When writing online, one of the biggest questions is whether or not to use the word “you.” While it’s a straightforward word, its impact can be strong. Plain language champions the use of “you” to connect directly with readers. But, especially in sensitive areas like healthcare, does it always work?

Using “you” can make content feel personal, like a one-on-one chat. But in topics that are already intense or intimate, such as health matters, “you” might hit too close to home. Example: “Your doctor will open your abdomen and examine your bowel for cancer” is direct, but also alarming. Compare that with “The doctor will examine the patient’s bowel for signs of cancer,” which offers a bit more distance.

From my experiences and interactions with experts in the field, I’ve come up a few guidelines for using “you” in sensitive content areas:

  1. Consistency is Key: If you choose to use “you”, make sure it remains consistent throughout the page. Avoid switching tones midway, as this can confuse and alienate your audience.
  2. Logistical Pages Benefit from Personal Touch: Pages that guide the reader on practical matters, such as “What you need for your first appointment” or “Communicating with your doctor”, should ideally employ “you” for a more direct and helpful tone.
  3. The Empathy Test: Picture yourself in the reader’s position. If you’re discussing a challenging subject, envision being a patient or a loved one of that patient. If the content evokes strong negative emotions or discomfort, it may be worth revisiting your choice of words.

Choosing to use “you” or not depends on your topic and how it might make readers feel. The most important thing? Make sure your message is clear and shows you understand your readers.

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