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The art of medical copywriting

Why effective medical copywriting is as much about empathy and attitude as understanding the science

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7 May 2021

By: Andy Baker

Data are beautiful, but our recognition of this can diminish after reviewing thousands of peer-reviewed papers and clinical trial reports, with their attendant armies of forest plots, Kaplan–Meier curves, confidence intervals and p values. The art of the copywriter in any technical field – but especially in the healthcare sciences – lies in distilling real meaning from the complexity of the science, so that the overall picture can be brought to life.

An understanding of the subject matter and an ability to interpret the data are critical, but it is equally important to understand our audience. Whether it is a healthcare professional, patient or other stakeholder, we need to recognise their challenges and anticipate their response. What is important to them? What is the memorable line that will inform their thinking and support their future decision-making?

We often describe this skill as demonstrating empathy – the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes, to try to appreciate the world through their eyes. Empathising with our audience is no simple task when we do not share their background, circumstances, challenges or outlook, but it is vital that we close this ‘empathy gap’. If we do not, then we risk misinterpreting trends and moods, wasting time on ineffective communication and potentially alienating the very audience we want to reach.

In theory, copywriters with a medical or scientific background should have an advantage in understanding the needs, expectations and outlooks of healthcare professionals, which is why it often helps to have an academic grounding in life science. This is not enough on its own, however. Attitude – a genuine appreciation of the science in all its complexity, and admiration for the work of researchers, healthcare professionals and other stakeholders – is just as important.

I love science and detail, and I feel fortunate to work in a field that allows me to immerse myself in research papers. I take great pleasure in reading about the latest scientific innovations and finding ways to translate complex ideas into understandable concepts. I would encourage any aspirant medical copywriter to adopt a similarly eclectic approach – immerse yourself, read around the topic and harness your enthusiasm for the science, as this will come across in your writing and bring the science to life.

A video version of this article can be viewed here.

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