Searching for Story in Scholarly Writing

From Edith Soto on Flickr Creative Commons "binoculars" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by ºNit Soto
From Edith Soto on Flickr Creative Commons "binoculars" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by ºNit Soto

There is something great about Archival Bodies, Amy Hildreth Chen’s manuscript-in-progress.


Eyre & Israel worked with Chen to assure that her quantitative analysis compliments her qualitative research. It was a joy because she incorporates narrative tools throughout to engross her readers in the stories of universities and institutions acquiring authors’ papers. It’s no secret that humans love storytelling. It captures our attention and imagination, and it makes us care.


Often scholarly writers who want to include a narrative element within their work, as Chen does in Archival Bodies, find it challenging. It can seem separate from the work they are producing—they need to show results of their research, and they want to make a point. How does storytelling fit into that? How does it fit into the academic writing norms?


Academics engage in stories every day. The difficulty is seeing that story in our work and thinking about it as part of our writing. Scholars do not need to become creative nonfiction writers, but they can use narrative elements to involve readers, to make them want to read on, to discover alongside the writer. The best scholarly writing does this.


The first step in using story within academic writing is to find the story that is already there, the story that provoked you, the researcher, to pursue this. You don’t need your life story—you need to stay on topic, after all—but you do need to bring this hidden story to the surface.


Here are 5 ways to find story opportunities in your next writing project:

  • Objectives—You already include them, right? Consider the situation that makes your work beneficial. A story can come in the form of a current predicament, a need. When you think about this, you usually put a face on the struggle you see. The next time you think about your objectives, think about illustrating this need, rather than explaining it. It’s the old “show, don’t tell” advice fiction students repeat daily.
  • Examples—These are often necessary, but only a sliver of their storytelling potential gets used. Don't let good descriptive material go to waste.
  • Difficulties—Rather than stating the barriers, get personal. What are the problems you encountered in your research? It was probably dramatic for you. Lend a little of that to your readers.
  • Case Studies—They are stories that are already built into the research. Why not use them to create some dramatic tension? Think of case studies as little stories that allow you to illustrate a point. They even have people in them that could be characters.
  • The Resolution—What do your results bring to the table? How have they changed the opening picture that you created when you were thinking about the objectives? Obviously, you can have an open ending that calls for a sequel.

Identifying where you can build on the story of your research is the first step—a heavy one—to moving toward the use of story in a scholarly project. Once you break through this step, though, you are well on your way.


Contact Eyre & Israel to open up your story by using the narrative strategies of creative writers. We'd love to see your work change the world.

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