IMCC Storytelling workshop.

Shaping Your Science Story

By Sarah Sunu

Mar 8, 2018


3 Minute Read


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, and authored by Dr. Stephanie J. Green, Dr. 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), which culminate in an evening of stories shared by participants in front of a live audience.

Stories are a powerful way to share information. In fact, neuroscience research shows that narratives resonate with listeners in ways that non-narrative statements do not, helping to convey the importance of the information that stories can contain (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 tell, or how to tell it. As scientists, we’re usually looking for information or ways to explain what we’re measuring and observing, rather than stories. If there is a story to be told, we often leave it to a journalist, or the institutional communications department, to find 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 Facets paper, Steph, Kirsten, and Heather discuss shapes of three narrative arcs that are common in science – Discovery, Rescue, and Mystery (inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s story graphs) – and share examples of how scientists in the IMCC workshops have used them.

Scientists are constantly making discoveries, large and small. Check out how Matthew Tietbohl and Dr. Elizabeth McLean use the Discovery arc in their stories here:


Research that focuses on an issue can help solve problems and address challenges. See how Skye Augustine and Daniel Raberinary use the Rescue arc for their stories here:


Many research questions arise because of a mystery, which science helps us solve. Watch how Kyle Gillespie and Dr. Nohora Galvis employ the Mystery arc for their stories here:

You can view all of the stories here.

There are some great resources available to inspire and support you to identify and share your stories, and this paper shares many of them. What stories will you tell?

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