How to Factor Out Risk Factors

Alt: A game show host doodle at a podium announces, “…and this. Is. RISK FACTORS! The game where we overcomplicate the concept of ‘risk’ with a bunch of abstract theories and a karaoke hot dog jousting competition!”

Telling people they have the power to lower their risk for a certain disease is a great motivational tool. So, when you’re writing health content that encourages readers to make healthy changes, the concept of disease risk is useful.

Unfortunately, “risk” is often paired with “factor” to form a term that’s the opposite of helpful. For readers with limited health literacy skills, the concept of risk is already a tricky one — so why complicate matters further by talking about abstract “risk factors” when you can directly explain the risk? We suggest you don’t.

  • Instead of: Smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer.
  • Try: If you smoke, you have a higher risk of getting lung cancer.
  • Instead of: Physical inactivity is a risk factor for heart disease.
  • Try: Getting active can help you lower your risk for heart disease.

Bonus: Ditching the “factor” also makes it easier to address your readers directly by writing in second person, which is another great strategy for writing actionable content.

The bottom line: “Factor” increases the risk for confusion — so when you talk about risk, factor it out.

Tweet about it: Writing #HealthLit content about risk? Ditch the “factor,” says @CommunicateHlth:


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