We all know how important it is to keep health-related content short, simple, and direct. But of course that’s not all that goes into clear communication — the order of the words you choose matters, too. Specifically, when you’re writing content that may not apply to all your readers, it’s important to put the context first.
Consider this sentence: You’ll need to get a blood test if you’ve had a TB vaccine (shot).
Concise and direct? Check. Uses simple, familiar terms? Definitely. But this information is only relevant to readers who’ve had a TB vaccine — and you’re making everyone read all the way to the end before they find out if it applies to them.
So instead, try this: If you’ve had a TB vaccine (shot), you’ll need to get a blood test.
This way, it’s immediately clear who you’re talking about, and people who haven’t had a TB vaccine can skip the rest of the sentence. Since we know that readers skim and scan (especially online), do yours a favor and clue them in right away if there’s something that may not be relevant to them.
Putting the context first can also help users with limited literacy skills — who may struggle with working memory — get clearer takeaways from your content.
Consider this one: Call 911 or go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital right away if your child’s fever is 105 degrees or higher.
When you write a sentence like this, you’re asking folks to read — and remember — several things to understand whether they need to call 911. This can be tricky for people with limited literacy skills. The solution?
Context first! Like so: If your child’s fever is 105 degrees or higher, call 911 or go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital right away.
The bottom line: When communicating information that doesn’t apply to all your readers, put the context first.
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