Why Science Blogging Requires Story-Telling

Credit: Tom Murphy VII, Wiki. Who would have thought that what you REALLY need in order to be an excellent science communicator is the ability to tell good stories?

This week, I invited Joe Palca, science correspondent for NPR, to write a guest blog post for our community blog series "Blogging 2.0", advice on bringing your science blogging to the next level. Joe could have written about how to use social media effectively, or how to gain readership with catchy blog post titles. But the subject of his guest post is much more fundamental: storytelling.

Storytelling appears to be a critical aspect of science communication, from grant proposal, to journal publication, to news story, to popular science novel, to our favorite science blog post. One of the biggest themes that emerged from my own qualitative study of science communicators last summer was the idea that people relate to stories, and that the best science writing involves storytelling with tangible characters, drama, plot and metaphors.

"The sex life of the bdelloid rotifer is not on the minds of most people. So if I want to write a piece about that, I have to find a way to make it interesting to people other than microbiologists. How do I do that? I tell stories. I use familiar analogies or amusing anecdotes that I hope will entice people to listen to the entire piece." - Joe Palca

And science blog posts aren't the only pieces of science writing that require storytelling. A professor I respect once told me that the best way to ensure that your manuscript is chosen for publication by a top-tier journal is to make sure that the manuscript, tables and figures work together to tell a coherent story. Pieces of data unnecessary to tell that story may be downplayed, while the abstract and introduction, like any nut-graph, should introduce the problem, anticipate the future excitement - essentially set up the rest of the story. For better or for worse, even journal editors apparently aren't immune to the appeal of a good story. Good science + good storytelling = success.

Thoughts on this?