So, you want to become a health writer?
Fantastic – not only have you chosen a seriously in-demand niche, you are looking to enter it at a time when opportunities abound. In previous times, the route to health writing followed a prescribed course – get a journalism degree, then secure an internship at a magazine or health industry newspaper and start working your way up until, hopefully, you get to write some lead stories.
The internet has turned that model on its head. In the process it has made health writing far more accessible to people with passion but no university qualifications. In this article, we’ll discover what you need to do in order to become a health writer in today’s environment.
Identifying Your Niche
As a freelance writer, you will be in a very crowded field. Unless you differentiate yourself, you’re going to get lost in a sea of competitors, many of whom have far more experience than you do. So, how do you differentiate yourself?
Rather than being one in a million general freelancers, it is far better to be one in a thousand health writers. And it is even better to be one in a hundred disease writers, or childhood illness writers, or fitness writers. The point is the more specialized you become, the less competition you will have. Specializing on a particular sub niche of your market will also allow you to position yourself as an expert more easily.
So, your first decision is to decide which sub-niche you want to focus on. Options include . . .
- Mental health
So, how do you go about choosing your sub niche?
Well, you need to choose between two basic divisions and then get more specific from there. Those two divisions are:
Health entails freedom from disease. So, you may decide to concentrate on a specific area of illness and specialize in writing about it. Subscribe to medical magazines and become an expert in that area. Keep up to date with the latest research in the field and you will always have something fresh to write about.
A lifestyle health writer focuses on disease prevention. This could be in the area of nutrition, fitness, supplementation or a number of other areas.
Building Your Writing Skills
Having decided on your specific health niche and developed your knowledge in that area, you need to develop your freelance writing skills specific to your chosen area. The first thing you’ll want to do is to develop a working knowledge of biology and the life sciences. To be able to become a serious health writer you need to be very familiar, not only with the meaning of a large number of life sciences terms, but be able to explain them simply to other people. To do this, you must have an interest in the subject.
You also need to be able to do credible research. This entails, first and foremost, finding credible sources. That often means referring to clinical studies. It takes quite a bit of experience to be able to understand studies such as those found on Pubmed. But you need to understand and then extract the key information in order to convey it in a way that is both informative and entertaining for your target audience.
If you start using sources that lack credibility then your own credibility will be shot. So be sure to only used reputable sources.
There are many health issues out there that you will get conflicting information on. One reason for this is that new research is always coming out that is questioning previous understanding.
One example of this has to do with the anabolic window for taking in protein after your workout. A few years ago, science was telling us that there is a critical 20-30 minute post workout window to get your protein in. But with more research we now know that the anabolic window is a myth. As long as you take protein into your body 2-3 hours after the workout, you will be good to go.
The anabolic window example highlights how important it is to use up to date, scientifically backed sources.
Here are some reputable sources to steer you in the right direction:
- Mayo Clinic
- Medical News Today
- Harvard Health Publishing
As a health writer you should be as specific as possible. Even though your job is to simplify the information for the average reader, you still need to capture the true essence of what a study is saying, rather than picking out the bits that support what you want to say.
Most of the readers of your articles will be internet browsers who are looking to answer specific problems. They want to find information that is easily accessible, That means writing simple, but engaging text that will hook them in, entertain them and inform them. Your goal should be to inspire your reader to an ‘aha’ moment.
Be conversational when you are writing. Imagine that you are a more knowledgeable friend having a discussion with the reader. Use humor, illustrations, statistics and examples to keep them entertained. And, above all, provide the reader with a valuable gem that they can carry away from the investment of time that they have given to you.
How To Find Clients
Finding clients is far easier than it used to be. Websites like Upwork allow freelancers from all over the world to team up with employers who are in need of their services. With Upwork, you create a profile of your skills, abilities and sample jobs. You are able to view real time job vacancies by the hundreds every day. When you find one that fits your niche you simply apply for it. The more jobs you complete, the more feedback you will receive. Once you build up a number of 5-star feedbacks, you will become more attractive to employers.
To build up 5-star ratings you may have to begin with low paying jobs. With patience, perseverance, and attention to detail, however, you will be able to forge a thriving business as an online health writer.