouts, and tri-fold brochures might help ease their anxiety. Are you trying to teach patients the right technique for injections? A video might be a more effective way of getting your message across. Whatever you decide, make sure it’s the best option for the patient.

Can current and former patients help me?

It is important to take cues from your patients to make the most effective educational materials. Consider making a list of your patients’ most frequent questions and concerns and try to answer them in your document. If there are patient support groups or advocacy groups, ask for their input.


Sinai Patient Education Pavilion

The SinaiPEP website was created by the librarians at the Mount Sinai Hospital and Bridgepoint Active Healthcare to help patients and their families find reliable and relevant health information.

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