How To Write to Experts…About Something They’re Not An Expert In
If you are working in marketing for a life science or healthcare company, chances are, you are writing to a pretty intelligent audience. You may be writing to business executives, seasoned journalists, and Ph.D. scientists. But just because your readers are intelligent, that doesn’t mean they are experts in everything.
Writing to experts who are not in your field, especially in science writing, is a unique communications skill because it requires that you explain complex topics in a way your audience will understand without making them so simple that you insult their intelligence. It is likely that your audience will be familiar with the concepts you describe, but it is your job to express them clearly, providing the reader with all the information they need to comprehend what you’re trying to explain.
Successful expert writing requires concentration in two key areas: 1. using vocabulary that your audience knows or can learn quickly, and 2. making sure your writing flows well enough for your audience to keep up. Here, I will describe strategies to use when writing to an audience of decision-makers at businesses who do not necessarily have expertise in the topic you are writing about and journalists who might not have a science background at all.
The Problem with Jargon
Many writers blame poor science writing and communications on one habit: using jargon. Scientists use jargon to convey complex topics concisely across their community, but these terms largely do not translate outside of their fields, such as among business executives and journalists. Jargon sounds smart, but it’s confusing to people who are not in the know. You may feel that jargon is necessary to convey complex topics with confidence, but I’m here to tell you that it is possible to write intelligently and clearly at the same time.
One way to improve the clarity of your science writing is to avoid jargon altogether, but this can be difficult to accomplish when you’re writing to others about complicated topics. Many esoteric concepts you’ll encounter regularly in science marketing center around terms that you just can’t avoid and that you’ll have to teach to your audience. For life science marketers, those terms include CRISPR, antibodies, next-generation sequencing, etc. Additionally, sacrificing concision to avoid a particular word or phrase can actually cause more confusion, and “dumbing down” your writing by skipping complicated but pertinent details will hinder your ability to accurately convey your message.
Using Jargon Wisely
If you need to use jargon in your writing, use it carefully. You must define complicated terms the first time they are mentioned, using terminology your audience will understand.
For example, have you ever heard the term “Pacinian corpuscle?” I’m guessing you haven’t. But if you were a reporter and I was pitching you a story about important research on the Pacinian corpuscle, I’d have to use the term. To make its meaning clear, I would simply define it up front. You can start like this: “the Pacinian corpuscle, a type of nerve ending in your skin that senses vibration and pressure, is commonly examined by neuroscientists who study the sense of touch.” By defining the term at its first mention, I’ve given myself license to use it throughout the rest of the article without having to dumb down my vocabulary or write too verbosely to avoid the phrase.
Your Audience Can’t Read Your Mind
As you continue writing your pitch or article, you must remember that your audience not only has a different vocabulary than you, but they also think differently than you. No matter how smart your readers are, they are not mind readers: They will not know what you are thinking about unless you write it down on the page.
Many expert writers fail to write down all the elements they need to convey their message. While the writer has the luxury of knowing what is going on in his or her head, the reader only has access to what the author wrote down, and he or she might get lost simply because they are not privy to the full story. Although it often happens inadvertently, failing to spell out a full argument can make your writing appear choppy and disjointed; it will confuse your reader because it doesn’t flow. This kind of writing does not make for successful marketing content.
How to Make Your Writing Flow
Flow is critical for a strong argument. While you do not necessarily have to hold your audience’s hand, you do need to provide them with at least enough information to enable them to draw a conclusion from your writing. If you are writing about a phenomenon your audience is not familiar with, you must give your audience a chance to link the important concepts together to create a continuous story. This will keep your audience, such as a journalist, engaged, because he or she will be able to follow your thoughts as if they were looking directly into your brain.
All in all, if you want check if you’re maintaining flow, you must remove yourself from your writing and become a reader of your own work. This becomes more challenging the longer you stare at a draft, so one option is to leave your draft alone for a day or two and revisit with fresh eyes and hopefully a slightly more removed view of the concepts you’re writing about. This will make it easier to catch areas where you did not finish the story on paper.
Know Your Audience
Writing to intelligent businesspeople, scientists, and journalists can be challenging. This skill requires that you strike the right balance between writing intelligently and writing simply. As a marketing professional, you will always need to share complex information in a convincing manner, so your writing needs to be strong and coherent. By estimating your audience’s vocabulary and their way of thinking, you can write in a way they will understand, and your message will get through to the people who need to hear it.
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