Content writing principles for effective digital communication

Do you need to write or edit digital content for healthcare? We’ve got you covered with writing principles and advice that you can use to improve your written digital communication.

The guidance below will show you ‘how’ we write (and how you can too) and expands on our previous blog post regarding how to write blog posts.

The 11 writing principles

Josh Bernoff’s content writing principles apply to every piece of written digital content we write (including content and copy).

We recommend his book, “Writing Without Bullshit” to anyone who wants to write clearly in business and their personal life.

These are the principles:

  1. Write short. Readers are impatient. Edit out extraneous text.
  2. Write short sentences. Long sentences puzzle readers. Break long sentences into shorter sentences (that is, 20 words maximum).
  3. Write using an active voice 90% of the time. A passive voice hides the true meaning. Make the actor the sentence’s subject.
  4. Eliminate weasel words. Weasel words make statements wimpy. Cut weasel words; if you can’t, cut the sentence.
  5. Replace jargon with clarity. Jargon makes readers feel stupid. Replace with plain English.
  6. Cite numbers effectively. Statistics support your point. Include both context and source of statistics.
  7. Use “I”, “we”, and “you”. Pronouns invite the reader to relate. Imagine the reader; write directly to them.
  8. Move key insights up. Bold statements retain attention.
  9. Write bold openers; rewrite with each draft. See below under format.
  10. Cite examples. Text without examples is boring. Plan to spend half your time on research – you should know the customer avatars you’re targeting.
  11. Give signposts. Readers want to know what’s coming. After stating your argument, explain what’s coming next.

Next, we’ll share some supplementary copywriting principles relating to target customer/avatar segments.

Targeting your avatar

We write content targeted at avatars. For example, if you’re writing a page about LASIK, it follows that you will want to write that page with millennials in mind. When writing a page about cataract surgery, you’ll want to write with traditionalists in mind.

In this section, we’ll present an overview of the demographic cohorts that are the most relevant when writing for target avatars.

Traditionalists

Traditionalists were born before 1945, the target market for cataract surgery and treatments of other age-related ophthalmic conditions – for example, glaucoma, AMD, and dry eye. Typically, they respond to:

  • formally written information (correct language and proper grammar)
  • competent and confident writing
  • seeing your dedication, attention to detail and discipline
  • ethics and experience
  • appeals to be family-minded and frugal
  • patience and past-focus
  • tactful and task-focused, logical arguments
  • appeals to authority

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers were born between 1945 to 1965, the target market for refractive lens exchange, lens replacement, presbyopic LASIK and dry eye. They respond to:

  • competitive claims (clearly show how you’re better) while still showing you are collaborative and communicative
  • educated, efficient and ethical arguments
  • appeals to idealism (the way things ought to be)
  • positive language
  • a results-orientation
  • a hint of rebelliousness

Generation X

Generation X-ers were born between 1966 to 1979, the target market for presbyopic LASIK, SMILE, SmartSight, other laser eye surgeries and dry eye. They respond to:

  • anti-authority
  • directness
  • results-orientation
  • informal language
  • healthy scepticism
  • brevity
  • tech-savviness

Because they tend to be a typical target of our customers, we’ll now focus more on how to write for readers under 40.

Millennials

Millennials were born between 1980 to 2000, the target market for LASIK, SMILE, ICLs, corneal cross-linking, and dry eye. They respond to:

  • Opportunities to gain achievement
  • Fun
  • Change
  • Speed
  • Informality
  • Optimism, open-mindedness
  • Tech-savviness
  • Tolerance
  • Political correctness

Additional pointers concerning Millennials:

  • Immediately answer the question “Why should I care?”
  • Indicate reading time at the top of the article to give them a sense of the required time investment
  • Use one idea per sentence
  • Use one page per topic
  • Summarise pages at the top (sometimes, we’ll specifically use a TL;DR section, which means “too long, didn’t read”)
  • Write descriptive subheadings (1 subheading per viewport). Useful subheadings enable the reader to understand the gist of the article from the headings themselves
  • Wherever possible, replace paragraph text with bullet points. Bullet points enable scanners to absorb content quickly. If the text is ordinal, choose numbers
  • Add “footnotes” where necessary linking to supporting evidence

What about writing for SEO?

SEO means Search Engine Optimisation. Search engine optimisation is the process of increasing the quality and quantity of website traffic by increasing the visibility of a website or a web page to users of a web search engine.

