Science Narratives

Everyone likes a good story.

Stories can be used to teach concepts in understandable and engaging ways. In spite of this, the use of narrative formats in the sciences can encounter resistance (Katz, 2013). How, then, can narratives be used when communicating science topics?

An answer to this question is found in Using Narratives and Storytelling to Communicate Science with Nonexpert Audiences by Michael F. Dahlstrom, a professor at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University.

In his paper, Dahlstrom addresses the following topics:

  • Why are narratives effective?

  • Where do nonexperts get their science information?

  • How do narratives differ from logical-scientific communication?

  • How can narratives be used in science communication?

For the science communicator, building trust is essential, and narratives are an effective way to establish trust. Research suggests narratives are easier to comprehend and that audiences find them more engaging than traditional forms of science communication (Dahlstrom, 2014).

The use of storytelling techniques, while useful, comes with some challenges and ethical considerations, especially where controversial topics are concerned. Dahlstrom helps science communicators think through these issues and presents three key questions communicators can ask themselves while preparing narratives for their audiences.

Dahlstrom’s paper and the opinion piece by Katz (2013) are both available online. Click on the links below to obtain copies for your library.

Literature Cited

Dahlstrom, Michael F. 2014. Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (Supplement 4): 13614-13620. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/111/Supplement_4/13614.full.pdf

Katz, Yarden. 2013. Against storytelling of scientific results. Nature Methods, 10(11): 1045. Retrieved from https://yarden.github.io/pdfs/YK_AgainstStorytelling.pdf

Tania Marien