How do you get your message to the audience that needs to hear it—especially if they are likely to resist? For that matter, as writers, how do we learn enough about our intended audience that we can meet them where they are?
The author of one of the draft texts we workshopped this month faced a challenge: how to convince nonexpert readers in a relatively wealthy country that they should care about equitable access to medical care in less wealthy countries far away. The author was experimenting with an overarching metaphor meant to surprise readers into a sense of curiosity about the global technical challenges involved in delivering equitable care. This way, readers were encouraged to set aside their personal resistance, at least long enough to get them interested. Then, the author revealed how the metaphor connected to them personally as well.
The author of the other text we workshopped faced a different challenge: how to reach readers who might feel stigmatized by the scientific medicalization of an aspect of their personhood. This is a tough one for experts immersed in scientific explanations for everything. Should a doctor be humble, apologetic, empathic, or just matter-of-fact? Should medical experts stick to their science, or should they go so far as to immerse themselves in non-medicalized points of view, in order to understand the possible resistance of those whom doctors think could benefit from treatment?
Throughout the workshop, we saw the benefits of what we are doing here, bringing together a diverse group of people to provide feedback on draft texts from various points of view, as we try to do every month. Transdisciplinary feedback is a rare chance for honest reader experiences to be aired from outside the writer's comfort zone, so that the author can hear them before publication and consider ways to rewrite the text to anticipate such reactions, thus reaching more readers in the end.
Resources & references
The following came up in our discussion or were relevant to the workshop texts or theme:
- The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman. This is a legendary book of literary nonfiction about the problem of medical experts trying to reach people with traditional understandings of bodily experience.
- Vaccine Hesitancy: Public Trust, Expertise, and the War on Science by Maya J. Goldenberg. In this book, a Canadian philosopher of science argues that vaccine-hesitant people are not typically misinformed about science, and that there are other reasons for their resistance that medical experts need to consider.
- "The Ozempic Era of Weight Loss" from the New York Times podcast The Daily—the stories of two people who took the medication and had very different experiences.
- Examples of communication strategies in food science from Nutrition Facts.
Image: icon ade, Vecteezy