Explaining Why a Topic Matters: The Times Personal Health Column

“Managing Teenage Acne”

“The Youth Suicide Crisis”

And if you did, you might identify paragraphs like the ones below as good examples of where the author zooms out and shows you why the topic is important.

Excerpt from “How to “Winter” Your Dog”, a paragraph that does not discuss practical ways to do it, but why you should do it in the first place:

Whether urban or rural, dogs can face multiple dangers during the colder months, ranging from cracked paws and dry skin to electrocution or immersion in a frozen pond.

Excerpt from “Looking on the bright side can be good for your health,” a section that explains why this information could literally help you extend your life:

A growing number of recent long-term studies have linked greater optimism to a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions and to promoting “exceptional longevity,” a team of Tier 1 researchers used to people who live to age 85 and beyond.

From “For Real Weight Control, Try Portion Control,” a brief explanation of why this way of eating is better than the many eating fads the reader is likely already familiar with:

Unlike the myriad of dietary fads that have yet to stem the growing girth of American men and women, what Dr. Young describes is not a diet but a practical approach to food and eating that can be suitable for almost any lifestyle, even if most meals are eaten or taken away. It is not prescriptive or even proscriptive. It doesn’t remove any food categories, like carbs or fats, nor does it deprive people of their favorite foods, including sugary treats.

Excerpt from “Is your sleep cycle out of sync? Maybe it’s genetics,” a paragraph that follows the story of an early-rising friend, but segues into research that shows many others suffer Also about this problem:

And, it seems, his pattern of early sleeping and early waking may not be as rare as long thought. In a new study published in the journal Sleep by researchers in San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Madison, Wisconsin, of more than 2,400 patients who visited a sleep clinic for issues such as sleep apnea or insomnia, a small number were found to have a previously unrecognized familial form of advanced sleep phase, a kind of permanent jet lag that the study found is often hereditary.

From “Managing Teenage Acne”, a paragraph that puts the issue into context – being a teenager is hard, and having acne makes it even harder:

Adolescence is a difficult time for many young people, even under the best of circumstances. But if the face they present to the world is marked by prominent acne lesions, the ordinary emotional and social stresses of adolescence can be all the more difficult to overcome.

From “The Youth Suicide Crisis,” statistics that show this is a crisis we should be concerned about:

In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that after a flat period from 2000 to 2007, the suicide rate among 10 to 24-year-olds increased dramatically – by 56% – between 2007 and 2017, making suicide the second leading cause of death in this age group, following accidents such as car accidents.

Take a step back from the topic you’re writing about and focus on why it’s important. Try answering these questions first so that when you get to the point in your article where you might include some sort of “crazy” paragraph of your own, you’ll be prepared with ideas:

  • Why is this topic worth writing about?

  • What is the larger context for this? Why might it be useful to explain to show why this is an important topic? What is its relevance in today’s world?

  • Who or what does it affect? Why? How? ‘Or’ What?

  • What is its relevance to broader issues on the ground?

Finally, take a look at this edition of our “Author Annotated” series, in which Times international climate reporter Somini Sengupta shows you where, why, and how she’s included “why this is important” in his article “These five cuisines are the easiest on the planet. What can you learn from his picks?

Jessica C. Bell