Thursday, May 14, 2009

Choosing Your Words

Image credit: surrealmuse

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: choose your words wisely. This general rule of communication applies to everything from talking to friends and family to drafting a journal article.

Working as an advocate (and a blogger) means that my words have to be chosen precisely. This doesn't mean that I spend hours poring over posts before sharing them with the world, but all of us here at New Voices make a considerable effort to pick clear, concise, meaningful words that enhance our posts. And in advocacy, having a simple, memorable message is worth the time it takes to develop it.

Words have different meanings to different people. Even if we avoid jargon, common terms can make varying impressions on members of an audience. In a recent article in The Permanente Journal, "From Our Lips to Whose Ears? Consumer Reaction to Our Current Health Care Dialect," the authors discuss how common health terms like medical home, best practices, evidence-based medicine, treatment guidelines, coordinated care, value, and teamwork resonate with the American public. The study showed that most words were not received well, despite their "simplification for public consumption". Perhaps American humorist Erma Bombeck puts it best:
"...Doctor and patient do not speak the same language. They speak Latin. We speak Reader's Digest."
An expert on words, Frank Luntz recently spoke to Republicans on how to frame their health messages. His advice is based on information culled from the American public and has made lasting impacts on how we talk about certain issues in this country (think: climate change, death tax, etc.). How does he - and others like him - do it? Check out this 2004 PBS Frontline special The Persuaders. [It's worth the time to understand the research behind the social science.]

You probably don't need to message test everything you want to say before you say it, but it is good to remember that the words you share may not always have the effect you intend them to.

Just a little food for thought.

1 comment:

  1. This is good advice for everyone - whether you're advocating or not.

    Also, this post reminded me of a Healthcare Economist post about the winner of the best Google Knol 'how-to' article, which is about effective communication (in this case between a patient and his/her doctor).