We prioritise humans over robots in the writing we produce. Only humans buy elective healthcare services; search engine robots do not. With that said, SEO can assist us when generating awareness for our customers online. We can still include these elements into every page without interfering with readability:

  • A unique focus keyword phrase for which we aim to rank (which we identify if the SEO keyword plan) on Google. The focus keyword phrase should appear in the first paragraph of the content (or headline). Then, it should appear throughout the text where possible (with a 2.5% keyword density goal)
  • A unique page title that includes the keyword phrase near the front
  • A unique meta description that consists of the keyword phrase near the front and written as a call-to-action
  • A unique URL that contains the keyword phrase
  • Images that contain the keyword phrase in their alt text and file name and ideally the clinic or doctor’s name
  • Instances of synonyms of the keyword phrase aiming for a density of .5%
  • Internal links to relevant pages or posts (1 for every 150 words of text).
  • Outbound links that open in new windows, where appropriate.
  • An excerpt that you can also use as the meta description written as a lede (or lead).

For more information on SEO, read our SEO resource.

(NOTE: Want to see how your practice marketing measures up against the best in class? Take this 5-minute quiz to see how you stack up in the 9 areas of practice marketing and get specific tips and advice on how you can improve your weak points and better leverage your strengths).

On style, spelling and using Grammarly & Hemingway

On language

If you’re writing for the British market, write in British English, which is the standard dialect of the English language that people speak and write in the United Kingdom. When writing an audience in another region, switch to that style (American English, Canadian English or Australian English).

Choosing a style guide

The cover of the New Hart’s Rules

A style guide is a manual detailing the house style of a particular publisher. Typically, we refer to New Hart’s Rules, The Oxford Style Guide, which mainly covers grammar conventions. For more modern style, spelling and grammar conventions, including the proper use of abbreviations and numbers, we consult the GOV.UK Style Guide. This guide is up to date and covers modern usage. The NICE Style Guide is specifically helpful regarding medical terminology.

Writing goals in Grammarly

While perfect grammar isn’t necessary (or even advisable) for effective copywriting, Google and users alike know lousy grammar when they see it.

For many visitors to your website who are 40 years or older, poor grammar can be a turn-off. We use Grammarly UK or US writing goals when preparing content in Grammarly. Grammarly offers writing goals.

If you’ve not already done so, log in to LiveseySolar’s Grammarly Premium account now and install the Google Chrome extension.

When writing content (as opposed to copywriting), we typical set Grammarly goal settings tailored to our goals and audience (see the MEP for your goals and audience):

  • Audience. Targeted at a general audience (that is, easy for anyone to read with minimal effort)
  • Formality
    • For Millennials and Generation-X – an informal style which allows slang and more casual usages
    • For Baby Boomers – a neutral style which restricts slang but allows for standard casual expressions
    • For Traditionalists – a formal style which restricts slang and colloquialisms
  • Domain. For a general domain which applies most rules and conventions with medium strictness
  • Tone. A confident, optimistic and friendly tone.
    • We will at times add respectful to traditionalist or conservative audiences
  • With an intent to inform

These setting will look like this:

After setting goals, write your content or copy and paste it into Grammarly. An excellent result will look like this:

Now, should a customer challenge your writing ability, you have sound evidence to back up the quality of your work.

Often, we can’t reach 60-70 with material containing medical terms. These terms, by their nature, can hurt readability scores.

When writing sales copy, your goals will change. Here is an example of appropriate sales copy goals:

Because copywriting avoids technical jargon, this is the kind of score you should shoot for:

To avoid debate on spelling and meaning, we choose a dictionary that you will refer to before starting your writing project. Unless otherwise agreed, we use the Grammarly UK or US dictionary.

Using Hemingway to improve readability

Hemingway app makes your writing bold and clear.

The Hemingway app highlights lengthy, complex sentences and common errors; if you see a yellow sentence, shorten or split it. If you see a red highlight, your sentence is so dense and complicated that your readers will get lost trying to follow its meandering, splitting logic — try editing this sentence to remove the red. Try the Hemingway App here.

Next, we’ll share our views on capitalisation, readability, legibility and the use of other punctuation marks.

On capitalisation

A common mistake is capitalising too many words. Leave the names of medical conditions, diseases, procedures, tests, and operations as lowercase. For diseases that include a proper name, such as Alzheimer’s, capitalise that word. Similarly, if the name of a test is an acronym (like OCT – optical coherence tomography), capitalise it.

We’ll talk about headings later, but there are specific guidelines we adhere to regarding capitalisation and headings used in text and navigation.

