Writing for Patients on the Participatory Web: Heuristics for Purpose-Driven Personas

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Background: The participatory web complicates professional communicators' goals of providing accurate, usable, and trustworthy content, especially for health and medical topics. Professionals can better reach their audiences by understanding individuals'purposes for using e-health. Literature review: Previous literature has shown the need for audience analysis in e-health, and has called for personalized, nuanced, and contextualized methods for developing audience-centered content. Professional communicators in e-health can use personas as a strategy to help account for users' diverse, evolving, and extra-institutional purposes in accessing e-health, whether that content is professionally-generated or user-generated. Research questions: 1. What are patients' larger information-seeking contexts? 2. For what purposes do patients use e-health? 3. How can professional communicators leverage this deepened understanding of their audience's purposes to improve their content? Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with seven community members who self-identified as e-health users. They were asked about their larger health information-seeking practices, specific instances of using e-health, and website preferences. Results: Participants use e-health among other sources including medical professionals. They use an array of e-health sites, including professional and user-generated sites, and have diverse purposes in using that array of sites. Conclusion and implications: The results suggest that professional communicators deepen their audience analysis to account for informational context, emotional context, and the diverse and shifting purposes of their users. Heuristics for professionals are provided to develop purpose-driven personas.

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IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication