Writing Your

For a variety of reasons, a practice probably will want to develop some of its own printed materials. Besides the advantage of control over content and format, this also carries the responsibility for accuracy and development of a good product. Practices can begin with a planning process that identifies the most important needs, based on common educational issues and the quality and usefulness of existing materials for these issues. Because accuracy is critical, a recent literature search is done to broaden the knowledge base before starting to write. This is most important if a physician is writing about a topic for a nonprescriptive material to use in the waiting room. However, it remains a useful process for prescriptive materials, even if the goal is simply to put down in writing the physician's usual advice for a problem.

A common pitfall is to try to include too much information in the material. Restrict the content to three or four salient teaching points. Avoid jargon, extensive use of statistics, and fear messages. Be clear with advice and specific with instructions. Use short words and short sentences to improve readers' comprehension. Ideally, test material on colleagues and patients before final reproduction in quantity. Such a review process can be invaluable.

Simple line drawings with a few labels are usually more effective than complex illustrations, with the added benefit of better reproduction. Subheads help readers find information, and sparing use of bold and italic type help to emphasize terms when needed. Use the active tense, avoid negatives, and do not use absolutes such as never, must, and always. Expert writers recommend use of the first person in phras ing questions and the use of the second person in answering them: "How often and how long should I exercise?" "For best results, you should exercise for at least 30 minutes, at least 3 times each week." When laying out material, leave plenty of white space on the page, avoid long strings of capital letters, use a font with serifs, and use a 10- or 12-point type size.

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