Science in Society

How can I use stories in my communication?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A narrative approach

​​​Scientific storytelling is an essential tool for communicating scientific concepts in an engaging and accessible way. By using narrative techniques, relatable characters, and emotional connections, you can make scientific research more memorable and relevant to a wider audience.

Video on YouTube

Storytelling: the soul of science communication

Marina Joubert,Lloyd Davis,Jenni Metcalfe

There is a renewed interest amongst science communication practitioners and scholars to explore the potential of storytelling in public communication of science, including to understand how science storytelling functions (or could fail) in different contexts. Drawing from storytelling as the core theme of the 2018 conference of the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) Network, we present a selection of papers, essays and practice insights that offer diverse perspectives. Some contributions focus on the cultural and structural qualities of science stories and its key success factors, while others explore new formats, platforms and collaborators in science storytelling activities. Read the editorial.

Using stories can be tricky if you are not good at creative writing; however, you can simply tell stories verbally during PowerPoint presentations at conferences or during community engagements.

If you have real case studies, use them within ethical guidelines. Do not identify any participants or reveal aspects of their stories that could identify them.

Typical scenario: The HSRC has conducted research to develop toolkits to help rural grandparents deal with educating their HIV-positive grandchildren about living with the virus. A journal article has been published, but the researcher wants to write a popular article to demonstrate impact or share the work with the community as feedback. This is one way to approach the story line:

  1. Start with a grandmother’s story. She dreads talking about HIV because she doubts the child will understand the medical terminology or sensitive concepts … but the child is starting to ask questions.
  2. You could then bring in the statistics of grandparents in SA looking after kids who have lost their parents to HIV.
  3. Then move the focus of the article to the HSRC work, including what researchers have done, learnt and found and their insights. Don’t get too stuck on technicalities and methodology for a lay audience.
  4. Finally, move back to the grandmother’s story to demonstrate potential impact. With this toolkit, she was able to convey accurate information about HIV with age-appropriate language using the items/visuals the researchers provided. Then explain what the government/HSRC plans to do or should do next.
  1. Who is my target audience?
  2. What do I want to share?
  3. What should my word count be?
  4. How do I structure an article?
  5. How can I use stories in my communication?
  6. I need help with language and style
  7. What about footnotes/bibliographies/references?
  8. Tick box
  9. Talking about the HSRC: Are we diluting our brand?
  10. Focus on the researcher: Conveying the So What? and writing a short biography
  11. How do I structure a PowerPoint presentation?
  12. How do I take a useful photograph?
  13. How do I plan the structure of a short video?
  14. Useful links on science communication
  15. I am no digital native and need help with these: ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​creating hyperlinks, tracking edits in Word, making edits in Pdf, sending large documents and folders via WeTransfer
  16. Visualise your communication for impact
  17. HSRC events: Requirements for drafting and sending invitations

This toolkit is designed to help HSRC researchers to communicate information about their research effectively to maximise impact.​​​​​​​