Why are hashtags so powerful, you ask? They may seem merely decorative, but they’re actually key to how Twitter curates its content. Hashtags direct users to related topics and events. And when users search a hashtag that you’ve used, they can see your content—even if they’re not following you on Twitter! (Mind: blown.)
So if you want to increase your reach and optimize your Twitter content, use hashtags! Follow these tips to up your hashtag game:
Choose relevant hashtags. Sure, using random, popular hashtags might drive a few eyeballs to your post. But if the tag doesn’t fit, you risk disappointing people and losing potential followers. No one wants to search for #HealthLit and find, you know, unicorns.
Aim for 2 hashtags max in a single tweet. Research shows that crowding tweets with a million hashtags means less engagement, not more. It gets tiresome quickly — #just #look #how #annoying #it #is #to #read #this. There may be times when it makes sense to use more than 2 (like if you’re participating in a Twitter chat with multiple hashtags), but 2 is a good rule of thumb to prevent hashtag fatigue.
Search hashtags before you tweet. Search on Twitter and Google to make sure your hashtags are credible, current, and popular. Tweeting about the #flu? Check which hashtags CDC is using! And searching also helps you make sure your hashtags don’t pull up unintended stuff in the Twitterverse. (Because you really might be surprised by hashtag search results. Like, really surprised. We sure have been.)
Capitalize each new word in a hashtag. This helps keep things #EasyToRead in hashtags with multiple words.
Check the Twitter trending topics.If you’re looking for hashtag inspo, find out which ones are trending in your area. Just remember: only use hashtags that are relevant to your content!
Now, dear readers, take this #TwitterWisdom out into the world and do great Twitter-related things!
The bottom line:Use relevant hashtags to engage with audiences on Twitter—and get the most out of your #HealthLit tweets.
Alt: A cat sitting on a human’s head says, “As a cat on a head I need catnip-scented shampoo to mask the scent of my human.” The human replies, “Hey! Will you quit tellin’ people that?!”
Let’s say you’re creating a complex health communication product, like a website with health content for patients, doctors, and researchers. That’s quite the task! Each of those user groups might come to your site looking for different kinds of information—and it’s your job to make sure the site meets each group’s needs.
So how do you start? We’ve talked before about our love of personas to keep users’ goals top of mind. In this week’s installment of We ❤ Health Literacy, we’re adding another tool to your health literacy toolbox: user need statements.
User need statements (also called user stories) help define the big-picture problem you’re trying to solve on behalf of your users. And they’re a key part of the user-centered design process.
Follow these tips to craft a great user need statement:
Focus on what, not how. Keep the statement focused on the problem you’re trying to solve—and don’t skip ahead to half-baked solutions.
Be specific. Vague, amorphous user statements beget vague, amorphous products. The more specific your statement is, the better!
Make it actionable. Point your team toward the must-solve problems with direct, actionable language.
Got it? Great! Now…. what exactly do these fancy statements look like? User need statements have 3 components: user, action, and reason. They look like this: “As a [user], I want to [action], so that I can [reason].”
Ready to see some user need statements in action? Try these on for size:
As a parent, I want to find activities my family can do together so we can be healthier—and so my kids will put down their electronic devices.
As an older patient, I want to easily find contact information for my doctors so I can ask follow-up questions.
As a project director at a county health department, I want to know how other communities are combatting tobacco use so that I can build a successful anti-tobacco program in my county.
The bottom line:Write user need statements to define the problem you’re trying to solve—your users will ❤ you for it!
Alt: A mom doodle with a baby and a “Geriatric” sign around her neck says, “What the dangin’ heck? I’m only 36!” The baby doodle wears a sign that reads, “Failure to thrive.” The baby’s thinking, “…and I prefer ‘petite’ thank you very much!”
Picture this: you’re 36 years old, you’re pregnant, and you’ve already got plenty of things to worry about. Will your future child get into a good college? Require expensive orthodontia? Fall in with a bad crowd and bring shame upon the family?
