Thursday, 25 June 2015

Go for the plums!

Posted by Mark Welford, Fuse Communications Officer

The title of this post was the provocative take home message from a session on ‘Writing for the media and Public Health Today’ at the Faculty of Public Health (FPH) conference held at the Sage in Gateshead earlier this week.

Public Health Today is the quarterly magazine for FPH members, featuring a range of articles from topical news items, to in-depth interviews with key public health figures. It is distributed to over 3,300 public health professionals in the UK and internationally.

Led by Richard Allen, Productions Editor of the magazine, the session aimed to give attendees an idea of what he and his team are looking for from contributors. The FPH want to hear about your research, but there are ways in which you can make it more likely that what you provide ends up in the magazine. Much of this also applies to the media and providing journalists with stories through press releases.

As the title says: ‘go for the plums’. Hit readers with the most important, unexpected or unusual fact, anecdote, or quote first. Your top line may not be the most important message but the ‘sweetie on the top’ designed to draw readers in and convince them to read on.

The first sentence should get across the key message and/or provide a brief summary of the research in 20 words. Many articles that the FPH receive start from the beginning. Instead, reverse history and put the background in later with the conclusion first.

Be concise. Richard and his team are looking for articles of 550 words – stick to the word count. Remove the long words and jargon, the public health and management speak. Use everyday language and write acronyms in full in the first instance. The news stories on the BBC website provide a good example of this.

Include short quotes that add opinion or emotion. This humanises the story and brings it to life. Write as though you’re describing your research to an educated friend.

Each issue of Public Health Today is themed. June's edition is on sex. The themes of future issues aren’t easy to find but I did eventually discover them in the latest FPH e-bulletin.

The special features for the other editions in 2015 are:
  • September: Disasters & emergencies
  • December: Healthcare public health
An editorial board decide on the themes for the year ahead at a meeting in December. Could you suggest a theme?

Here are Richard’s top tips in a handy list:
  1. Go for the plums!
  2. Is there anything ‘new’ in my article – what’s current?
  3. Is there anything unusual or unexpected about it?
  4. Would this be of interest and understandable to anyone outside of public health?
  5. What, who, when, where and why?
  6. Reverse history 
  7. Be concise
  8. Keep sentences short
  9. Avoid jargon
  10. Avoid management speak
  11. Avoid acronyms
  12. Use quotes to provide insight, not information
  13. Stick to the word count
  14. No references /footnotes
  15. No multiple bylines
  16. Provide contact details
Richard, like me, was once a journalist and it’s helpful to be reminded of good practice. So I’m going to follow no.13 and keep to the 550 word limit.

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