Talking about science with a broad audience is a difficult task. It can be even more problematic for food and nutrition professionals trying to deliver sound recommendations about health, diet, and weight loss. That’s because we communicate in an environment filled with seeming constant contradiction and conflicting evidence. Whether it’s the latest celebrity diet or the most recent best seller demonizing some class of foods, we have to fight a lot of competing messages for our voice to be heard. [Tweet This]
So let’s cut through the mess. Here are four tips for developing content that is valid, informative, and can contend with the nutritional noise.
Capture your audience with a hook
Not specific to health and nutrition, this tip is really just about good writing. Even so, having a strong hook will help elevate your message above the rest.
The idea here is to compel your readers to keep reading beyond the first few lines. One of the best ways to do that is to offer a glimpse of the world as readers believe it to be, then reveal something surprising about the world as it really is. Here’s an example to illustrate the point: “High-protein diets are as popular as ever. But despite their claims of superior weight loss compared to other diets, the evidence suggests otherwise.”
For those convinced that high protein diets are the key to successful weight loss, this opener not only surprises them, it suggests there’s more to learn. It acts, in essence, as an invitation to keep reading.
Capitalize on your readers’ interest in health
A built-in advantage of writing about health and nutrition is that almost everyone is interested in the topic. This can be incredibly powerful when fighting the misinformation your audience is probably also consuming. Your readership might include people who’ve bought into inappropriate or unproven weight loss plans or dietary restrictions (e.g., gluten-free eating regardless of whether an individual suffers from gluten intolerance or celiac disease). But within readers’ pursuit of a powerful solution for weight management lies a basic desire for improved health. And that gives you an opportunity as a writer.
Let’s revisit the example from the tip above. It could be improved to better capture your readers’ inherent interest in health: “High-protein diets remain as popular as ever. But despite their claims of superior weight loss, the evidence suggests there may be a better way.” In modifying the second half of this opening line, we still offer a strong hook, but we also set the stage to write about a more evidence-based approach to weight loss. And because people care, there’s a good chance they’ll want to learn what it is they can do better even if the information to come is counter to what they initially believed.
Offer your readers a scientific foundation, but don’t overwhelm them
Of utmost importance in writing about health and nutrition is sticking to the evidence. [Tweet this] This can be hard because competing messaging usually comes with exaggerated, even outlandish claims of rapidly improved health or almost impossible rates of weight loss (e.g., “Lose 20 pounds in 20 days!”).
That’s why it’s key to provide a concise scientific foundation for your piece and then stick to that message. If you cite studies, do so in a way that continues to make the same point. Providing a depth of evidence for a single argument will be far more powerful, and probably less confusing, than providing thin evidence for multiple points at once. This is especially important if your space is limited. And it can be effective against the skepticism your readers might feel if you’re trying to debunk nutritional misinformation as part of your piece.
Provide actionable next steps
The best articles on health and nutrition leave the reader with something to do. Try distilling what you’ve written into 2-4 action steps. These should be positive in nature and focused on improvement. This will give your readers a manageable set of opportunities to take what they learned from you and apply it. These steps can include anything from providing resources to learn more to actual strategies for healthier eating and weight loss.
An added benefit of this strategy is that you also provide yourself a series of topics for follow-up articles. And that gives you the chance not only to engage your readers on an interesting topic, but to grow your audience over the course of multiple pieces. If you do this well, you’ll create a readership who will begin to look to you as a trusted source of information.
Don’t let the volume of misinformation and messaging turn you away. Instead, use the power of good writing and strong evidence to give your audience the best health and nutrition advice they can find. [Tweet This]
Christopher W is a professor of nutrition, sustainability, and health. He uses his diverse set of experiences as well as a strong knowledge base to write for both scientific and professional audiences as well as lay audiences.
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