The Writing Side of Your Profession and Practice
Kate Williams, MA
If you are a doctor practicing naturopathic medicine, you likely have been faced with multiple and varied occasions to write. For many of you, this may be excruciating and not what you signed up for. Charting patient visits is one thing, but Web site content, newsletters, brochures, handouts, presentations, letters and articles are another. Whether or not you are skilled at or interested in writing, giving your written material the attention and respect it deserves can significantly improve your success as a doctor, teacher and business owner.
Perception from the Written Word
Writing is intimately tied to patient communications, marketing, teaching and scholarship. If your writing doesn’t reflect your professional and personal abilities, you are at risk of being misunderstood or, worse, disrespected. You may have exceptional abilities or knowledge, but if your marketing materials, educational packages or presentations are poorly written, you risk losing opportunities to do your best work.
Even a seemingly insignificant communication can result in a misjudgment. In a clinic I once ran, a doctor wrote a homeopathic prescription for a patient that included directions. The words “under your tongue” were involved, and “tongue” was unwittingly misspelled. At the front desk, the patient commented, “I don’t know if I can trust a doctor who doesn’t even know how to spell ‘tongue’.” Although an absurdly minor miscommunication, it was enough to cause this patient not to return for care.
Consider the impact more involved written expressions of your work may have on readers. This includes your peers as well. If you give a presentation on an original clinical outcome in your practice, and your PowerPoint slides are full of careless errors, some listeners may excuse you because, well, you’re not a writer. Many, however, might equate the level of care you give to writing, referencing and presentation as an indication of the level of professionalism with which you conduct your practice and studies. What you offer in writing directly represents you, your work and to what degree you can be trusted. Integrity is critical in the ways you practice and in the writing that represents your practice.
There are a few simple things you can do to improve your writing experience and quality, whether it is a patient letter, newsletter, Web site content or peer-reviewed journal article. These tips will help you communicate what you know, who you are and what you are offering with more clarity, authority and authenticity.
- Identify your audience. Consider their familiarity with your topic and education level.
- Free up what you mean to say. Pay attention to your heart. Take time to hand-write notes, journal, diagram or create an outline for your project. Do not worry about how it sounds, the organization or grammar at this point. You may want to spend five minutes or a half hour or more depending on the extent of the project.
- Create a list of main points and key words, or a detailed outline.
- As you begin writing, ask yourself along the way: Am I saying what I mean? Will my audience understand my terminology, my level of information? Is the organization and content achieving my communication goal?
- Let your first draft sit. If time allows, wait a day before editing it. If your deadline is tight, at least go for a walk, run an errand or eat a meal before returning to it.
- When revising, read it out loud to yourself. Read it backwards to more easily find errors –grammar, spelling and typos.
- Have a couple of people you trust read it to check for comprehensibility, impact, grammar, spelling and typos.
It is to your advantage to give your professional writing the attention and importance it requires. Words are powerful; you can control whether they work for you or against you. If you are not a writer or have no desire to write, find someone who can or someone who can edit your work. Rather than shy away from needed writing, gather the resources to get the job done. Find a professional writer, editor or proofreader. Potential patients, current patients and colleagues will not only appreciate you for it, but also better understand you.
Kate Williams, MA at WordTurners, offers writing, editing and coaching services for natural healthcare providers, small businesses, non-profits and fellow writers. She has been writing and involved in the naturopathic community for more than 20 years. She lives and works in Portland, Ore.