This article is based on content presented by Debbie Dakins and Colleen Cronin, at the AMWA Medical Writing & Communication Conference. It was originally published in the AMWA Journal.
You’ve heard the phrase “Put words into action”? Well that, my friends, is what I’m going to attempt to do here. In this recap of the 2016 AMWA conference presentation “Six Steps to Writing Content That Moves People,” I will try to apply what I learned from Debbie Dakins and Colleen Cronin’s tips to help writers create informational materials for the general public that can inspire and motivate people to make changes to improve their health and wellbeing.
Step 1: Be Conversational.
Dakins and Cronin recommended using a warm, friendly tone. They also cautioned against clinical and technical language. In other words, write as if you’re talking to a casual acquaintance. In addition, they advised writers to stick with the second person. I hope I’ve established a conversational, jargon-free tone. However, I hope you will give me a pass when I slip in a few first-person perspectives as I attempt to apply their recommendations to this write-up.
Step 2: Keep the Message Simple, Focused.
The big takeaway here is…to limit your takeaways. The presenters encouraged their audience to have clear objectives, to focus on no more than 3 key points, and to reiterate those points in the wrap-up. Again, I beg forgiveness because this is a review of 6 key ideas, so I’m going to stretch the takeaway recommendation a bit. But I promise to keep things simple.
Step 3: Promote Confidence and Choice.
Make health goals attainable and realistic. Dakins and Cronin emphasized the importance of avoiding shaming and fingerwagging. They added that when you’re writing to change health behaviors, you should try to put the reader in the driver’s seat. For example, I’m hoping that when you shift into writing gear, you will cruise away from this review remembering to test drive these 6 steps and see whether they help you engage your audience.
Step 4: Give Them a Reason to Act.
Nothing motivates us to make a change better than a clear idea of why it benefits us to do so. As the informational material the presenters shared points out, when your readers quickly see “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM), they are more likely to respond. And, they noted, don’t forget to stoke that ember of motivation with a call to action. So, the WIIFM for those of you who are glancing over this story? Better ways to write content that gets results. The call to action? Give some of these ideas a try when you finish this recap.
Step 5: Include the Unexpected.
To help illustrate the idea behind Step 5, Dakins and Cronin shared a smoking cessation video produced by Healthwise. While many smoking cessation materials focus on the risks and dangers of smoking, the Healthwise video shared the progressive health benefits a person experiences when they quit smoking. The refreshing, positive spin inspired 66% of those who viewed the video to report that they were now considering quitting. “If I’d been holding a mic when I heard that result,” said Dakins, “I’d have done the drop.” Peace out.
Step 6: Invite Reflection.
Actually, it’s not quite “peace out” yet. The final tip the presenters shared circled back to keeping things conversational, simple, and real. They advised the audience to acknowledge how difficult change can be and to pose their questions in a thoughtful, nonthreatening way that motivates the reader to mull things over and share questions with their health care professionals. Cronin noted that it helps her ensure sensitivity, as well as accuracy, when she receives input from behavioral psychologists and other specialists and colleagues before she finalizes materials.