Afterward, a scientist came up to me and said that she liked my definition of visual storytelling, but wondered if I could expand on it. I re-explained that anything you’re talking or writing about, that includes visuals, is visual storytelling.

She then asked if a PowerPoint presentation was visual storytelling. I had to laugh. “Of course it is!” I replied, finally understanding the root of the question: She hadn’t realized that all communication is a form of storytelling! It’s not just her. Storytelling is misunderstood in most corners of our society.

Brave Protagonist

People think that a story is what happens when you construct a plot (often fictional) with a main character going off to do daring deeds, or relating an anecdote, like the one above.

The truth is, a story is any account of events!

Yes, even research papers are stories. They just tend to be not particularly compelling stories… How could this be, you ask? Let’s take a look at a very common story structure:

This is the classic rise and fall of action. We learn about the current state of daily life, the protagonist (main character) leaps into action to change things, goes on a quest, conquers the big problem and then we see what life is like afterward. Yes, there are different story structures, but they’re more or less the same rise and fall of action.

Now let’s overlay the bare bones of a research paper:

Essentially, every paper is telling the story of you and your team, seeking answers to a question. Since we’re assuming that the answer you’re seeking is very important (otherwise, why would you pour a significant portion of your life into it, right?), it is equally important that others understand the value of your research. This is why presenting your work in a compelling fashion is a big deal! If others are not interested in reading the paper, they will miss out on an important issue.

Next time we’ll talk about leveraging storytelling to help people to care about the science story you’re telling.

Until then, have fun telling your story, so that others can get excited about what you’re working on, and maybe even get involved!

From the Lifeology team: Want storytelling tips? Need help translating published research or science you doing now into a visual story? Chat with Abrian and other science storytellers and artists on our Slack Workspace. Consider posting your project on our science art job board