Writing for Behavior Change — Helping Readers Gain Insight Through Stories

LP postTaking action is essential to learning. In fact, learning is often defined as a stable change in behavior.

At the same time, action is linked to insight. Readers can change their thinking in ways that support behavior change rather than undermine it.

While process learning concentrates on the how to dimension of learning, insight is concerned with why. Insight learning helps people define their values and build self-awareness. As a writer, you can use stories for both purposes.

Benefits of stories

Effective stories are dramatic examples that lead readers to conclude: This material is really about me. Stories lead people to this conclusion when they:

  • Make abstract ideas concrete by showing how a process actually plays out in “real life.”
  • Engage readers by adding entertainment and emotional force.
  • Provide readers with “experience, strength, and hope” (as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous) for overcoming daily difficulties.

Two kinds of stories

In instructional writing, stories exists on a continuum.

At one end of the continuum are gritty, concrete, realistic stories that “ring true” with readers. As in a good novel, the characters are people that we can identify with. They face the kind of problems that we actually face. They act like us. They talk like us. When these characters learn from experience, we learn along with them.

At the other end of the continuum are flat, generic, and sanitized stories. These lack authentic characters, details, and dialogue. Such stories are used transparently to illustrate a simplistic “right way” and “wrong way.” Actually, these are not stories so much as thinly veiled lectures. Some pompous ass is waving a finger at us and preaching about what we should do.

Writing effective stories

Writing stories is an art that calls for a lifetime of practice. We can learn a lot from good fiction writers. Some things you can do immediately, however, are to:

  • Write stories in first-person voice, where characters speak from the perspective of “I.”
  • Whenever possible, draw from real-life examples and verbatim dialogue.
  • Avoid academic terms, scientific terms, or jargon of any type that detracts from authenticity.

Note: This post is based on material from a company named Seward Learning Partners. I’ve tried to reach them for years. If anyone has contact information, please let me know.

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