Then your doctor gestures at your midsection and refers—in a casual, chummy sort of way—to your “geriatric” pregnancy. Say what? The word “geriatric” tends to conjure nursing homes, not nursing mothers. But doctors commonly use it to describe pregnancies in women over age 35.
Even if you steer clear of “geriatric,” the other options aren’t much better. “Advanced maternal age” and even “older moms” send the same misleading and derogatory message: you’re too old to be pregnant. So, dear readers, what’s a better way to talk about age and pregnancy? Use neutral language and stick to the facts.
Instead of this:
Advanced maternal age is tied to increased risk of gestational diabetes.
Extra screenings are recommended for geriatric pregnancies.
If you’re over age 35, you’re at higher risk for gestational diabetes.
If you’re over age 35, ask your doctor about extra screenings you may need.
Problem solved? Not so fast! The judgment fest doesn’t stop after the birth. If your baby is on the low end of the growth charts, doctors may call it “failure to thrive.” That’s right, babies can fail at growing up, just like their moms can fail at… staying young.
Terms like “failure to thrive” may be convenient catchalls for insurance-coding purposes, but they’re no help at all to anxious new parents. Instead, address the specific problem head on: “If your baby isn’t growing quickly enough, take these steps to help them gain more weight.” See? That’s one parental panic attack averted.
The bottom line: Give pregnant women and tiny babies a break—skip the judgy medical terms and use plain, neutral language.
Alt: A doodle stands at a computer screen that reads, “Deleting 2000 pages.” Another doodle says, “Hey bud! Whatcha up to?” The first doodle replies, “I’m sparking joy!”
If you’ve done any spring cleaning lately, chances are you got some inspiration from tidying expert Marie Kondo’s KonMari method. Kondo encourages people to jettison objects that don’t “spark joy” and embrace a simpler, tidier lifestyle. This week, we’re applying Kondo’s rules to another space that may be in need of some decluttering: (y)our beloved health websites.
That’s right, dear readers, it’s time to sweep out the cobwebs and take out the trash before your website devolves into a hoarder’s paradise. Effective content maintenance doesn’t just mean updating and adding pages—it means retiring content that’s outlived its usefulness.
Here’s our spin on Kondo’s 6 basic rules of tidying, web content edition:
1. Commit yourself to tidying up your web content. Don’t let maintenance slide when shiny new projects come along. Implement a regular content maintenance schedule and stick to it.
2. Imagine your ideal website. When deciding whether to keep or kill content, it’s important to have a guiding vision in mind. Make sure you’re working toward well-defined goals for your site, and not just retiring pages willy-nilly.
3. Finish discarding problem content first. We’ve all seen it: the site that invests in flashy new homepage content every week, but clearly hasn’t done a full content inventory since the early 2000s. Remember, users could end up anywhere on your site — so prioritize weeding out content you don’t want them to see.
4. Assess content by category, not just by location. Kondo says to tidy up category by category, not room by room. And looking at content by type rather than by location on your site can help identify miscategorizations, duplications, and content areas that are turning into silos.
5. Follow the right order in your content process. It can be tempting to jump right in and start tossing troublesome pages down the trash chute of web history—but skipping steps can lead to wasted effort. Make sure you have buy-in from all your stakeholders before you start making updates.
6. Ask your users if the content sparks joy. You may squeal with happiness over your content, but does it send your users into similar fits of ecstasy? Without user research, you can’t know for sure. Investing in user research will help you make informed decisions about your content and ensure that it sparks joy for the end users—not just for the content creators.
The bottom line: Tidying up your website means figuring out what sparks joy for your users—and letting go of content that sparks… less joyful feelings.
Alt: Several doodles engage in various activities below the words “WHHL Presents: Hypertension.” One doodle jumping rope says, “I’m more hyper than all you dweebs combined!” Another doing jumping jacks says, “Jumping jacks are the only true hyper activity you hosers!”
When you hear the word tension, what comes to mind? The force of your blood pumping against your artery walls, you say? Well, you might be the only one!
