How to Tell a Story

In collaboration with Susan Bell, this article originally posted on

Recently I gave a workshop on turning fact into fiction at a literary festival in Victoria. As I was working on it, Sue pointed out to me that several of my charts about turning ‘fact’ into compelling fiction are relevant to our research communication – where we try to tell a story.

Here are a few examples, focusing on the images above.

1. As a writer, I find I have an overwhelming amount of information, and the process to handle that is similar to my work as a researcher. It is basically: immerse – synthesise – discard – focus on the telling detail. As the diagram shows, the process of synthesis is not linear, but draws on a number of ways of looking at the data to draw out the key issues which will feed into the story. As with a fictional narrative, we need to be able to define the topics and themes to engage our ‘reader’’ (or client).

2. The people we are researching are not uni-dimensional. They have physical characteristics, an internal and an external life, all of which contribute to our understanding of their behaviour, what we measure, and how we communicate their story – exactly as in a novel.

3. As people move towards their goals, our job as ‘author’ or research strategist is to chart their journey. What aspects of their internal or external life move the story along? The more we can understand about each of these aspects of the protagonist (the consumer) the more rounded the story becomes.

Much of this sounds obvious – but think of a novel you have enjoyed, and then compare to a good research presentation. You will see for yourself where the similarities advance the cause of expert research communication!

Posted on March 18, 2016 .