5 tips for writing a great health care blog

Have you thought about submitting a blog post to a website like Healthy Debate or KevinMD, but aren’t sure where to start? Have you written a few blogs and want to know how you can improve? We love receiving blog submissions (you can submit one here!) and we often get asked what makes for an engaging and effective blog. We give all of our bloggers editorial feedback, and after editing more than 250 posts, I’ve found that many of our bloggers struggle with the same challenges. So to help new bloggers get started and experienced bloggers hone their craft, here are the five most common editorial suggestions I give to our writers.

1. Identify your audience

When sitting down to write a blog, I find it helpful to think about who my primary audience is. Am I writing for the general public? Patients? Doctors? Decision makers?

Identifying who you want to reach can help you shape several important elements of your blog. First, it helps you figure out how much background knowledge about your subject you can take for granted. If you are writing a blog about post-graduate medical training, for example, you can take for granted that doctors will know what residency is, but if you are writing for the general public, you can’t make that assumption.

Different audiences also require different approaches. While decision makers may respond well to blogs that focus on cost and other policy issues, patients are often more interested in how your blog relates to their care.

Identifying your audience also helps you select the best venue for your blog. If you want to reach doctors, you may want to publish on KevinMD. If you want to reach decision makers, a Longwoods essay may be your best choice. For the general public, an op-ed in a major newspaper may be most appropriate.

2. Hook your readers

There are a lot of health care blogs on the internet. To stand out, you need to hook your readers from the very first line. If you can capture a reader’s interest in the first few seconds, there’s a much better chance they’ll read all the way to the end.

One effective tool for hooking your audience is to make a bold or provocative statement right at the beginning. Some of my favorite examples on Healthy Debate are from Yoni Freedhoff about the harm the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Health Check program is causing children and Michael Law on the price of generic drugs. Their opening lines suck you in and make you want to keep reading.

Another powerful hook is a well executed anecdote. The right story can immediately draw an emotional connection between the reader and the subject, which can carry the reader right to the end. Two of my favorite examples from Healthy Debate are from Ritika Goel on raising the minimum wage and Farrah Shwartz about health literacy. Both of these stories are very effective because they connect readers to the problem emotionally, and humanize what could otherwise be an inaccessible or academic issue.

You can still write a very good, engaging blog without using one of these devices, but it’s important to avoid starting off a blog with “I read an interesting report recently” or “I went to a talk the other day.” An interesting report or talk may indeed be what inspired you to write, but don’t let this be the first thing you tell your reader. Instead, find the idea in the report that you found so interesting, and share that with the reader, so that they get engaged the same way you did.

3. One idea, one blog

When you write a blog, try to have a tight focus. It’s tempting to cram everything you know about a topic into a single blog, but the result is almost always confusing or unengaging.

Let’s say you want to write about genetic testing. There’s a lot to write about here! There are the ethical challenges around reporting incidental findings, the difficulties in interpreting results, costs of the tests, and the tension between the hype around personalized medicine versus the realities of what can actually be achieved with genomic information. It’s easy to feel like you have to address all of these if you are going to engage in the issue at all, because they’re interconnected. But if you try to take all of these on at once, you’ll run the risk of either writing something the length of a master’s thesis or creating a superficial survey of the area. Instead, you need to focus on a single dimension of the area that you can cover well in 500 to 700 words. You can acknowledge the other issues and their interconnectedness, but pick one issue and make that your subject. Gagan Dhaliwal’s Healthy Debate blog on personalized medicine does a very nice job of this. If you find you have important things to say about the other issues you didn’t cover, that just means you should write a few more blogs!

Following this rule can be tricky when you want to draw connections between two or more issues. It’s tempting in cases like this to ignore this rule completely. However, it’s worth keeping the rule in mind, even if you can’t follow it to the letter. In pieces like this, keep your central thesis in mind, and make sure whatever additional issues you are raising are directly relevant to your overall point. If something doesn’t serve your central thesis, cut it out. I tried to do this in this piece that draws a connection between the overprescribing of anti-depressants and the lack of publicly funded, evidence-based psychotherapy (I’ll leave it up to you to judge how successful I was in keeping the focus tight enough).

4. Plain language is essential

When you write a blog, you should always write in plain language. Blogs aren’t the right venue to show off your impressive vocabulary or your command of the acronym soup that plagues our health care system. Blogs are about communicating quickly to a (hopefully) large number of people. Complex sentences and technical jargon just create barriers between you and your readers.