For all our fellow jargon naysayers out there, here’s a new installment of our “use simpler words” series. Today’s target: “hypertension.”
Hypertension is medical jargon for high blood pressure. And while fancy-pants words are always on our chopping block, this one is especially tricky because it contains 2 red herrings for people with limited health literacy: “hyper” and “tension.”
For example, a reasonable person might associate “hyper” with toddlers who just hit the sugar sauce, and “tension” with adults who are feeling a bit, ahem, saucy. And we’re guessing those associations won’t have anyone running for the blood pressure cuff.
Besides the potential for “hypertension” to mislead people, there’s another really good reason not to use it. That’s right, dear readers, it’s one of those jargon terms that has a super straightforward and totally accurate substitute.
So skip phrases like:
Hypertension increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Get tested for hypertension regularly.
And go for these easy options instead:
High blood pressure increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Get your blood pressure checked regularly.
The bottom line: Don’t send your readers’ blood pressure through the roof—skip “hypertension.”
Alt: A group of Game of Thrones doodles stand huddled around a set of instructions for slaying White Walkers. The instructions have placeholder text, outdated information, a missing image, and the useful information in the wrong spot. A note at the bottom reads, “This is wrong! -Ed.”
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you may have followed the gripping drama of the takeout coffee cup that appeared in a recent episode of the fantasy TV series. And if one anachronistic beverage blunder wasn’t enough, a plastic water bottle made a cameo in the finale!
These kinds of bloopers are all fun and games in a TV show, but out-of-place content in health materials can have real-world consequences. So today we’re sharing tips to keep sneaky unwanted elements out of your health communication products.
Watch out for these common content interlopers:
Imposters. You may not be in danger of leaving your morning coffee in your poster copy, but what about leaving in placeholder text? Always clearly mark your placeholders, so you don’t risk publishing imposters instead of real content.
Time travelers. Game of Thrones encountered drink containers from the future, but in health content you’re more likely to run into relics from the past. Outdated stats and figures are easy enough to catch. But keep a special eye out for outdated terminology—especially language describing groups of people. Stay informed about preferred terms for different demographics, and update any language that’s past its prime.
Trespassers. Identifying bad content is one thing—but what about good content that’s in the wrong place? Content can trespass by addressing the wrong audience, veering off topic, or failing to fit the format. It’s your job to relocate these trespassers to materials where they’ll feel more at home.
Space oddities. When lots of different people touch content, absurdities can sneak in along the way. It’s a bit like a game of telephone: writers, editors, designers, developers, and subject matter experts pass content back and forth, and eventually something gets lost (or garbled) in translation. Always make time to reread the final product with fresh eyes to catch things that just don’t belong.
The bottom line: Keep an eye out for interlopers in your health materials—and banish out-of-place content (coffee cups included).
Alt: A family of doodles is piled on a couch watching a movie. One says, “I wish Dennis Quaid was MY dad.” Another cowers behind a pillow, wondering, “Is this our future?!” A third says, “Now that’s what I call a Statue of Li-brrr-ty…”
Climate change is one of the most important public health issues of our time. And that means we all need to talk about it! But it can be hard to confront problems that seem so hopeless and overwhelming.
So today, we’re broaching this stressful subject from the Hollywood angle. What better way to approach our own real-life disaster scenario than with a blockbuster disaster movie? What better way to confront actual global warming than by watching an imaginary Ice Age rapidly descend on the northern United States? That’s right, dear readers, we’re talking about 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow.
In this pseudoscientific action flick, a rogue paleoclimatologist (Dennis Quaid, burly science dad) begs world leaders to address climate change before it’s too late. Shockingly, they refuse. And the very next day, climate change arrives to rub their noses in it.
Just as Dennis predicted, glacial melt makes the ocean a tad less salty, disrupting currents and triggering an unprecedented storm system (hurricanes forming over land!) that plunges the northern hemisphere into a new Ice Age. Oh, and it all happens in a matter of days.
