We’ve all been there. You are asked to write a newsletter article, a speech or op-ed about a topic that is very complicated and technical. The piece is intended for an audience that is unfamiliar with the subject matter and its jargon. How do you explain your ideas in a way that can be easily understood?
At Toshiba America Medical Systems Inc., we were faced with this very challenge when the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed into law. As more of our healthcare provider customers began asking what the new Act would mean to them, it quickly became apparent that we could empower our sales team to help answer this question. We did so through an internal newsletter that broke down complicated healthcare legislation into concepts that were easy to digest and share with others.
The most efficient way to go about tackling complicated topics is to have a plan in place that allows you to learn about the topic, explain it simply, and then test your copy before it’s published. Following the steps below will help you when writing about healthcare legislation or any other equally hard-to-understand topic.
Use Company Knowledge Experts
You cannot effectively write about a subject until you fully understand it yourself. One of the best ways to learn is by going straight to the subject-matter experts at your company. These are the people who live and breathe what you need to write about. Unlike reading about a topic, this gives you the chance to ask follow-up questions to make sure that you fully grasp the topic. Internal experts will also be able to tell you why this information should matter to your audience, and what call to action should be made.
Do Additional Research to Fill in the Blanks
While the knowledge experts can explain a subject, it’s still useful to do some additional reading on your own. This will give you a chance to verify any figures you’ve been provided and locate places you can direct readers for more information.If you find additional information that wasn’t covered by the knowledge experts the first time, you may find it necessary to speak with them again.
Write in an Easy-to-Read Format
We have found that using a question-and-answer format works best for our audience. This allows us to simplify the topic by breaking it into individual concepts, focusing on key points.
Make sure that you provide answers not only to the questions you want your audience to be able to answer but also to questions they might be wondering about. For example, we made sure to provide answers about what the most important changes in new legislation will be for our industry. We followed this up by answering our audience’s question: “What does this mean to me and my customers?”
Use Simple Language
When you find yourself submersed in a topic, this can be a hard step to follow, but it’s an important one. In healthcare, as in other industries, we use acronyms and words that almost make up a secret language. To help avoid a lack of understanding due to this pitfall, change or explain words in your copy that are not commonly used outside of your industry.
The simpler you make the explanation, the easier the concept will be for your audience to grasp.
Have Others Unfamiliar With the Topic Review it
Once you feel you have answered every possible question for your readers using simple language, it’s time to test your copy. Have someone who doesn’t know the subject matter read your piece and tell you if there is anything that they don’t understand. Ask them if there are any questions left unanswered. If someone unfamiliar with the topic can read the piece and understand it, then you have done your job well.
Now that you have a plan, the next time you are asked to write something about a complex topic, it should be easier to do. Perhaps more important, your copy will be easier for your audience to understand and share with others socially.
This article originally appeared in the March 14, 2016 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.