On displayed lists (that is, bullet points)

Bullet points often cause confusion regarding capitalisation and punctuation. Displayed lists are usually introductions followed by a colon that:

  • list a series of items
  • makes for simplified readability
  • creates legibility by providing white space

In the above example, note there is no capitalisation nor punctuation at the end of the list items. They are sentence fragments, not full sentences. If the list is a series of sentences (like the one we used at the start of this post), you should follow the conventions used in sentences.

On readability

A general audience should be able to decipher what you write. We write in plain English. We aim to score 70 or above on the Flesh-Kincaid readability test. Seventy or above indicates a reader who has at least an 8th-grade education (age 13-14) should understand your text. With that as a guideline, your writing should be reasonably easy for most adults to read. Again, Hemingway is a useful tool you can use to improve your readability.

We include transition words and phrases between paragraphs (a minimum of 30% of sentences). If, however, we note we are using first, second and third, we’ll replace these ordinal words with ordinal figures (1., 2., and 3.).

On legibility

Legibility refers to how visually clear something is to read. To ensure clarity, we:

  • use larger than average body text font sizes (at least 16 px)
  • limit most paragraphs to 150 words
  • add hard returns after every paragraph to create white space between them

On contractions

A contraction is a word or group of words resulting from shortening an original form. People most typically speak using contractions.

To align with an informal style, we write using contractions. For example, we’ll use “isn’t” instead of “is not”. If we’re writing in a formal style (which we typically reserve for traditionalists or for branded services that aim to communicate a formal tone), we do not use contractions.

On exclamation marks

We rarely use exclamation marks. We will only use exclamation marks if what we’re writing is:

  • Exceedingly important – like a warning; for example, “Don’t rub your eyes!”
  • Super exciting – like a special announcement; for example, “We’re opening a new clinic!”
  • A legitimate emergency, for example, “Get your eyes checked immediately!”
  • Ironic – using an exclamation mark gets a humorous reaction

In social media, chat, and social messaging – social media, where emoticons and internet-speak are standard, is a particular case when it comes to exclamation marks. That’s why you’ll see us using all of the above more often when posting or commenting on social media.

On Gender-neutral pronouns

We use gender-neutral third-person pronouns (for example, we use “they”, “their” and “them”) instead of singular third-person pronouns (for example, “he”, “his” and “him”) unless specifically when referring to individuals that identify as males. In many cases, we can avoid the indefiniteness inherent in these pronouns by using the second person pronoun “you”. Avoid using “one” because it is distant and too formal.

On header and navigation elements

Headers include page titles and text surrounded by heading tags (for example H1, H2, H3, etc.). Some points to consider are:

  • Leave full stops off the end of headlines
  • If your tone is casual and friendly, write headers in sentence case (that is, only capitalise the first word of a headline) as we do in this article
  • If your tone is formal and serious, write headers in Title Case. Title case involves
    • capitalising the first word
    • capitalising the last word
    • capitalising the important words – important words refer to adjectives (words to describe nouns), adverbs (words that qualify or further define verbs), nouns, pronouns, subordinating conjunctions (for example, although, because), and verbs
    • Do not capitalise articles (for example, a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (for example, and, but, for), short words (fewer than 5 letters), and prepositions (for example, at, to, by, from).

Specific notes relating to navigation

Be concise and transparent with navigation labels. Users should have a good sense of what is on the other side of a click.

Most people don’t know what they’re looking for by name, which is why we recommend using general language, not medical terms in navigation.

However, you still must serve the needs of directed searchers by having menu items with medical terms that are easy to scan and in alphabetical order. Usually, we will use that type of menu in the footer, opting for a plain-language version in the top and main menu.

On grammar rules that you can safely ignore

Grammar rules you can safely ignore:

  • The rare use of sentence fragments (sentences missing a noun or an object of a verb). We are not overly-concerned with sentence fragments if it allows us to be succinct – this applies especially to headings and metadata.
  • Expressing small cardinal numbers (representing the quantity of something) below 100 as words. We tend to leave small numbers as figures (i.e. 1, 2, 3). That practice should be consistent throughout the site.
  • One-sentence paragraphs. We allow one-sentence paragraphs to provide impact or draw attention to a critical point.

(NOTE: Want to see how your practice marketing measures up against the best in class? Take this 5-minute quiz to see how you stack up in the 9 areas of practice marketing and get specific tips and advice on how you can improve your weak points and better leverage your strengths).

The difference between copywriting and content writing – and where to use which

The significant distinction between content and copywriting lies in the purpose of writing it.

