Six ways to write a brilliant blog post for MSF

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Eye-witness stories from the people on the ground are often the most impactful way to communicate about our work.

Technical reports are great for reaching quite specific audiences, but for most people, a personal, human account of someone’s experiences will be more engaging and memorable.

MSF often uses the stories in blog posts to help raise awareness of our work, as well as helping the next generation of MSF team members to know what to expect. Your words will be working hard to support our work.

So, here are some ways to write a brilliant blog post for MSF. You can choose to read all of these, or use the options below to jump to the section you want to focus on.

1. Choose what to write about

2. Decide on a structure

3. Write a great opening line

4. Keep your reader engaged

5. Get the ending right

6. Things to remember

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1. Choose an engaging topic

These are just a few ideas! There are so many aspects of life with MSF which could be a great blog post, so don't feel you have to stick to these suggestions. However it's worth noting that the best posts are often about one specific story rather than a general issue.

For example: a post which tells the story of one specific trip to a remote community as part of a vaccine campaign will be more impactful and memorable than a general discussion about access to vaccines.

If you want to discuss an idea, email blogs@london.msf.org

  • Stories about a patient you have treated (always respecting their dignity, privacy and safety)

Example: This surgeon wrote about a patient she'll always remember

  • Stories about a problem your team has faced and how you solved it

Example: This logistician wrote about clearing cattle from the airstrip

Example: Nurse Michelle wrote about how a dance challenge helped the health promotion team

  • Stories about going the extra mile to help our patients - this could be a long journey or a special effort

Example: Melissa wrote about crossing a swamp to reach patients

  • Personal stories, e.g. how you came to work for MSF, why you decided to become a nurse

Example: Thok looked back on his journey from child refugee to MSF medic

  • Stories about a colleague who inspires you

Example: Marten wrote about his impressive colleague Bakur

  • Anything that has made you feel a strong emotion at work, whether that's joy, laughter, pride or sadness

Example: Nurse Courtney found joy in the children on board a search and rescue ship. Later, she drew on more difficult emotions to write this powerful post.


2. Decide on a structure

How you tell your story is up to you, but here are some ideas in case you want to try something different.

  • Use the present tense to help the reader feel they are in the moment with you

Example: Being in the moment can help the reader understand pace and urgency, like in this post

Example: But in different circumstances, it can also help them share slowness and intimacy

  • Keep a diary

Example: Psychologist Katerina used a diary structure to talk about the range of issues facing refugee children

  • Write an open letter

Example: When a toddler was injured in an explosion in Iraq, this doctor wrote an emotional open letter directed to her young patient.

  • Try a list

Example: Nurse Michal used a list to bust the five most common myths about life with MSF.

  • Create a "story sandwich"

If you have lots of factual information you want to include, try 'sandwiching' it between two halves of a human story that shows how the things you're describing impact people.

Example: This laboratory specialist used a "story sandwich" to show the impact of a new diagnostic tool


3. Write a great first line

You want to hook the reader's attention right from the start, but figuring out how can be daunting. If you're feeling stuck, try one of these ideas...

  • Start with some action

Example: An unexpected call on the radio gives a punchy start to this post.

  • Build anticipation

Example: Surgeon Shadi hinted at the unusual events to come, but didn't give them away

  • Set the scene by saying what you can see/smell/hear

Example: This blogger described the sights and sounds of the village before explaining why he and his colleagues are there


4. Keep the reader engaged

Once you've got the reader's attention, you need to keep it! You can use the BITER checklist to make sure you've got all the secret ingedients of great storytelling

Background information

  • Contextual information to help the reader understand the story
  • Sensory information (what can you see, hear, smell, feel etc) to help the reader imagine the story

Importance

  • Explain why the events in your story are important. What's at stake, especially for people in the communities we serve?

Transitions, twists and turns

  • How did the action of the story unfold? Include challenges, obstacles, and unexpected events

Emotional/personal detail

  • Show the humanity of both yourself and others
  • This can mean sharing your feelings or those of your team (tired, frustrated, proud)
  • It could also mean telling stories about specific people rather than making generalisations

Resolution

  • Tie up all the loose ends

Example: Try reading this post from South Sudan - see if you can spot how the blogger incorporates all the points on the BITER checklist.


5. Write a great ending

Writing a great ending is about more than just saying what happened.

  • Say how you feel

Example: Doctor Tor ended his post with a simple statement of emotion

  • Go back to the start

Example: Doctor Ebenezer shared the story of patient Nya-Cece at the start of his post, and then returned to it at the end 

  • Find hope, celebrate life

Example: After a patient dies in emergency surgery, Francesco ended his post by reflecting on another patient, whose life the team had managed to save.

  • Decide what you want readers to take from your story - what's the point you're making?

Example: Midwife Steven finished his post with a warm reminder the new ultrasound machine has helped him deliver more babies safely


6. Things to remember

  • Avoid generalising

Generalisations are often inaccurate and patronising, so try to avoid them, especially if you’re writing about an area or community that you don't know well.

You might be tempted to write “everyone in this village lives in fear”. But is that true of everyone? What are you basing this on?

Instead show where your views have come from, and give concrete examples. E.g. “In the clinic, several patients tell us they are scared of another attack”.

  • Remember your reader

Most people reading your blog post won't have worked for MSF. They might not have visited the country you are writing about. They probably haven't worked in a hospital. So don't forget them!

Using technical language limits the audience and impact your blog post can have.

Example: Despite writing on a technical subject, Piotr used and informal, personal tone to ensure his post was engaging for readers from all backgrounds

  • Remember your team

While we encourage you to write from a personal perspective, we know that nothing in MSF is achieved without teamwork. Don't forget to acknowledge the hard work and contributions of your colleagues.


Don't forget: all blog posts about MSF's work must be checked before publication to ensure they pose no risk to the dignity, privacy or safety of our patients or colleagues. We have strict guidelines which can vary depending on your setting. Email blogs@london.msf.org to find out more.

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