Bringing story back

One of the things that’s really important to me as a science communicator is telling stories. I certainly didn’t invent the idea of moving towards a more narrative way of describing science, and I know that I’m not the only one that feels that storytelling is key to more engagement in science. In fact, it was this idea in particular which lead to the creation of the #onsci (“on science”) twitter chats that started last year after the Inspiring Australia conference. But now I feel that I’m actually starting to put my ideas into practice and it’s exciting!

Recently an article that I wrote (with Waite scientist Matt Gilliham) was published on Scientific American’s guest blog. It still makes me want to do a happy dance when I think about it. I was really lucky that Matt was prepared to indulge my ideas, both when pitching and writing the story, and that his research had such a good story behind it. I’m also really lucky to be working in science communication right now.

I have actually been working in science communication for more than 10 years in various guises. As recently as 3 years ago, using blogging and other social  media tools as a way to communicate science was not considered by research organisations, at least not the ones I knew about. Almost all of our communications activities were focused on the mainstream media, newspapers in particular, which lead to a formula for writing science. Of course I understand a particular style of writing is needed to catch the attention of someone who only bought the paper to line the budgie cage. But now, with blogs etc, we have intentional, deliberate readers who want to be inspired and amazed, rather than accidental readers who we hope will read enough words to think ‘science is important’ before they turn the page.

I have always been interested in telling stories about science and I didn’t realise how different this was from ‘conventional’ science communication until very recently, when another science communicator was providing some feedback on something I’d written. She gave me some direct feedback on the statements attributed to her organisation, but then she gave me some advice on how the article should have been written; more stress on the impact of the work, especially at the beginning. I hadn’t written to the formula.

My decision to not write to the formula was deliberate. We’ve been taught that science articles should look something like: researchers have solved a problem, what the problem is & why it is important, how they did it (sciencey bit), why this research is important and how the results of the research will be delivered to solve the problem. But not all research is a breakthrough. Most breakthroughs happen because teams of scientists have worked hard for a long time on a small piece in a big puzzle. Often they aren’t exactly sure which puzzle the piece belongs to, and the picture on the front of the box can be absent, wrong or incomplete.

Do we really want to know how the story ends at the beginning? I’m interested in telling the kinds of stories that meander; that describe surprise, creativity, discovery and disappointment

Although it’s only one post, I feel like I’ve finally made a start. I hope it’s the first of many!

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One thought on “Bringing story back

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