Even if your target audience is primarily members of your own profession, you should still write in as plain language a way as possible. People are in a hurry and time they’re spending processing overly long, complex sentences is time they’re not spending reading the rest of your piece. On average, readers spend only 2 minutes reading a Healthy Debate blog. That’s not a lot of time! If you want to be understood by busy people speed-reading your blog, best to make the language as clear as possible.

One handy tool for gauging the accessibility of your writing is the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease test. It measures the number of syllables per word and the number of words per sentence, and calculates a score out of 100 (the higher the score, the easier to read). You can copy and paste your blog into a free online readability test to get a quick snapshot of how accessible your blog really is. In case you were curious, this blog scores 65.3 on the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease test, equivalent to a Grade 9 reading level.

You can find several good examples of plain language blogs on Healthy Debate, but some of my favorites are Ishani Ganguli’s piece about writing condolence letters after the death of a patient and Steve Morgan’s blog pointing out the gaps in Canada’s health care system.

Some quick tips to help you write in plain language:

– Never say with one long sentence what you could instead say in two short sentences. If you are using a semicolon, it’s probably because you are linking two shorter sentences. Don’t.

– Never use an obscure word when a common word will do the job. Say feverish, not febrile. Say painkiller, not analgesic.

– If you absolutely must use a technical term, define it for your readers. Same goes for acronyms.

– Ask at least one person you know who doesn’t have technical training in the area to read it and give you feedback about parts they found difficult or confusing.

Sometimes people confuse making a blog accessible with dumbing-it-down. Grade 10 reading level doesn’t mean Grade 10 level of analysis. You can still write about sophisticated issues, just do it with short sentences and without jargon.

5. Find the personal in the policy

While most of the blogs on Healthy Debate address health care policy, many of the best blogs we’ve published include a personal element. Including the personal can help your readers engage with what you have to say, by humanizing a policy or system issue that they might not otherwise care about. Caring is key. Including some element of the personal is a way of showing the reader why you care about an issue and, by extension, why they should care.

Sometimes the personal comes in the familiar form of the patient anecdote, which can bring an issue to life, establishing for the reader why an abstract policy problem matters to real people. Naheed Dosani & Adam Whisler do this nicely when they put a human face on the link between homelessness and mental health.

Sometimes the personal comes through an author’s reflections on their own experience with the health care system, and how it helped them see the system differently. Craig Roxborough’s search for a long-term care home for his father is perfect example of this.

The personal can also come through discussing your own role in the health care system. Harvey Chochinov’s piece on end of life conversations is powerful because it gives the reader a glimpse of what it’s like to provide care to people at the end of life. For a moment, the reader can imagine themselves in Harvey’s place, and struggle to imagine how they would act in his stead.

Sometimes, including the personal is as simple as just telling your readers why you care about an issue. Chris Byrne does this effectively when he states plainly that he’s a Windsor native whose community will be negatively impacted by an ill-conceived decision by government.

If you’re not sure how to include the personal in a specific blog, I find it often helps to simply ask yourself, “Why do I care?” The answer often follows.

Go forth and blog!

Not every great blog has to follow these rules. We’ve certainly published some excellent blogs that break more than one. However, if you’re relatively new to blogging, mastering these tips is a great place to start. As you get more experienced, you’ll start to develop a sense of when you can bend the rules, and when you can’t.

I hope you find these tips helpful, and I hope you’ll use them to submit your own Healthy Debate blog soon!

Jeremy Petch is the opinions editor of Healthy Debate. Follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jeremy Petch

Leave a Comment

Enter the debate: reply to an existing comment

  1. Carolyn Thomas

    Such good advice here, Jeremy. I especially appreciated #4 on “Plain Language”.

    The following example isn’t about blogging, but it’s my favourite all-time cautionary tale on how NOT to write about health care. A patient wrote in to the website called HealthTap to ask why he had experienced arm pain during his heart attack, and an Indiana cardiac surgeon wrote in response:

    “The pericardium is innervated by C3,4,5 (Phrenic nerve). There may be some neuronal connections to the intercostobrachial nerves.”

