How to keep calm and talk about emotional stuff

Written by Zayani Bhatt
Megaphone image to illustrate a Quietroom blog on apologising like a human.
Increasingly, healthcare companies ask us to help them explain to patients what they do. Medical advancements can be complex. But understanding them is important for the patients whose lives could be directly affected. The issues can also be highly emotive.

It’s not just healthcare that gets people emotional or worried. Money does too. So these tips on how to write about health could apply equally to writing about things like pensions or insurance.

1. Write how your audience talks

A lot of people write quite differently from how they speak. Think about ‘thus’, ‘moreover’ or ‘assistance’. When did you last say any of those out loud? People are more likely to understand you if you write in spoken English. That doesn’t mean making it completely colloquial but keep the language clear and familiar. This is not dumbing your writing down, it’s flexing it to match your reader’s world.

2. Do away with jargon and scientific acronyms

When explaining something that you understand well, it’s easy to fall into the trap of using terminology that has become a second language to you. The trouble is, that terminology could be entirely new to your reader. This could put them off reading what you’ve written. So where possible, do away with it. Where it’s not possible, explain as you go.

3. Assume intelligence, not knowledge

If you assume that your reader is intelligent but doesn’t know the intricacies of your subject, your writing is more likely to hit a suitable tone. You’ll explain things where necessary, without patronising.

4. Put the benefit to the reader first

Your reader might not be interested in your subject. Yet. Get them interested by first mentioning the benefits to them. Ask yourself – why should anyone take the time to read this? Once you’ve given a benefit, you can add more information.

5. Get to the point

When talking about our specialist subject, we tend to over-embellish. We’re interested in the details, so we want to include them. But your reader might not be in the mood for details. So start with just the information they want or that’s relevant to them. You can always give them more later on, or somewhere else, if they need it.

6. Ground your message in some statistics

When talking about something emotional, people often want hard evidence. This helps them feel more secure and confident in the information you are giving to them. Use your statistics wisely though – pepper them sparingly so they have impact. Don’t overwhelm your reader with them. And make sure they’re easy to understand.

7. Use imagery and metaphors

Use familiar ideas to explain unfamiliar ones – like coronary artery bypass surgery being like building a relief road round a town. This helps people to feel like they can get their head around your complex subject.

8. Don’t trade clarity for emotion

When writing about something you’re passionate about, it’s tempting to try to make your message inspirational. But it’s easy to misjudge your reader’s feelings – we all respond differently to writing like this. So try to maintain a neutral but friendly tone of voice. Keep calm by avoiding adjectives unless they’re vital for the meaning.

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