This post may contain affliate links. Read the full disclosure policy here.
From my very first presentation in graduate school, I have always been told that I need to tell a story. A story needs to be told in all my scientific writing and presentations. When presenting, I find it much easier to tell a story. I can introduce a basic and broad background and build from there.
Presentations are one thing, but telling a story in a journal article is/was a whole different beast for me. When writing about enzyme kinetics, how do I tell a story when my words are limited and the subject is technical? As I struggle to write an introduction (the beginning of my story), I always wonder if my effort is worth it. Will telling a story really help my publication get more attention, reads, citations, etc?
As I was pondering all of this, I heard a interview on the Science In Action podcast that left me intrigued and seemed to answer my question. (If you are interested in listening, start at 15:36, here.)
Narrative Style Results In Increased Citations
The title of the article “Narrative Style Influences Citation Frequency in Climate Change Science” pretty much gives the answer. The greater the narrative style (based on 6 different narrative elements), the greater number of citations the paper received. This article only focused on climate change science, but I believe the results easily extend to other fields.
Citations are not everything (although the h-index is becoming more important). However, I think this article points to a greater trend. The more accessible an article is, the more people are reading and, hopefully, understanding it. As more people understand and remember your work, hopefully the more it will be discussed. This helps to increase the scope and impact of your work.
If you are not yet convinced that you should be telling a story, an increase in the narrative index of an abstract directly correlated with the impact factor of the journal. The higher the impact factor of the journal, the higher the narrative index. These higher impact journals typically are more broad in the scope and have a broader audience. This could be the reason for the correlation, but perhaps another reason could be the accessibility of the article and the ease of understanding of the material presented.
Either way, I think most scientists like to publish in high impact journals and like when their work is cited. By telling a story and writing with narrative style, you are more likely to increase the quality of your publications.
Communicating with a broad audience
It is important that other scientists understand your work, but it is also important that journalists, politicians, and other members of the public can understand implications of your publication, In the above study, members of the general public scored the narrative index of each abstract. I think this is crucial, as the narrative style was not critiqued by other scientists who could have biased on the research topic or results.
As more and more journals become open access and more non-scientists read manuscripts, we must explain our science in a way that most individuals can understand. Even if people cannot understand the exact experiments performed, it is important to understand the impact of the work and how it moved the field forward. This important not only for helping people to understand our work, but also as a way for people to recognize that our work is worthy of funding.
What do you think of telling a story with your work? Do you think it is worth the time?