Okay, so William James, the 19th century philosopher and psychologist, never actually wrote about science communication, but bear with me. In working on a chapter for a collection of papers on loneliness, I came across an essay by William James on blindness, which spoke to me of the reasons why storytelling is essential to research communication. The blindness James writes about “is the blindness with which we all are afflicted in regard to the feelings of creatures and people different from ourselves.” This kind of blindness is reinforced by realist writing–writing that sticks to what can be observed.
To share only what can be observed from the outside, what is empirically observable, misses out on what is most important:
“The subject judged knows a part of the world of reality which the judging spectator fails to see, knows more while the spectator knows less; and, wherever there is conflict of opinion and difference of vision, we are bound to believe that the truer side is the side that feels the more, and not the side that feels the less.”
Feelings are an essential part of communication. If you want to share your research, you need to share your interest, your passion, why it matters to you. You need to connect with your audience heart to heart.
If you want to convince your audience that your research stories matter, you have to be clear on why they matter to you. You cannot assume that another person will be able to look at the bare facts of your research and feel their importance.