Storytelling enhances the influence of science-based writing

Does reading very dry academic studies make your eyes glaze over? If so, you’re not alone. A recent analysis of various styles of science writing found that weaving a narrative—that includes storytelling and sensory language—into climate change studies made the material more engaging and influential.

Storytelling narratives also increase readers’ ability to process and recall scientific information.

The University of Washington (UW) peer-reviewed report, “Narrative Style Influences Citation Frequency in Climate Change Science,” was published Dec. 15, 2016 in the journal Plos One.

These findings add to a growing body of research on the benefits of using narrative writing to create an emotional connection with empirical evidence that resonates with readers. Feeling an emotional connection to science-based information can increase proactive behaviors.

When Writing About Climate Change, Storytelling Helps the Facts Stick

For this study, researchers from UW’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs analyzed 732 scientific abstracts from various studies on climate change. The researchers’ objective was to identify what types of science papers on climate change tend to have the most influence.

Psychology and literary theory suggests that if you want someone to remember something: Communicate the facts and figures in the form of a story. Therefore, the UW researchers wondered if this theory would hold up in the realm of peer-reviewed scientific literature. So, instead of focusing on the content of various scientific studies, they decided to focus on writing style.

Interestingly, the researchers found that higher-impact journals (which tend to have more influence) featured more narrative articles that included elements of storytelling. These articles were also cited more often than drier, more formal science papers that lacked storytelling.

Before deconstructing each style of writing in the science abstracts, the UW team agreed on six different narrative indicators that would be used to identify the effectiveness of storytelling. The six storytelling narrative indicators included: narrative perspective, setting, sensory language, conjunctions, connectivity, and appeal.

Six Narrative Storytelling Indicators by Hillier et al

Narrative perspective describes the position or role of the narrator. First-person narrators have a stronger narrative presence than other narrative perspectives.

Setting provides a description of where and when events take place and is a fundamental component of most narratives.

Sensory language appeals to the senses and emotions of the reader and can be used to establish personal identity.

Conjunctions are used to connect words and phrases, binding narratives together in a logical form.

Connectivity refers to words or phrases that create explicit links within the text, either as a specific reference back to the same thing or the repetition of a word from the previous sentence, provided it carries the same meaning.

Appeal refers to the moral or evaluative orientation of a narrative. Appeal in the form of evaluative commentary or ‘landscape of consciousness’ is an important aspect of narrativity. Appeal answers the question of why the story is being told.

Could Storytelling-Based Science Writing Help Debunk the Myth that Climate Change Is a Hoax?

When it comes to climate change, there are far too many ‘deniers’ and skeptics. Hopefully, highlighting the power of storytelling to increase the influence of scientific data on climate change will strike an emotional chord with policymakers, politicians, and help debunk the myth that climate change is a hoax.

Psychology Today

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