Storytelling – The Future of Science Communication
“People think that stories are shaped by people, in fact, it’s the other way around” – Sir Terry Pratchett.
Once upon a time there was a Scientist who could not speak plainly.
The Scientist was enthusiastic about their work, and became very excited when telling their friends and family all about it.
They wrote letters, books, and sent their research to journal editors with the hope of being published.
It made the Scientist very sad when the most highly respected and renowned journals did not publish their paper, and when their friends and family could not understand their research.
One day, the Scientist met a Storyteller.
The Storyteller taught the Scientist how to tell the story of their research.
Together, they rewrote the Scientist’s paper for the journals, where it was finally published!
The Scientist learned how to talk about their research in plain language from the Storyteller.
Their family and friends now understand the Scientist’s work, and are very excited about it.
This made the Scientist so happy, they told all their Scientist friends.
This story about the Scientist and the Storyteller is short and simple, but it holds a wealth of truth;
Scientists can learn a lot from Storytellers.
Since scientists first began communicating science to the public, the approach has been primarily based on the Knowledge Deficit Model (KDM).
Scientific writing, partly because of KDM, can often be seen as dry, stale, emotionless, and hard to follow.
Reading scientific papers can feel like a chore; with sentences that seem to never end, the endless repetition of data, and use of indecipherable jargon.
Not surprising then that recent research indicates that this method of communicating science is ineffective.
In the effort to provide objective, professional information, scientists can miss a valuable point – everyone loves a story.
This includes journal editors.
According to research carried out by Hillier et al, (2016), using a narrative writing style increases the citation frequency of a scientific article.
In part, this is because journals with a high impact factor are more likely to publish articles written in a narrative style.
“Scientists can engage readers and increase uptake by incorporating narrative attributes into their writing styles,” – Hillier et al, 2016
What’s the Story?
A narrative has four main components: Setting, character(s), plot, and moral (Jones & Crow, 2017).
These serve to organise the emotions of the reader and move them along from what the problem is to how it can be solved.
Combine this with the findings of Hillier et al, which identifies influential factors on readability, and you have a winning formula.
These factors include:
Narrative perspective – first person narratives have a stronger presence than third person
Language – connect the reader to the research by appealing to their senses and emotions
Conjunctions – order the story logically to build momentum towards the conclusion
Connectivity – refer back to what has been said before and provide context
Appeal – provide a commentary or evaluation, tell the reader why they should care
Whether the reader is a journal editor, journalist, investor, or member of the general public; make them care about the research.
Tell them a story.