Five tips for storytelling in science
There are lots of scientific publications available. But researchers tend to write science for other researchers.
How do you make science accessible for the general community?
For one thing, science needs to have less jargon. Jargon privileges only those who are familiar with the area or discipline. Another thing is that science needs to be accessible for busy practitioners. They have little time to look for what is useful for their work.
Storytelling is one way to make science accessible.
Researchers in sustainability science has shared five tips to help communicate science.
Tip 1: define your audience
First, define your audience and goal. Storytelling is to know your audience and know your goals. There are generally three types of audiences:
- the science-informed that reads or seeks out research or technical findings
- those that are willing to invest some time in learning about research findings, and
- the not well-informed audience.
The goal of a storyline is to trigger the interest of viewers to later revisit the storyline, share it or follow up to discuss the applicability of research outputs.
Tip 2: select the scientific content
The second tip is to select scientific content. When selecting material, your information shared needs to be relevant and credible. Your content needs to consider their decision-making needs. Viewers need to trust your source of information. And the way you communicate needs to be open and understood by your audience. Visuals can help provide shortcuts to translate abstract concepts or terms.
Tip 3: identify the story parts or narrative elements
The third tip is to identify the story parts or narrative elements. Storylines are the translation of a wider text into its core narrative elements. Core elements explain the benefits and limitation while at the same time illustrating the research context and the new knowledge with visuals. Prepare science stories by defining the characters, providing a sequence of events that occur in the setting where there is a problem to solve, and giving a moral or take-home message. The storyline parts (or narrative elements) of a text has six components.
1) the agent or main character of the story, which is not limited to the researcher but may include other actors.
2) the purpose that is usually the desired goal of the main character. 3) the acts or events happening or performed by the main character.
4) the setting, that is, the physical or emotional environment where the events take place.
5) the problem which is a conflict to be solved.
6) the means that are either hindering or helping to solve the problem.
Tip 4: story visualisation and presentation
The fourth tip is to visualise and present your story. Visuals and story elements can increase user engagement by engaging the mind and emotions. The mind is influenced by visual attention and visual complexity. So tailor your content to meet audience expectations and previous knowledge. Appealing visuals that not just call attention to the subject, but make them memorable while increasing comprehension engages the emotions. The goal is to spark the interest of the audience in a way that they can identify, recall, remember or contextualise the content.
Tip 5: user engagement and interaction
The fifth principle is user engagement and interaction. Engagement is the desired outcome. It occurs through the reader’s interaction with the storyline, texts and visuals. Information presented in visual form, whether on the website or through other means. The more interactive a website, for instance, the more the viewers are emotionally and cognitively engaged. But user engagement does not necessarily increase with the number of available interactive options. Skills and effort of the viewer are essential.
Authors: Arevalo, V.J.C, Verbrugge, L.N.H., Sools A., Brugnach, M., Wolterink, R., Pepijn van Denderen, R., Candel, J.H.J., Hulscher, S.J.M.H., 2020, Storylines for practice: a visual storytelling approach to strengthen the science-practice interface, Sustainability Science, March – https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-020-00793-y