The purpose of content is to inform, entertain and entice online audiences, so they stay longer on websites and engage with the brand.

Copywriting means writing to generate an action in the reader (for example, to identify with a before-state or see themselves in an after-state, or take action like getting a lead magnet, call, or book an appointment.

Both copywriting and content should weave in and put forth our customer’s golden threads in as many opportunities as possible, which refers to their (up to) three main selling points.

By content, we refer to written material we write to inform. Content is the ‘meat’ on the bones and belongs in the body of the page or post.

In pages, we usually put content into toggles to:

  • Consistently structure
  • give readers a choice to read it or not
  • avoid overwhelming the visitor to the page with a wall of text. In posts, the content is the main body.

In posts, content is the main body of the post.

By copywriting, we refer to written material we write to prompt an action. Copywriting is the ‘sizzle on the steak’. We use copy:

  • in the headline to get the reader to click
  • in the lead (to engage the reader to continue reading)
  • in between the content to interrupt the reader to act on the primary objective of the page – the primary call-to-action.
  • at the end of the content to get the reader to act on the secondary objective of the page – the secondary call-to-action.

In pages, the copywriting is in the top and global website containers like headlines, subheads, introductory leads, statements of value and calls-to-action.

In posts, we include copywriting in headlines, subheads, leads, conclusions and calls to action.

Specific advice relating to medical terms and drug names

Using medical terminology

By definition, medical terminology is jargon. Jargon is appropriate when writing for peers; not when writing for patients. Define every medical condition in its first instance by translating it into plain English.

For example, when referring to:

  • Myopia, use “short-sightedness”
  • Hyperopia or hypermetropia, use “long-sightedness”
  • Presbyopia, use “the need for reading glasses”
  • Ametropia, use “refractive error”
  • Emmetropia, use “normal vision”

In some cases, like “astigmatism”, there is no plain English counterpart. In cases like these, define astigmatism in the first use of the word on the page content. From then onwards, use “astigmatism”. Importantly, don’t capitalise these terms unless they are in headings or at the start of sentences.

Using drug names

Due to regulations and search engine marketing blacklisting that prohibits their use in paid advertising, use brand names and generic names for SEO and use the generic name for paid landing pages.

Exceptionally, we can use brand names in content if we do not intend to use the page as a paid search landing page, like this: “botulinum toxin, or Botox”. We do not use drug brand names in page or post titles, navigation or URLs. Search engines can find these elements in the source code if we link to them from landing pages or navigation.

Using medical procedure names

There are currently no laws precluding the use of procedure names in the markets in which we work. We use specific procedure names with the correct form of their names or their initialisms.

Some examples of medical procedure names we use are:

  • ICL (not Icl)
  • LASIK (not Lasik)
  • LASEK
  • TransPRK
  • PRK (not P.R.K.)
  • SMILE (or ReLEx SMILE)
  • SmartSight
  • Lens replacement
  • Refractive Lens Exchange (RLE; in this case use title case because the name is also an initialism)

  • PRELEX (Presbyopic Lens Exchange)
  • Cross-linking
  • PRESBYOND (not Presbyond)
  • Laser blended vision (no need to capitalise the “L” in laser)

Using protected terms

When using intellectual property marked names include the symbol in a superscript style on the first mention of the trademarked term on the page. For example, the common-law trademark ™ is unregistered and pending registration. The more protected registered trademark is ®.

Some examples of commonly used protected terms include:

  • IOLMaster ® 700
  • Pentacam ®
  • PRESBYOND ®
  • PresbyMAX ®
  • ReLEx ®
  • MEL ® 90
  • VisuMax ®

While the proper way to display either symbol is immediately following the word, leave a space between the term and the emblem to aid rigid search queries.

Using courtesy titles

Titles for physicians and surgeons in the UK are different than what is customary elsewhere in the world. If you’re interested in the reasons for this peculiarity, see this article by the Royal College of Surgeons. Some examples of courtesy titles we use include:

  • Mr for male surgeons
  • Ms for female surgeons (many people continue to use the traditional title of “Miss” for female surgeons, whether married or not. We seldom see the title “Mrs” as a title for surgeons. Using “Ms” does not depend on marital status. We believe that a doctors marital status is irrelevant to their abilities as a doctor, so we use “Ms”)
  • Dr for doctors
  • Prof. for Professor

Note the lack of full stops immediately following titles which are customary in British English, except for Prof which can use a full stop, or not.

