Writing success stories is not only about showcasing the difference your programme is making in people’s lives, but it is also about grasping the attention of readers and creating a bandwagon effect.
When a dog bites a man, it’s not interesting. However, if a man bites a dog, it not only becomes interesting but also gets the attention of a wider audience. To make your stories stand out among the millions of stories churned out by development professionals around the globe, you need to add that “X-factor” to your story.
Begin with the most promising part
Take your audience to an event, place or character that is interesting. You don’t need to cling to the regular way of showing situation, challenges, interventions and outcomes in a success story. These can be interchanged. Show the most interesting part first, then take the audience to other sections.
It’s like watching a movie. Sometimes a director starts the movie with the climax and then uses flashbacks to tell the story. However, most stories follow a timeline.
Follow a logical sequence and keep the paragraphs short
Try to write small sentences and small paragraphs. Then link the paragraphs in such a way that the story flows seamlessly and there are no hitches and halts in the way.
I follow the sequence mentioned by Jennifer Stewart.
Put a man up a tree, i.e., start with an issue you want to resolve
Throw stones at him, i.e., present the problem
Get him down, i.e., show how an issue might be resolved
Another popular sequence is the SRRE method coined in the Journal of Extension: Writing Success Stories for Program Enhancement and Accountability (University of Wisconsin – Extension).
Situation: What prompted the programme?
Response: How did the programme respond? (inputs and outputs)
Results: Who benefited? What resulted? (outcomes)
Evidence: What’s the evidence? (evaluation)
Add fillers to spice up the story
Mention the environs and ambience the protagonist lives in. It allows the audience to visualise the environment and situation of the protagonist. Explain the challenges, needs and rationale of your programme to the protagonist, community and the country.
Quote the protagonist
Mention catchy quotes from the protagonist and other participants in direct speech. It not only provides credibility but also provides the reader with a chance to empathise with the actors. Also present facts and figures. They help catching the reader’s attention.
Add pictures to the story
A picture speaks thousand words. Add a picture with a catchy caption to the story. It convinces the audience. Try taking pictures from different angles in different layouts and choose the best ones. Also add charts and figures in boxes to illustrate the success of the programme.
Present the programme interventions subconsciously
Readers don’t like to read about your programme in the story; they are interested in the protagonist and his/her success. However, you tend to talk about your programme and its interventions. Try to minimise the words and sentences describing your programme. If possible, try to add a quote from the protagonist talking about your programme.
Make the end interesting
Conclude your story in a question that makes the reader think about the story and programme interventions. Talk about the future possibilities. End with an interesting quote from the protagonist.
These points are drawn from a training session on "How to write a success story" during the M&E and MIS Orientation Workshop organised by HVAP.
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