Invigorate Your Healthcare Writing With Words That Are Short, Sweet, And Full of Energy

by Jane Sherwin - Date: 2010-11-01 - Word Count: 526 Share This!

There are certain kinds of phrasing and word choice, especially in official statements, that can soak the life out of your writing. They tend to crop up in hospital press releases and annual reports, but you can find them anywhere.

Consider these words:

Outstanding, invaluable, unfailing, dedication, incomparable, fortunate, leadership, expertise.

What do you notice about these words?

First of all, count up the syllables in each one. Yes, that's right, three to five syllables each! In a speech, or a recommendation, these words might do better. But in written content, they are more likely to put your readers to sleep.

Second, these words are abstract. The nouns (dedication, leadership, expertise) are not concrete. You can't imagine them in your mind. What does 'expertise' look like when you meet it on the sidewalk? Even the adjectives, like 'unfailing,' are impossible to visualize.

And here is some phrasing made bland by just those tired old words:

We are fortunate to have Susanna's fiscal expertise at this challenging time. We value her incomparable dedication to the needs of our patients.

This is the kind of standard statement vice presidents make when an employee hits a twentieth anniversary, and they hold a luncheon with pasta salad in the cafeteria. It's not the way you want to write on your website or your e-news. (Try to imagine such wording on a Facebook page!)

Let's try the statement about Susanna again:

Susanna thinks patient care is more important than anything else we do. She may be a top-flight accountant, but her eye is always on patients and their experience here at Memorial Hospital. There isn't a hospital in the country with such a clear-thinking, mission-focused employee. Patients and employees alike benefit from her service at this difficult economic time.

What's different about this version? It's about what Susanna does and who she is. The adjectives are highly specific to her personality and her work. The first version could describe almost anyone, but not this one! And by calling attention to the fact that she includes patient concerns in her work in finance, you create a little tension that is always interesting.

Here's one more example, one that I found on the internet, by a hospital executive director:

We have the greatest staff a hospital could ever wish to have. I have been here for almost 15 years and believe that this is the best group of caregivers that we've yet assembled.

I love this statement. It appeals with its loyalty and admiration. The tired old words and phrases are nowhere in sight. The director tells us how he feels. "Could ever wish to have" is a phrase full of feeling, without being sentimental. His praise, "the best group of caregivers," is simple and direct. Only two words are more than two syllables (and one of them is "hospital"!)

So, work to find short, sweet and energy-filled words, and look for ways to express the honest feeling which, after all, should be just beneath the surface.

Copyright (c) 2010 Jane Sherwin. You may reprint this entire article and you must include the copyright info and the following statement: "Jane Sherwin is a writer who helps hospitals and other healthcare facilities communicate their strengths and connect with their readers."

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