Technical Writing: More Neapolitan than Vanilla

Technical Writing: More Neapolitan than Vanilla

Communicating complex scientific information comes in many flavors. The first step is to recognize that audience has varying abilities to digest complex content. Like three layers of Neapolitan, we can broadly divide our audience into three categories in terms of their facility comprehending technical information: health care professionals, lay people and everyone else between the two extremes.

Physicians display a healthy dose of skepticism towards marketing messages. They may perceive them as fluff, lacking objectivity, or adequate scientific and statistical rigor to be clinically relevant. A common complaint is that marketers do not account for or understand all the variables that need to be considered to make clinical decisions. Their ambivalence is generally valid. To counter this resistance, we strongly believe that product ambassadors should have at least some exposure to the scientific world to appreciate a physician’s mindset and adjust their messages accordingly to be taken seriously and affect change.

And for an audience of lay people, like consumers, messages need to avoid jargon and may need to be spoon-fed in small bite sizes.

Irrespective of the sophistication of the audience, information has to be disseminated, messages have to be relayed, products have to be sold, and service line quotas have to be met. Here are some guidelines on how to approach writing scientific content:

  • Identify your audience. Feeding information to a widely diverse audience in one flavor is inviting failure.
  • Determine how much you expect your audience to know about the topic or a class of products? Some of this is intuition but it is a good idea to confirm your inclinations. If writing technical information for lay audience, a good barometer is to speak to a few “non-technical” co-workers and access if they appear comfortable with the language you are speaking and adjust accordingly. Health care professionals would be able to understand technical terms but you need to provide enough context regarding why they should be excited about having your product in their tool-kit, in what ways is it a significant advance, and how it fits into the universe of similar products it would be competing with.
  • Why are they reading this content? What is the need they want to fill, the gap they want to close? You need to have a strong call to action so that you can measure if you are succeeding in meeting your customers’ needs.
  • What is the take-home message? People will forget most of the details but there should be a clear and concise message delivered in several layers. They need to be told what they are going to read, then they read it and then they are reminded of what they read so it stays with them.
  • Create different landing pages or different website tabs with a distinctly different feel and flavor to suit a specific audience, i.e., one for lay audience and a different one for healthcare professionals.
  • As you get closer and closer to a technical audience, your message needs to shift from qualitative to quantitative. Proclaiming that Diagnostic Test A is more sensitive than Diagnostic Test B would not appeal to physicians unless it is accompanied with data that shows Diagnostic Test A detected a condition in whatever percent more cases than Diagnostic Test B.

So, when describing a diagnostic test, medical device, or a drug, the content must suit the audience. It should be dramatically different in terms of complexity and technical detail. But the most important skill of a good technical writer is to explain complex information, that is deemed essential to differentiate a product, in a way that is understandable to non-technical people. This is because patients are becoming discernible consumers and want to know why and how, among several potential options, a drug or a test is better suited for their condition. Simply telling them what to do, leaves them dissatisfied and sometimes insulted.

  • Measure performance. This can take many forms. You may look at analytics of your web page to see bounce or conversion rates, time spent on various pages or traffic patterns. If doing a drip campaign, it may mean determining how far people are going into the sales process before falling off. It could be how often people are downloading your literature.

To write compelling scientific content, you need to have more than superfluous knowledge of the underlying science, have a clear story to tell, and effectively craft your message to communicate that story to your audience at a level they like to consume this type of information.