Public Health Research & Writing
Resources on the Internet

Why this page?

This Web page was originally developed to provide a research background and references for the Introduction to Public Health class that I teach. This course also happens to fulfill the university's mandatory writing requirement for graduation. What I found unique about this writing requirement is that this requirement can be fulfilled in a variety of academic disciplines. The message is (I think), writing does not just belong in the English Department. Good writing is appreciated AND needed in every part of our lives. After all, one may get graded for writing while in school, but the "grading" continues post-graduation. Think of the resume - how seriously will you be taken when you say, "Attention to details," and the resume is full of spelling errors? It is never too late to start writing well.

Purpose: I am hoping that this page will provide you with the background and resources to help you conduct the research you need to write the most demanding types of writing in Public Health - grant writing and issue briefs. It is not really the mechanics of writing (See Writing Resources for mechanics and resources for other types of writing), and it is not really about grant writing (See Grants Resources for grant writing tutorials) either. It's really about what components to include when you write a grant or issue brief, and where to research the information you need.

Applying for a grant is like applying for a scholarship. You are trying to persuade a scholarship sponsor that you are the most worthy person, and if you get the $$$, then you can achieve your dream of a college education and then go on to perform good works with that education. Of course, a grant is a lot more intensive, and you must do your "homework" first, by showing you have a good understanding of the problem you would like to address. And, if the grantor should give you the $$$, then you will be able to implement this super solution AND show results as well!

In writing an issue brief, one is striving to concisely present all the facts and research about a particular topic in an objective way. This involves providing a background of the problem, what is being done about the problem, and how effective these current solutions are. Most of the time when we talk about solutions, we are talking about interventions, which include programs and activities. To see what I think a Public Health Program should include, check my Program Evaluation Template .

I welcome any comments or suggestions you may have for this page.

Public Health Writing 101

In general, writing has fallen by the wayside. The most writing that people do these days is writing E-mails, which is hardly writing at all. And, who knows what you call instant messaging - btw, brb, LOL, b4ugo - modern hieroglyphics??? But, it does say something about the importance of communication.

Aside from people who write for a living (i.e., journalists, novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, etc.), Public Health practitioners must write a lot. Many times, it's a thankless but necessary task of the job. The writing is varied by purpose and audience. This is why writing is such an essential skill for anyone who wants to work in Public Health. There are reports (lab, inspection, investigative, site visit, research, annual, program, statistical); grants; issue briefs; memoranda of understanding; informational materials (fact sheets, legislative responses), to name a few. The audience includes: Health policymakers, legislators, professionals, academicians, community partners, general public, to name a few. Sometimes, one report must be reconceptualized and "repackaged" into a number of different "products" for the audiences we would like to reach.

Thus, an extensively researched technical report can end up as an executive summary report for upper management, FAQ (frequently asked questions) article for a local newspaper or newsletter, a press release for the media, a fact sheet for the general public, an abstract for publication, a PowerPoint presentation for community partners, another PowerPoint presentation for a professional meeting, an appendix for an internal agency report, etc. Basically, what this means is, the research for the initial report must be immaculately executed and the report elegantly written so it can be easily parceled out for whatever is needed to get the message out. This means that the research must be flawless (extensive citations, comprehensive in scope, logical sequencing of ideas and concepts), and the writing would make your high school English teacher glad you were part of his/her class (I say high school because that is where you supposedly learned the proper mechanics of writing).

In the end, one does not need to love writing, but should show a healthy respect for the power writing possesses. Ultimately, the goal of a report is to get the message out, and most of the time, one must cater to the audience one wants to reach. After all, realistically, career researchers may love reading a technical report, but administrators don't have the time, paper media don't have the space, and the general public doesn't have the patience to weigh the merits of one methodology over another. In most instances, the results, findings and conclusions do possess credibility, and most Public Health practitioners can rest a little easy that their efforts are appreciated.

Grant Research Basics 101:
Funding Public Health Programs

Grant writing is a fact-of-life for those of us working in Public Health. Unless we are working in programs that are mandated to exist (state legislatures set aside money to sustain such programs), the funding that public health programs rely on is somewhat precarious. Most of the time, the kind of funding a program gets depends on what type of public health agency we are working in. Local health departments usually obtain funding from the state health department and sometimes from the federal government. State health departments usually obtain funding from federal government agencies and nonprofit agencies and quasi-public health organizations (e.g., professional and research). There are categorical grants which provide monies for specific programs, and then there are block grants which provide a set amount of money that the state health department can determine on how it would like to spend. How block grant money is divvied up can be very political.

