Shaping Your Science Story
Updated: Jan 17, 2019
By Sarah Sunu
What’s one way to get the attention of adults and children alike? Say the magic words: “Once upon a time….” Of course, those words aren’t magic in and of themselves. It’s what they signal to people that’s important. When we hear that phrase, we know that a story is coming, and as humans, we are primed to pay attention to stories. Stories, and how they can be used for science communication, are the focus of a new paper just out in the open-access journal Facets, authored by Stephanie Green, Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, and our own Heather Mannix. The paper, titled “Uniting science and stories: Perspectives on the value of storytelling for communicating science,” shares an overview of the science behind storytelling, and insights from the authors’ experiences leading a storytelling workshop at the past two International Marine Conservation Congresses (IMCC), culminating in an evening of stories shared by participants in front of a live audience. The group is set to lead the third iteration at the upcoming IMCC in Kuching, Malaysia this June.
Stories are a powerful way to share information. Neuroscience research shows that stories resonate with listeners in ways that non-narrative statements do not, helping them to not only grasp the information shared, but also to empathize more closely with the experience of the storyteller (see the introduction of the paper for more details). For all the power that stories have, though, it can still be hard to figure out whether you have a story to share, or how to tell it. As scientists, we’re usually looking for information or explanations of what we’re measuring and observing rather than stories—and if there is a story to be told, we often leave it up to a journalist or the institutional communications department to find it and share it for us. But you don’t have to be a professional author, media personality, or experienced storyteller to have a compelling tale to tell. Your stories are there, if you look for them—sometimes you just need to know how to recognize your story when you see it. In the paper, Steph, Kirsten, and Heather share shapes of narrative arcs (inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s story graphs) that are common in science, and examples of how scientists in the IMCC workshops have used them: Discovery, Rescue, and Mystery. Scientists are constantly making discoveries, large and small. Check out how Matthew Tietbohl used the Discovery arc in his story.
Research that focuses on an issue can help solve problems and address challenges. See how Skye Augustine uses the Rescue arc for her story.
Many research questions arise because of a mystery, which science helps us solve. Watch how Kyle Gillespie employs the Mystery arc for his story.
Check out video of all the stories told by workshop participants here.
We’ve been thinking and sharing about the importance of stories in science communication for a long time here at COMPASS, and it’s exciting to see how far storytelling for science has come. There are some great resources available now to inspire and support you to identify and share your stories, and this paper includes many of them. We’re eager to hear the stories you’ll tell!