The Science Behind Using Analogies to Convey Complex HIT Concepts

Jul 25, 2018

For many writers, including (especially?) this one, analogies are one of the most important and commonly used tools in our toolbox. Relating a new or complex topic, such as just about anything in health IT (HIT), to a familiar example readers already know and understand seems like a good way to shorten the learning curve and ultimately move the sales needle.

Of course, not everyone buys into that idea. “Our target audience is made up of serious and highly educated people,” some say. “They don’t need some silly reference to cars, or movies, or building a house to understand our products/services. They just want the facts.”

That’s why I was so excited to discover the work of Robert A. Bjork, Ph.D., a Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA who specializes in cognitive psychology. Dr. Bjork’s research on how we learn shows “If information is studied so that it can be interpreted in relation to other things in memory, learning is much more powerful.” In other words, if you want someone to understand a new concept, it helps if they can relate it to what they already know and understand.

So it turns out there’s actually some science to the use of analogies. Giving information context, or “seating” it within what someone already knows (to use Dr. Bjork’s term) helps readers comprehend the information faster.

That’s where analogies can bring a lot of value. You start with something simple and familiar to get them thinking in the right direction. You then show how the new, complex concept fits within that familiar landscape.

Because you have already set the context, you’re far more likely to get the target audience to start nodding their heads in agreement. As any good salesperson can tell you, gaining that agreement is an important key to closing the sale.

Going deeper

Using analogies also helps ease readers into deeper conversation. It’s like opening a serious lecture with a joke, or sprucing up the front of your house when you’re trying to sell it to make it more inviting to prospective buyers. (See what I did there?)

First you capture their interest, then you get into the meat of what you want to say. That works a lot better than just launching right into the detailed information.

Another reason analogies help is they can take what might otherwise be a dry, technical topic and spice it up like adding a good rub to a steak before grilling it. (I’m on a roll now!) The steak is still the star, but the rub helps bring out all the flavor the steak has to offer.

Editor reaction

One more good reason to use analogies is in my experience, most editors like them. Especially editors of publications that cover technology products for business or even technical audiences.

They get tons of contributed articles that sound like they were written by engineers for engineers. The articles convey facts, but they don’t “grab” readers and compel them to pick up the publication.

A good analogy can help spur reader interest, which is the editor’s main goal. Throughout my career I’ve received many nice notes from editors, including some from very technical publications, thanking our clients for taking such an interesting perspective and writing an article people might actually want to read.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should always try to work an analogy into every byline, blog post, or other content. Even I don’t do that. Sometimes playing it straight is the right approach to take, whether that’s dictated by the publication or the subject matter.

But where you can, and where it works, using analogies is a great way to draw your audience in and help them quickly understand the key point you’re trying to convey.

Ken Krause

An award-winning writer for his work in advertising, marketing and public relations, Ken Krause has a diverse background that includes more than 30 years of combined agency- and client-side experience. Ken has in-depth experience in technology products and services, healthcare, supply chain, consumer electronics and other vertical markets. He previously served as Vice President of Content Services at Tech Image, where he spent 14 years. Ken also served as Marketing Communications Manager at ASAP Software (now a part of Dell). His earlier career includes stints as an Account Manager at Marketing Support, Inc. and McKee Advertising and as a Senior Copywriter for Meyer/Fredericks.