What that “something” is can vary. You might write marketing collateral to get a customer to buy, a research paper to share a new discovery, an internal report to determine or support a business decision, a presentation to persuade the audience to take some action, and on and on.
Regardless of the specific goal, everything you write should affect the reader’s behavior somehow.
Enter the Fogg Behavioral Model.
This model was designed by Stanford behavioral scientist B.J. Fogg, who wanted to create a tool to help designers understand why users might not engage in desired behaviors. Fogg identified three elements key to inducing behavioral changes: motivation, ability, and trigger. If
Fogg illustrated his theory of behavior change with the following graph.
As the chart reveals, insufficient ability and motivation
How does this apply to writing?
First, your written work must motivate the reader to undertake the behavior your desire. That motivation may be physical, promising pleasing sensations. It might be emotional, creating anticipation for a desirable experience if the reader will just undertake a certain behavior. Or it may be social, cultivating a sense of belonging and place if they act.
Consider proposal writing. You might be responding to a Request for Proposal in the hopes of gaining some new business, and you want the readers to select your company as their new vendor. In that case, the proposal needs to provide the information necessary to motivate that action. Specifically, you want to help the reader understand the benefits they will enjoy from working with your company. (This is, by the way, a common failing of proposals, which frequently focus on features rather than benefits and on deliverables without ever spelling out why the reader should want to do business with you as opposed to a competitor).
Second, your work must enable the reader to take the behavior, and it should not throw up barriers or blockages to action. Fogg describes what he calls the “six elements of simplicity” that underlie the ability of readers to take the action you desire: time, money, physical effort, mental effort, social deviance, and non-routine.
In other words, an action that takes no time and costs no
For example, imagine that you’re writing a scientific manuscript aimed at a government agency or a certifying entity. You want them to approve or certify your product or service. As you write, keep in mind the barriers to action. Here,
Finally, your work must trigger the desired behavior. This means it must make an appropriate call-to-action. Fogg identifies three kinds of triggers that depend on the relative combination of motivation and ability.
With both high motivation and high ability, the reader is already primed to do what you want. Just include an appropriate call-to-action. All you need is to signal your desired behavior.
The trigger should help overcome the lack of motivation. Think about ads: discounts, special offers, or other incentives can often help spark action even with low motivation.
The reader wants to take the action but faces blocks in doing so. Be very directive and include all information needed to make the behavior clear, easy, and straightforward.
If the reader has low motivation and low ability, the trigger isn’t your concern. Focus on getting motivation or ability up.
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE