When creating written content, tackling complex or niche topics can be challenging. You want your content to resonate with a wide audience, but piling on statistics, academic research, and datasets may not only confuse a common audience but bore them to tears. Often, using storytelling as a device to convey information — especially complex information — can be the best way to reach a broader audience and help them come away with a better understanding of and connection to the subject matter.
According to Harvard University, storytelling is one of the most powerful tools for inspiring, teaching concepts, and influencing people. It is a way of connecting people who have had similar experiences and building understanding. Here are some ways to use storytelling in your informative writing for the most effective results.
The power of storytelling
Human beings have been telling stories for years. Parables and fables told stories meant to illustrate lessons we should learn or the difference between right and wrong. Memoirs and autobiographies have given us a “peek behind the curtain” and made complicated situations such as war, politics, technology, or medicine easier to grasp. Storytelling has been used to describe complex matters since the beginning of time.
Storytelling can be exceptionally powerful, and common bonds can be strengthened between people when they read a story to which they relate. Confusing information can be better understood through storytelling.
People from outside academia, the technology industry, or medicine can grasp concepts without needing years of college or advanced degrees, making storytelling one of the best devices to tackle a niche subject.
Know your audience
One of the most important parts of effective storytelling is knowing your audience. Every bit of informational writing has a target audience, and identifying your target audience will help you grasp what kind of storytelling you should rely on to get your message across. One’s information may fall flat if a writer doesn’t take the time to understand their audience. Some audiences enjoy humorous takes on more serious content, and others want emotional stories that tug at the heartstrings.
When content is written in plain, easy-to-understand language and includes stories to which people can relate, it is easier to grasp and retain. When you engage your audience with the right voice and style of storytelling, you ensure they will remember what you tell them because they can relate to it in some way.
Research, statistics, and data
Data, statistics, and research-heavy content can come across as dry, but some topics require some research to be fleshed out. It can be challenging to showcase one’s expertise in an area if you are relying on storytelling and anecdotal evidence alone. Statistics and research should not be abandoned altogether, but rather the storytelling device should buoy statistical evidence offered in support of content.
Being a savvy writer involves knowing what research and data to include — and which to scrap. Some data sets lend credibility to one’s take on a subject, and others just bog down a piece and cause the reader to lose interest.
One way to use statistical evidence with a story’s support is to state a statistic and then tell a personal story that illustrates the statistic. For example, you can claim that 4% of Americans drive electric cars and then bolster this statistic with the personal story of an electric car purchase.
Data and statistics can also be well-supported with metaphors or similes. For instance, you can say 4% of Americans drive electric cars, but you can also explain it as “roughly the population of Los Angeles” to put the number in perspective.
Using the right kind of story
The storytelling device can be as varied as your audience or the content that you are trying to convey. There are many ways to tell a story, and the type of storytelling you choose will depend on many factors — your writing style, target readership, and the content itself.
Interviews can be a great way to tell a story, as these are often more intimate retellings straight from the source and can be a relaxed manner of sharing information. If you are tasked with interviewing a subject, try to encourage them to dig deep and share compelling stories along with basic information pertinent to the piece.
People also find case studies useful, as these help give a human face to complex ideas. Case studies can be especially effective when trying to discuss a new medical breakthrough or technology innovation. If people are on the fence about trying something new, a case study can act as the “referral.” Similarly, if people feel as if they “know” someone who has experienced something or used a product, they will be more likely to take a chance on it.
Fictional scenarios can also be used to illustrate points — especially if something is novel or untested. If one can create a fictional, though believable, example of how someone may use a product or require a service, it paints a picture for the target audience so they can better visualize the purpose of that product or service.
When people hear stories that make them think, encourage them to relate to one another, or call to mind things within their own lives, it helps them grasp even the most complex of concepts. By infusing your writing with storytelling, you leave your readers with fewer questions, more understanding, and a better chance that they will come away from reading your piece having hearing the message loud and clear.
Amanda Reseburg is a writer for Otter PR.