    I laughed right out loud when I first read this. Remember, this doc was writing to a PATIENT (i.e. somebody who had not likely been to med school). It’s a useful example because HealthTap claims to be a site in which ordinary, regular people can send in their medical questions to be answered by Real Live Doctors. (In reality, however, it’s more like a matchmaking service between doctor-shopping patients and the doctors who want to woo them).

    Which brings us to your important #1 tip, “Identify Your Audience”. Although HealthTap bills itself as a resource for patients in search of credible medical information, its true audience is a group of other physicians who rate each response. The higher your rating, the higher the potential number of patient referrals.

    I like to use this example as a reminder that it’s not only important to identify one’s audience when you’re writing, but it’s equally important to identify a site’s intended target audience when you’re the reader.


  2. calgary Homecare

    The article is extremely helpful. Considering that writing and publishing blog are not as easy as before, the tips in the article are great. Now, I have a better idea on the dos and don’ts in writing a good health blog.

  3. Elina Hill

    Great writing tips and thanks for the link to the readability test. I’ve learned that you can also set Word to complete the test for you.

  4. Ellis Wakefield

    Hi Jeremy! Just wanted you to know that I was browsing through blog pages today and came across this article I just thought I’d drop by to thank you as your blog has given me good loads of health tips for me and for my family. Hah, great stuff you’ve got there! 🙂

    You got a new fan/subscriber! Take care and more power to your website!


  5. Royal Robinson

    Yes i have one blog ,and two websites about problems in my NHF. Is that to many, i would love for someone to help or show me what i’m doing wrong because it seem like i’m not getting response from anyone. So i would love for someone to help me. Thank you very much.

  6. Ranie Khan

    Thank you for your insight Jeremy . I would like to start my own blog . These tips have been very helpful.

    I really like your site . It is very concise and easy to understand. I look forward to using your ideas .

    All the best


  7. will

    A debt of Health is in order for making the LLL care for intriguing and educational till the end! Continue moving us.

  8. Dwain lokken

    Absolutely correct. All the the points are up to the mark and yes it important to write in plain language so most of them can understand it easily.

  9. sheeja paulos

    You are too good in writing … Keep it up.. And thank you so much for sharing this great information

  10. Sewika Sulpe

    Thank you for the wonderful suggestions for th beginners like me. It has helped me know many things that i never thought of. Thanks!!!!!

  11. Anuradha

    Very helpful advice Jeremy! These tips are very useful to start and popularize a blog. I also have a health blog and i also want to submit my Healthy debate blog.

  12. Brandon Lee

    Health Care is evolving, so are we. We need to keep ourselves updated on what are the food habits, dieting, health issues, and diseases affecting people lives lately. After then we need to write about the solutions and a plan to follow for our readers.

    Brandon Lee

  13. Terry L. Hill, MEd, MA, PhD

    I am a Medical Sociologist (retired)
    I have three blog sites, one on healthcare issues.
    I may submit an article or opinion from time to time.

    Thank you.

  14. Saikat Das

    Hey guys, I’m reading all the process and I’m really good. But I want to find better solution for this issue you wanna try it for more information and I sure you want to be satisfied in this process. Lear more

  15. Sam

    Hello, Excellent tips!
    I recently came across your website and found that your website is full of profitable information. I enjoy and appreciate your writing. Keep up the good work.
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  16. Stella

    Great tips .Now I am to aware how to write blogs on healthcare Thanks for sharing .

  17. Tammyane

    Great compilation. I enjoy reading health blogs. So many amazing articles that truly useful for everyday living

  18. Manu Arora

    Great tips about writing health blog. Thanks for sharing this post.

  19. Manu Arora

    Very helpful tips and helpful blog. Keep up blogging and thanks a lot.

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    Great post. it is very useful and informative post. Thank you for your sharing.

  21. Healboat

    When it comes to health blogs, write what you would want to read.

  22. Zeeshan Ali

    Your post topic is very informative and useful for all readers

  23. Ronda J Burke

    I am a 47 year old female who have been on oxycodone for many years .I have many medical issues ..I have had half my neck replaced ..fibromyalgia ..have torn disk on my back . ..I was fine with the mg I was on ..I never abused my meds nor did I ask him to give me higher mg over time. It was not needed . but however I need my meds to be able to function in everyday life .I have a job which I am now very worried that will not be able to do now that they are cutting me . they are cutting the mg in half all at once .today is my first day of trying to ween myself down and I can’t even move in in so much pain .I don’t what I’m going to I can’t live with all this pain everyday .they gave me gabepatin today also. It made my pain so much worse .its not my Drs fault . the insurance co wrote him a letter n told him if he didn’t cut me they was turning him in . how are we suppose to function in life when we have a chronic disease ?? I have never abuse my meds ! They are comparing meds to heroin ..which by the way they are going to make people go on the streets and do heroin ..I won’t do that but I know other people who have ..all thanks to out governer.

