One of the acupuncturists that I think of as a really good writer and blogger had a great question on the last post. Sometimes we hedge because we’re afraid of making sweeping statements that will mislead people or are not true.
I am not an attorney so I cannot speak to the legalities of writing beyond what I understand. This was a disclaimer. When you’re a medical professional and are writing about what you know online it’s always good to have a disclaimer on your blog or website. You want to write about what you know and what you know as true but you can’t have people reading what you say and decide they have a level of expertise they do not have. Remind people that the information you are presenting is not for self diagnosis and no one try treatments without consulting a medical professional. If you are writing about acupuncture, then this should be an acupuncturist.
Beyond the disclaimer how do you write strongly written articles that are true but take into account that nothing is 100% effective. First, there’s the percentage indicator. “Most”,” many”, “some”, “several”, and “a few” are vague. 90% is concrete and not vague and makes a much stronger statement than using a more general term. “Three out of four patients got relief” is also a stronger term than the vague amounts of most or many. “All patients at my clinic have cancelled back pain surgeries within 6 treatments,” is also an accurate and verifiable statement. If you feel you need to hedge that further, “To date, all patients at my clinic have cancelled back pain surgeries within 6 treatments.” That statement actually is true. However, I have only had three patients who had already scheduled surgery prior to coming into my clinic. All three subsequently cancelled their surgeries at the recommendation of their surgeon.
When trying to avoid hedging, get more specific. Being very specific means that you are far less worried about the general public but only about people who fall in the specific sub category about which you are writing. If you are talking about back pain in general, use an example like the one above. That is true but it makes no promises.
Another way to hedge is to be purposely broad. “Acupuncture helps back pain,” is a true statement and is verifiable by studies done at the NIH. This is a strong sentence that can be backed up with minimal research. While I know this statement to be verifiable as the truth, it is tempting to write, “Acupuncture helps most people with back pain.” This is not such a strong sentence. Technically it is also true because nothing helps 100% of the people 100% of the time. The first sentence is perfectly legitimate because it is broad enough to encompass a generality. Acupuncture is the subject. What is it doing? It is helping. Does acupuncture help? Yes. What does it help with in the sentence? It is helping with back pain. It makes no claims to how many people or how often it helps. The only claim is that it helps.
It is possible to write strong articles and hedge the promises if you write mindfully. Be creative about not using sweeping statements. Words like “every time”, “everyone” and “always” are just as bad as “most”, “many”, “several” and “a few.” The “every” words make promises that cannot be kept 100% of the time. In the same way “most” weakens the sentence when something is only 90% effective. As a reader, I feel more empowered to try something knowing that it is 80, 90 or 75% effective than that it is effective “most” of the time.