4 Ways to Improve Your Scholarly Writing Using Storytelling (PART 2)

In this series, we explore four narrative elements you should to consider using when writing research projects: Plot, Story, Description, and Characterization. Missed Part 1 on Plot? You can see last month’s post here.


When integrating narrative elements, remember to...

Use narrative in small chunks. The entire work does not need to be a narrative. Story elements can introduce an idea or illustrate a particularly difficult section. Readers not familiar with the topic will follow this story path to understanding.

Use select elements of storytelling. Use one or two storytelling tools we talk about to enhance readability. Carefully consider which elements are most suitable the work at hand.


STORY: When readers need to know how to relate.


The difference between plot and story is wide. Story is far more interesting than plot to director Martin Scorsese. He expounds, on Dinner for Five, about story to include “mood... style” and “feelings of threat” as part of the story. He explains how little glances, facial expressions, and gestures that reflect emotions are, in fact, the story. These are the small moments people can latch onto, when they see where they connect or what they might do in a given situation. So, while plot may be  E.M. Forster's causal chain (as we discussed in the last post), story explains how this chain of events happened—it is the reasoning behind the plot and the analogies and examples that make this reasoning concrete.


Illustrating these small moments shows non-expert readers how the research affects all of us. Description of a scene with sensory details makes the reasoning conrete for the reader: it builds tension, takes note of the human experience within the research, and increases impact and motivation to read on—even when not in one’s field of expertise. This can help the layperson understand what is at stake in your research project. Explicitly stating relevance may seem enough, but as Livo and Reitz state in their book, Storytelling: Process and Practice, story can bind science and research into human existence and reveal its importance to the reader in a more meaningful way (24).


Next month we will look at how to use description to guide your readers. Don’t want to miss future posts on how to improve your writing? Follow us on Twitter.