Perhaps, the most important trend in public health funding is the growing expectation by federal agencies to justify their expenditures. This expectation gets passed down to the state agencies receiving the funding, that in turn must justify their expenditures. As funding becomes tighter, it becomes more important to develop programs that will show they are making an impact on the people they serve. From a program evaluation standpoint, programs should only be sustained if they show promise of and result in good outcomes. If they cannot show this, then such programs are not worth continued funding. Of course, sometimes, this is very difficult to do in public health because most of our interventions are population-based. Such interventions are hard to monitor and to collect outcome data from. However, it is still possible, and necessary to continually monitor and evaluate our activities to make the most of whatever funding there is.

Though grant requirements may vary from one grant to another, generally, there are sections for the background, what you are proposing to do, an evaluation plan, a budget and an appendix of supporting materials. The background portion should show an in-depth understanding of the problem, and what is currently being done to address the problem. Many times, critiquing other solutions is never done, which is unfortunate because by critiquing what is already out there, you are improving your chances of obtaining the funding needed to implement a needed program. Why? Because you will have saved valuable time up front eliminating what doesn't work, and integrating those elements from the programs that do work into a creative new solution. Solutions that are arrived at in this fashion stand a better chance of success because they are built on what works. And, if it doesn't work (with a different population or problem), then you will at least be able to analyze the various components to see which one can be improved upon. It is what I call "modular programming."

Regardless of whether it is a grant application or issue brief, the writing must be excellent and persuasive. Basically, for a grant, you are asking a potential sponsor/grantor for money so your agency can provide public health programs and services. For an issue brief, you are asking your reader to pay attention to what is really important about a particular issue, and to respect your objectivity and perspective on the matter.

Structuring Your Writing

This is fast becoming a lost art (all my students in one class told me they never heard of outlining....), but I would like to include it here to emphasize the importance of providing an infrastructure for your writing. I learned how to do this in 11th grade, and it got me through the countless term papers I had to write for all my courses in college, with a typewriter. Of course, it was almost a necessity to do this because we had to organize our thoughts BEFORE hitting the typewriter. It's not like you can insert an important paragraph on page 5, when you are typing page 10. While current wordprocessing programs have done away with the need to prepare oneself before setting down one's thoughts on paper, the poor organization shows, not the mention the haphazard results of cutting and pasting, minus proofreading.

The purpose of developing an outline for a paper is to help you organize your thoughts in a concise and visual way. Think of the outline as an organized list of the topics your paper will be covering. If you have developed a good outline, writing the actual paper will be just a matter of expanding your outline into a well-written narrative. There are two formats: Roman and Decimal.

Roman Numeral














Research Basics 101

General Research Resources

Information Quality

Note: When conducting research on the Internet (this is how people look for information these days), you will have to develop a discriminating eye for credible information. Use the Web site Evaluation Template to guide you in assessing a Web site's credibility. Sources of information should be credible. This information must be freely accessible to the general public. Generally, the following are not acceptable resources for the reasons noted. Do not include:

  • Chatrooms, forums, etc. which reflect the opinions or experiences of individuals
  • Commercial sites that provide health information and "research" to support the products they sell
  • Newpaper-type Web pages, as Reuters, New York Times, etc. (Credible, but not universally accessible)
  • Subscription news services, as Medscape, etc. (Credible, but not universally accessible)

Resources for Writing a Background Paper of A Public Health Issue

Conceptual Foundation - Healthy People 2020

Conceptual Foundation - If Healthy People 2020 does not cover your topic, check these resources for a conceptual framework

Conceptual Foundation - If no federal agencies address your topic, then check these resources for a conceptual framework

Conceptual Foundation - Disease Definitions

Conceptual Foundation - Mental Health Definitions

DSM = Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

Resources for Public Health Statistics

Resources for Critiquing Programs

Conceptual Foundations - Program Evaluation

Service Organization and Agencies

Search Engines

Program Evaluation Template

Evaluation Resources on the Internet

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Published on the Web: July 20, 2005
Updated: 12/26/2022 R216
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