So will climate change really turn Manhattan into a walk-in freezer in less than a week? No, not really. But the possibility of so-called “abrupt climate change” is science fact, not science fiction. These events, when major climate shifts play out on a scale of years or decades rather than centuries, have happened before. And recent human-caused climate change makes these abrupt events more likely to happen in the future.
The real-world stakes are high—that much is clear. But what can The Day After Tomorrow teach us about climate change and public health?
Keep pushing for policy changes. The world leaders in the movie fail to take action before disaster strikes—just as many world leaders today are dragging their heels on climate action. But as the movie shows, delaying tough decisions on climate change leads to far greater political costs—not to mention loss of life—in the future.
Be ready for community-level action. When political leaders fail to act, the responsibility to find solutions falls on regular people. In the movie, we see a band of strangers work together to survive in the New York Public Library, burning volumes of tax law to stay warm and scavenging medicine for a girl with an infected wound. Hopefully, you won’t have that particular experience. But we all need to be thinking about local responses to these global problems.
Remind decision-makers that we all have skin in the game. The vice president scoffs at Dennis’s plan to abandon the entire northern United States to the ice—until he learns that the climatologist’s own son is in Manhattan. And no matter where you live on planet Earth, your kids will be affected by real-world climate change.
Don’t count on Dennis Quaid to save everybody. His son may survive till the end credits, but plenty of other people get frozen solid. So if Dennis Quaid is your dad, maybe he can be your climate emergency plan. The rest of us are going have to save ourselves. And that means talking about these unpleasant problems and working together to find solutions.
The bottom line: Watch The Day After Tomorrow for some truly wild weather—and some serious motivation to confront the impacts of climate change on public health.
Alt: A doodle with baby doodle in tow pinches the cheeks of an older adult doodle, saying “Who’s my faaaaaaavouwit peppep?”—and a bunch of other baby talk babble.
Here at We ❤ Health Literacy Headquarters, we value health communication that shows respect for the audience—that goes for written materials and face-to-face conversations. So today, we’re offering tips to help you avoid a communication style that’s the opposite of respectful: elderspeak.
Elderspeak is an all-too-common, patronizing way of speaking to older adults. It uses:
Pet names, like “honey” and “sweetie”
“We” in place of “you”
Loud, slow speech with a high pitch
Imagine you’re at the doctor’s office and your doctor says to you, “Okay now, hun, we’re going to take this medicine twice a day, once when we wake up and once at beddy-bye. And don’t forget we need to drink water with it—right, sweetie?”
Now imagine your doctor says this instead: “Okay, Phyllis. You need to take this medicine 2 times every day with water—once in the morning and once at night. If you have any questions, feel free to give me a call.”
We don’t know about you, dear readers, but that second scenario would get a much better response out of us. An adult patient is far more likely to follow advice from a nurse, doctor, or other caregiver who treats them like, well, an adult.
So why all the baby talk? Some caregivers may think elderspeak makes it easier for older adults to understand complicated health information—especially patients who have cognitive disabilities, like dementia or aphasia. But there’s research about nursing home care that suggests otherwise—some studies link the use of elderspeak to resistance to care in older adults with dementia.
So, skip the elderspeak! And use these tips when speaking to older adults:
Treat older adults like…adults.Newsflash! (Hardly.) Just because someone is older doesn’t mean they want to be treated like a tiny baby.
Use the same tone of voice you would use with any adult. If you’re using the same voice with aging humans that you use with cute little puppies, you’re doing it wrong.
Check for understanding.Rather than assuming patients don’t get it, do a “teach back” to make sure you’re on the same page.
Match your communication style to the individual, not their age range. Diseases like Alzheimer’s may require special approaches to communication. But not every older adult has cognitive problems, and elderspeak is never the solution.
The bottom line: Skip the elderspeak to show respect—and improve health communication with older adults.
