For all our years of schooling, most mental health professionals are pretty good at writing professional papers and articles. We learned how to present different points of view; how to cite references; and how to be extra-cautious in drawing conclusions. That's fine when writing for colleagues.
But the scholarly style is all wrong when writing for the public. It's not that the public is less intelligent, but rather that they have a different agenda and different expectations.
This table highlights a few differences between writing for other professionals and writing for the public. Explanations follow.
1. Different goals. When writing for professional audiences your goal is typically to persuade them or to argue your point. Some people in general audiences are intellectually curious about your topic. But the majority who read about mental health issues are looking for answers to their questions or help for their problems.
2. Different scope. Scholarly papers are written to be as comprehensive as possible, so as not to omit relevant details. When writing for the public (especially online) it's better to have a narrow scope, focusing on limited aspects of a topic.
For example, instead of writing about stress in general, it's better to write about stress within a single segment of the population, such as stress among the unemployed, stress among single mothers, etc. You can write a similar article for each demographic, but tailor it with examples and tips that they can relate to.
3. Amount of documentation necessary. It's not unusual for a journal article or scholarly paper to have two pages of references. However, when writing for the public, most of the time it's sufficient to state: "Research shows that...," especially for findings that are widely accepted in the profession. If you are citing something specific, do provide a link to the source. But a detailed bibliography is not necessary.
4. Length. The comprehensive scope in scholarly writing is going to require many more words than the limited scope for writing for the public. Given people's general attention span these days, the ideal length for a blog post or article is about 500 words. If you have much more than that, break it down into two or more articles.
5. Writing style. The formal writing style typically found in journal articles falls flat with most general audiences. When your goal is to be helpful rather than to objectively present all data and points of view, people will be more interested if you write in a conversational tone, using the word "you" throughout, to draw your reader in.
More writing tips on the TPI blog: