Remember the tale of Scheherazade? She spun stories night after night in order to save her own life. Why was her strategy so effective?
Human beings are wired for stories. They speak to us in a deep way. They help us make sense of the world, and remember important lessons.
That’s why many religious teachings have been codified in parables. And why the most engaging TED talks are often built around a narrative structure.
Adopting some basic storytelling principles may well invite people into what you do in a way that more conventional description can’t.
You might start by asking yourself: what’s the central conflict at the heart of my research?
If you had to pitch a Hollywood movie producer on dramatizing your work, could you describe the essential challenge in one or two sentences?
Maybe you can place a villain, victim or hero at the centre of what you study.
Or maybe enliven your research through a human face, profiling one individual affected by the issue you study. If you can tell the story through her eyes, or evoke the emotions that he felt, all the better.
Perhaps your research was inspired by a personal experience of your own… Start there!
Has it taken you on an interesting journey – to another time, place or discipline…?
If so, what obstacles did you meet along the way? And how did you overcome them?
Alternatively, you might try channeling Dickens, Shakespeare, or PD James…
If one of them were to write up your research, what title would they assign it?
Consider the problem your research is trying to solve… How dramatic are the consequences of failing? Who is likely to suffer as a result, and how?
Can you build suspense into the telling – create a cliffhanger that keeps people following along to find out whether – or how – the crisis was resolved, the discovery was made or the data was verified?
In the process, can you appeal to our senses? Set the scene with a few adjectives that bring the lab or library, dig or dugout alive?
And what about dialogue? In the course of conducting your research or debating your results, did you unearth a dynamic exchange or funny conversation that will help illuminate the issues?
You’re already clear about why your research is important;
exploiting its story potential is likely to help others understand that, too.
For University Affairs Magazine, I’m Shari Graydon of Informed Opinions.