Regarding academic degrees

All surgeons must first qualify as doctors. Then, they will append specific surgical qualifications to their names. Some examples of commonly awarded titles in the UK that we use are:

  • BA – Bachelor of Arts
  • BSc – Bachelor of Science
  • BCh – Bachelor of Surgery
  • DO – Diploma of Ophthalmology
  • FACS – Fellow, American College of Surgeons
  • FRCOphth – Fellow of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists
  • FRCS – Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons
  • GMC – General Medical Council
  • MBChB – Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery
  • also conferred as variations of the Latin Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae:
    • MBBS,
    • MB ChB,
    • MB BCh,
    • MB BChir (Cantab),
    • BM BCh (Oxon),
    • BMBS
  • MA – Master of Arts
  • MBA – Master of Business Administration
  • MD – Medical Doctor
  • MRCP (UK) – Member of the Royal College of Physicians of the UK
  • MRCS.Ed – Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
  • MSc – Master of Science
  • O.D. – Doctor of Optometry (used in the US and Canada)
  • PGDipCatRef – Post Graduate Diploma in Cataract and Refractive Surgery
  • PhD – Doctor of Philosophy

When in doubt, refer to how the person displays their credentials.

  • (Cantab) refers to Cambridge
  • (Oxon) refers to Oxford
  • (Hons) is with Honours.

Putting it all together

This cheat sheet of writing best practices for healthcare websites can feel overwhelming at times. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do it yourself, then all is not lost. If you want to convert visitors into telephone or email enquiries, give us a call and we can talk about your digital marketing options.

On page and post length

Aim to write pages to contain at least 300 words of text. Words exceeding this number should have a call to action breaking up the text before displaying more text. Do not, however, write more than you need to communicate the point of the article. Consider user intent and prioritise that over content length.

On the structure, copywriting and content writing

We aim to write content and copy in the inverted pyramid style (see image below). This structure applies to both pages and blog posts.

(NOTE: Want to see how your practice marketing measures up against the best in class? Take this 5-minute quiz to see how you stack up in the 9 areas of practice marketing and get specific tips and advice on how you can improve your weak points and better leverage your strengths).

About the author

Rod Solar
Founder & Fractional CMO

Rod co-founded LiveseySolar and acts as a Fractional CMO for our customers. He’s on a mission to help transform the lives of 10,000 people through vision correction surgery by 2024. To achieve that, he inspires his customers to make confident decisions that will help 50,000 people take the first step towards vision correction.

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What our clients say…

“In a matter of weeks, we already saw results with LiveseySolar. Far before we were even finished with our project.”

Erik Chotiner, MD, FACS, Ophthalmologist

“The whole group has been very, very professional. We’re quite early in the stages, but we can see the benefits.”

Dr Nick Mantell , MBChB FRANZCO

“They’re very professional. They know what they’re doing, but they also put us at ease. This helped us to cut through what’s needed to get what we want.”

Mr Praveen Patel, MA (Cantab), MB BChir (Cantab), FRCOphth, MD (Res)

“It’s wonderful to work with an agency that engages on our level and understands our market.”

Dr Anton Van Heerden, MBChB; FRANZCO, Ophthalmologist

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Meet our Founders

We’re passionate about helping leaders of high-quality, growth-minded practice owners double their revenue

Rod Solar

Founder & Fractional CMO

Rod co-founded LiveseySolar and acts as a Fractional CMO for our customers. He’s on a mission to help transform the lives of 10,000 people with vision correction surgery by 2024. To achieve that, he inspires his customers to make confident decisions that will help 50,000 people take the first step towards vision correction.

Read more

LiveseySolar completely transformed the way we were approaching this… We’ve gone from having just the dream of having a practice to having a practice up and running with people making inquiries and booking for procedures… It’s extremely pleasing. We feel lucky we connected with LiveseySolar.

— Dr Matthew Russell, MBChB, FRANZCO, specialist ophthalmic surgeon and founder of VSON and OKKO

Laura Livesey

Founder & CEO

Laura Livesey is the co-founder & CEO of LiveseySolar. She has developed powerful refractive surgery marketing systems that increase patient volumes and profits for doctors, clinics, and hospitals, since 1997.

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Rod and Laura know as much about marketing surgery to patients as I know about performing it. They are an expert in the field of laser eye surgery marketing. They know this industry inside out. I believe that they could help many companies in a variety of areas including marketing materials, sales training and marketing support for doctors.

— Prof. Dan Reinstein, MD MA FRSC DABO, founder of the London Vision Clinic, UK