We’ve written in the past about banishing some words (POBAs, to be specific) from your research reports. Today, we’re continuing the theme of word choice in research writing. Have you ever noticed how qualitative research reports use words that represent quantities—like many, some, several, few—and wondered why the writer didn’t just use a number instead?
Well, dear readers, that’s because the findings of qualitative research are just that—qualitative, not quantitative. Remember, this type of research looks at things like people’s beliefs, behaviors, and experiences. That’s pretty tricky to represent in numbers!
Let’s look at an example. Say you did a study with 8 participants, and you found that half of them understand how to enroll in Medicare. People reading that result may well assume that 50% of the millions of people eligible to enroll in Medicare already understand how to do so—which is definitely not what you’re saying! The numbers in a study like this aren’t representative of the larger population, which is why it’s not a good idea to report them.
Now this isn’t to say numbers are left out of the qualitative research party altogether. They can be super helpful behind the scenes during the analysis process—we can use them to help interpret the meaning of descriptive data, like what participants said or did during a study. But when it comes to reporting qualitative research, numbers generally don’t cut it.
So is it ever appropriate to report numbers in qualitative research reports? Occasionally! For example, you might use numbers to:
Emphasize an important outlier viewpoint (“At least 1 participant said they didn’t understand the main message”)
Describe the demographics of your study sample (“5 out of 8 participants were female”)
Report the number of participants who completed a task during usability testing (“4 participants failed to complete the second task”)
Bottom line: When reporting on qualitative research, use numbers sparingly — and only when they add nuance to your findings.
Tweet about it: Reporting on qualitative findings? @CommunicateHlth has tips for using numbers (or not) to add meaning to #HealthLit research: [link]
Alt: A designer doodle speaks to a small crowd of overwhelmed doodles. He says, “…So as you can see, I chose a pristinely kerned font family with perfect x-height and expertly applied, staggeringly precise leading and tracking — then meticulously hand-curated artisanal imagery to create an aesthetically pleasing experience for all users with nary a widow or orphan in sight…”
Ever had that moment where you’re talking about a product with a designer and you feel like you’re speaking a different language? Well, that may be because you sort of are! But never fear—we’re here to help you find your way out of design lingo (or limbo).
There’s a lot of design jargon out there, so we’ll start by breaking down a few of the most common terms related to typography.
Font families are collections of related fonts within a single typeface that have a variety of styles and weights. For example, Cooper Hewitt is the name of a typeface, and its font family includes Cooper Hewitt Thin, Light, Book (sometimes Roman or Regular), Medium, Semibold, Bold, Heavy, and Italic. And keep in mind that these days, the term “font” refers to the actual file that contains the typeface, not necessarily the typeface itself—interesting, right?
Leading (say “ledding,” not “leeding”) is the space between lines of text. You may also hear people refer to it as “line height.” When leading is tight, your content gets hard to read because it looks cramped. But content with too much line spacing can be problematic, too, because readers may get lost. So try to strike a good balance. Standard leading is 120% of the text size, but it’s okay to go beyond that if you think your content needs a bit more room to breathe.
Tracking refers to word spacing, and kerning refers to the space between individual letters. You may hear these terms when a design team is working on something like a logo because they’ll want lots of control over the typeface. Adjusting spacing can drastically change the overall appearance of the text and really help sell the overall aesthetic of a piece. That said, any typeface worth its salt will have the tracking and kerning adjusted to complement its aesthetic, so it’s generally A-OK to use the typeface in its natural state.
Widows and orphans (no, not those widows and orphans) are single words that end up as the only text at the beginning or end of a column or page. Designers try to avoid these stragglers since they leave too much white space and can interfere with reading flow between pages. Luckily, they’re pretty easy to get rid of by realigning the page margins or making very minor content tweaks.
There you have it, dear readers! Understanding these terms can help you collaborate with your design team and create super awesome health communication products.
The bottom line: Wrapping your head around some typography-related design jargon can prove quite useful when collaborating with designers.
Tweet about it: .@CommunicateHlth breaks down some common terms related to typography to help you talk the (design) talk when creating #HealthLit