Tip Sheets

Writing health stories with impact

"One good word is worth a thousand pictures." --Eric Sevareid, CBS News


  • Junk jargon
    Translate medical terminology. Tell the story to a friend.

  • Avoid loaded words
    Is it really a "breakthrough" or a "cure?"
    Don't hype stories by using inaccurate terms.

  • Bother with basics
    Spelling and grammar count. Errors distract and confuse.
    Don't be afraid to use the right word more than once or twice.

  • Stay active
    Write simple, declarative sentences in the active voice: subject, verb, object.

  • End with punch
    Listeners and viewers remember what they hear last. Strong words belong at the end
    of sentences. Pare scripts from the bottom, line by line.

  • Edit ruthlessly
    Use the delete key! Kill wasted words.
    Knock down the dams where the story doesn't flow.


  • Find stories in new places
    Look at what consumers really want to know

  • Avoid unfounded generalizations
    Look beyond one patient's experience.
    Do the math.

  • Peel back the layers
    Look behind research results and scientific studies.
    Share background on experts so the audience can judge credibility for themselves.

  • Clarify meaning
    Use words to help viewers understand audio, video and graphics.
    Be cautious with handout video and sound bites. Disclose the source.

– Deborah Potter, executive director, NewsLab