Health Literacy Consulting How-To Tip
Do you ever need to explain important yet unfamiliar and complex health concepts? Of course you do. The challenge that most communicators face is explaining these concepts in clear, compelling, and understandable ways.
I like using metaphors and analogies in such situations as they compare unfamiliar concepts to ones the other person already knows. In many ways, metaphors and analogies are like outside and corner pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They provide a familiar framework to help people figure out where the jumble of puzzle pieces (or rather, concepts) should go.
Here are examples of using metaphors to explain hard-to-understand concepts:
- To explain science. The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson helps make clear the distinction between climate and weather in this video of him walking a dog by the seashore. He compares the meandering of the dog to rapid weather variations. And the more consistent ocean movement to climate. This metaphor was so helpful to me that I’ve remembered it years later. Here’s a link to the video.
- To explain probability. It seems that each time there is a chance of winning a huge amount of money in the lottery, there is an article about the probability of doing so. One example is the New York Times article by Tara Siegel Berhard, “Win a Lottery Jackpot? Not Much Chance of That.” An analogy in the article that I especially like is, “Powerball players, for instance, have a 1 in 175 million chance of winning. You have roughly the same chance of getting hit by lightning on your birthday.” Here’s the link.
- To explain portion size. Most of us know that portion size matters when it comes to healthy eating. But how much is enough, or too much, of certain foods? The WebMD Portion Size Guide explains portion size and visually compares some foods to everyday items. For instance, according to this guide the proper brownie size is the same as a package of dental floss. Well, perhaps not for me. Anyway, it’s interesting to see these visual comparisons. Here’s the link.
More Ways to Learn:
- I wrote an article about the benefits of using metaphors and analogies. “It’s Like What You Already Know: Using Analogies to Help Patients Understand,” by Helen Osborne, published in On Call magazine, January 2003. Here’s the link.
- I also wrote a chapter called, “Metaphors, Similes, and Analogies” for my book Health Literacy from A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message, Second Edition. This chapter has lots of how-to tips for using these strategies when communicating about health. Here’s a link to my newly republished book.
- From time to time, I’m asked to lead a workshop on using pictures, metaphors, and stories to communicate health messages. Here’s a link to learn more about that workshop.
For permission to include Health Literacy Consulting Tips in your organization's newsletter, please contact Helen Osborne by e-mail at: email@example.com, or by phone at: 508-653-1199.