  24. Miara

    It’s really great idea to start health care blog and your all points are very important to know before starting health care blog.
    I just say thanks for sharing this information.

  25. Maureen shay

    Follow the money – Empathy will not be the reason the US government is mandating changes in prescribing narcotics . The ‘zoom zoom ‘is gone from a growing number of ‘baby- boom boomers’ as the FDA forces a more enlightened outlook on chronic pain control.
    It is a beautiful thing to know our government is so concerned about chronic pain., addiction and loss of lives. How is it that our government sells alcohol? Think about the lives lost by use of alcohol ..Or war?? Hmmm.. the answer is???
    I would like the statistics on number of deaths from 1)narcotics 2) narcotics and sedatives 3) narcotics, benzodiazepine/sedatives 4) narcotics with addition of alcohol 5) narcotics, heroin and alcohol 6) alcohol .
    I am so confused. The removal of narcotic pain control is for our protection, and , thus, will we (they) be increasing our quality of life???

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  27. fitness-freak

    Thank you for sharing such a knowledgable article with us. I learned lots of things from your blog and especially the 4th advice, which is “Plain language is essential” because sometimes we have to use difficult language in our blog but according to your advice we need to use your simple language as much as we can.

  28. Aria Akachi

    Thank you Jeremy Petch,
    How do you start a good introduction to health care blog?

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  51. Jon

    North America is spending trillions on bandaids (economic support) when billions on solutions (testing) will have better results for both the economy and peoples’ health.

    Abbott Labs has a rapid swab test that can be taken by anyone, anywhere and at any time. The results are displayed within 15 minutes. Get the tests to everyone’s door. If national post offices cannot handle the logistics, Amazon as we know, can do it overnight. Everyone takes the test each day. If a person tests positive, they stay home; if negative, go about your business. Even if the test is not 100% accurate, when one retests over two or three days, the odds of confirming a false negative or positive diminish to next to zero.

    The US has spent $4 trillion so far to prop up the economy to thwart depression. Only 16% of that spending has gone towards tackling the health issues of the pandemic like testing or contact tracing according to a Washington Post article dated October 5. Canada, from what I have read, has allotted a similar small percentage of Covid relief spending towards tackling the disease itself. Conclusion: government has been focusing on bandaids rather than cures. The bandaid is the economy. The cure is the pandemic. The cure is to manufacture tests and get them to people en masse. Rather than spending trillions more on economic relief, spend billions on manufacturing at home rapid tests and get them into everyone’s hands.

    The US government has bought $750 million dollars worth of the Abbott Labs tests (150 million of them). Canada has bought 20 million. That is insignificant; a small fraction of what is needed. Instead of paying Abbot Labs millions of dollars, pay them billions to ramp up manufacturing. If Abbott Labs isn’t capable, buy their technology for whatever billions of dollars it would cost and throw billions more into building the infrastructure needed to mass produce and distribute the tests. Government can mobilize people and manufacturing virtually overnight to fight wars. This is war! Put the money and effort into manufacturing and distributing these tests.

    If people had the ability to self-test daily we could re-open the economy. Take professional sporting events or concerts for example. You want to go see the Leafs play the Canadiens Saturday night? Show that you have 7 straight days of negative results (apps can be designed for this). Arrive early to the game. You are administered another rapid test at the door to the arena and if negative you enter to enjoy the game. You are still required to wear a mask for extra protection. With testing, the world can get back to living and working.

    The likelihood of a miracle vaccine that will wipe away the Covid problem is small. We must assume that it is here to stay for a very long time. We have three choices: keep printing and giving away money to stave off depression while people stay home; dangerously start living a pre-Covid life resulting in millions of people catching the disease and dying; or go safely about normal living by having people test themselves on a daily basis. What am I missing? The answer is clear to me. The answer is testing. Test. Test. And test some more.

    We should be spending billions on solutions rather than trillions on stop gap measures. Someone has to stand up, take the reins and start providing the requisite leadership.

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