Troubles with titles… and other musings

by Seema Jolly on March 30, 2012

For anyone who has heard me talk about this course over the last few months, you’ve likely heard me talk about how much I loathed coming up with a title for my posts.   It’s just a few words, but how can they cause so much stress?  How do you sum up a post and find a catchy (but truthful) way to grab someone’s attention?  Without a good title, aren’t the rest of your words meaningless?  While the last 10 weeks have been a good learning process for me, I still have a great deal of disdain for selecting a title.  So, in full disclosure, if any of the titles to my posts caught your eye and made you stop and read, it’s likely because of fellow MTSG blogger, Candace Rowell (thanks!) :)

Aside from my struggle with coming up with punchy one liners, perhaps one my biggest challenges throughout this semester was deciding when (and how) to offer my opinions in my posts.  At the beginning of the semester, Professor Maynard kept telling us that it’s okay to offer an “opinion backed up by evidence” but encouraged us not to “advocate for change.”  To me, these lines were and still are a little fuzzy.  How could I possibly write about something that I was knowledgeable and passionate about without advocating for change, when the reason that I’m in public health is to advocate for changes that I think are essential to really address some of our major public and environmental health problems?  So, for most of the semester, I purposely steered clear of topics that really rile me up (essentially, anything related to the food industry, our agricultural system, social injustice, health disparities, I guess the list goes on!).  I’m not sure I found the right balance, but as the semester progressed, I found myself becoming more comfortable with weaving my opinion into my pieces and I hope some of you who read these posts saw this transition as well.

The field of public health is vast and wide, and I hope my posts reflected that and shed some light to topics that may have been new to you.  Thanks for reading, commenting, offering feedback, helping me cite images, helping me edit, and most importantly, helping me build my communication skills that will undoubtedly be essential as I embark on my career in public health!

PF Anderson March 30, 2012 at 9:40 am

Bravo! Completely valid and insightful issues to raise. I hope you continue to blog and explore these and other issues and insights, documenting your growth as a professional and a person.

MB Lewis March 30, 2012 at 10:41 am

Well said, Seema. If only everyone thought as much about what they say…. or write!

BJ Zikmund-Fisher March 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm

On the issue of advocating for change: If you advocate always, your work gets filed under the “biased” pile which can undermine its potential effectiveness in informing people and more broadly in bringing science to the forefront of discussions. Yet, I’m not sure I would say never to advocate for change in this type of writing. The most powerful advocacy statements come from those who rarely do so. The fact that they chose to advocate on that topic and not most others can be even more powerful than their actual words.

Paula Johnson, PhD, MPH March 30, 2012 at 4:20 pm

I totally agree with BJ’s comment (previous). And I think that there is a big difference in news pieces that inform and effectively translate the science and opinion pieces. As a reader, I like to know clearly what is the opinion of the author, and sometimes I don’t even want to know the author’s opinion frankly, depending on who it is.
Also, I believe that by offering the reader good information so that they can make decisions, you can inadvertently affect change. So, keep up the work and good luck.

Riikkker April 1, 2012 at 7:48 am

I generally agree with this. I think for the purposes of this course Prof. Maynard’s advice was totally appropriate, but there will be times in your professional life when you really do want to effect change (rather than affecting a trend that’s already occurring) and you believe that you have a chance to do so. Your reputation as someone who represents issues in a balanced way is what gives your advocacy force when it counts. Also, more generally, obscuring your opinion can at times amount to deception; sometimes, it’s more honest to state what you believe rather than allow your belief to subconsciously color everything you write.

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