Tips for Writing an Effective Success Story
Tip 1: Start Early
- Two success stories per funding year are due by July 30 (CA 802) or Aug 31 (CA 1012).
- Each story should represent a program’s success that occurred in the current funding year.
- The difference between a good story and a great story is one that has been planned and is intentional. Keep in mind the goals for the year and the processes that led to the success.
Tip 2: Develop a Plan
- To have a good story, a system for collecting good information is needed.
- Having a plan in place will help ensure routine and timely collection of information for developing success stories.
- Elements of a well-developed plan may include—
- Using a data template may help with collecting story information.
- For an example, see the data collection tool in the following resource: Impact and Value: Telling Your Program’s Story [PDF–585K](pg. 30–32).
- Using a data template may help with collecting story information.
- Identifying staff responsible for collecting, organizing, analyzing, and writing the stories.
- Establishing timelines.
- Disseminating a group plan to share the stories.
Tip 3: Identify the Story
- At least one success story each year must represent an accomplishment achieved as a result of CDC’s cooperative agreement funding. This story may be used by CDC to respond to a variety of requests on the impact of CDC state funding.
- This story can also be used as a state tool when meeting with coalition and key decision makers.
- The other can be a wild card story (i.e., unrelated to the cooperative agreement).
- Keep in mind the program’s development stage (planning, implementation, maintenance).
- Planning Stage: Program is in early stages. Stories will tend to focus on process and highlight short-term outcomes (1–3 years); for example, developing a state oral health plan.
- Implementation Stage: Program is up and running. These stories can highlight short-term and intermediate outcomes (3–5 years); for example, some promising practices and examples of early changes, such as preliminary program data for your school-based dental sealant program that indicate you are making progress.
- Maintenance Stage: Enough time has passed for the program’s effects to emerge. Stories should highlight how things have changed for the target population as a result of the program.
Tip 4: Know the Audience
- It is important to identify the audience before writing the story. The audience could include—
- Policy makers.
- Civic, community, and healthcare organizations.
- Leadership of other state programs, departments, or agencies.
- Major businesses in the state.
- Coalition members.
- Funding sources (e.g., federal agencies, such as CDC’s Division of Oral Health, foundations).
- Knowing what kind of information the target audience needs will help to develop the most effective success story. Keep in mind—
- What is important to them?
- What type of outcomes will be meaningful to them so that they can advocate and support the state program?
- How will they use the story?
Tip 5: Have a Format
- Following a format will provide guidance and help organize the information.
- The story submitted for CDC purposes should be no more than one page (single-side, front only).
- The wild card story can be up to two pages (e.g., one page, front and back).
- A typical outline for a one-page success story includes—
- Title: Should capture the overall message of the story, get the reader’s attention, and include an action verb. Think newspaper headlines.
- Public Health Problem: In the first paragraph, describe the problem being addressed and why it is important. Use data where appropriate, but don’t lose the reader’s attention by providing too many numbers.
- Program Example: Describe the program or activity that was implemented. Identify who was involved and how it addressed the problem.
- Implications: Identify the short-term, intermediate, or long-term outcomes that demonstrate how the program or activity made a state impact that helped to address the problem (e.g., change in policy, expanding partnerships, securing additional support such as resources or funding).
- Contact Information: Don’t forget to include the organization’s general contact information, as well as a specific contact person.
Tip 6: Use Fresh Eyes
- One of the best practices for writing well is to put what was written aside for a day and then review the story with a fresh perspective.
- What seemed clear the day before might come across as confusing the next day.
- What seemed important might seem insignificant.
- It can also confirm that what was written is right on and ready to go.
- Get other people to review the story (e.g., internal staff, people less familiar with your program, CDC project officers).
Tip 7: Promote the Program and the Work
- Writing success stories is a powerful way to grab the attention of policy makers, funders, and stakeholders.
- Success stories can be used to—
- Educate decision makers about the impact of your program.
- Show movement in program progress when planned outcomes will not be realized until the future.
- Attract new partners for collaboration.
- Share best practices.
- Provide evidence to garner more support and resources.
Tip 8: Develop with Style
- The story for CDC purposes should not include pictures or graphics.
- Use bullets to highlight important points.
- Write using plain language. It should be concise and to the point; avoid wordiness.
- Limit use of acronyms. If acronyms are used, spell out the name of the organization or program on first mention.
- Avoid jargon. Readers often skip over words they don’t understand, hoping to get the meaning from the rest of the sentence.
- Consider developing multiple versions of the same story tailored to specific audiences.
- For audiences other than CDC, be more creative. Consider using graphics, pictures, and quotations that support the written story.
Tip 9: Submit Success Stories to a CDC Project Officer
- Submit success stories in draft form to a CDC Project Officer (PO) for review and feedback before the required deadline.
- Work with the PO to make changes to success stories, and submit revised version to the PO for final approval.
- Once approval has been received from the PO, upload the final success story into MOLAR as an attachment, and input summary information on the success story page. In MOLAR, place the success stories under the Program Information Tab.
Tip 10: Use Success Story Resources
- Impact and Value: Telling your Program’s Story
- How to Develop a Success Story
- WISEWOMAN Works: A Collection of Success Stories
- Vol. 1: A Collection of Success Stories from Program Inception Through 2002 (2003)
- Vol. 2: A Collection of Success Stories on Empowering Women to Stop Smoking (2005)
- CDC's Healthy Communities Program: Success Stories in Building Healthier Communities