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SCOM402 The Craft of Storytelling

A seminar-based paper that explores the requirements for the core skill necessary for the communication of science and natural history - telling a story.

Writing is a skill. Storytelling is an art. No matter what role you take on as a science communicator, be it as writer, filmmaker, presenter or multi-media artist, decisions about storytelling will confront you throughout your career. Whipping science into a potent narrative involves a range of creative choices about style, structure, character development, point of view and more. This comprehensive paper focuses on the craft, commerce, and culture of storytelling as the cornerstone of effective science communication, whether in film, writing, podcasting or exhibitions. Students will engage in a variety of exercises and assignments designed to flex the creative muscle and build sound proficiency in the art of telling compelling science stories that brim with action, emotion, and life. Along the way, we will engage in online conversations to glean practical wisdom from professional “sciencetellers” who weave stories into their work in impactful and often surprising ways.

Paper title The Craft of Storytelling
Paper code SCOM402
Subject Science Communication
EFTS 0.1667
Points 20 points
Teaching period Semester 1 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,442.12
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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NHFC 402, SCOM 432
Normally available only to postgraduate students.

Teaching staff

Professor Jesse Bering

Paper Structure

9.00-9.50am Part One (1 hour): Weekly Assignment Discussion

Each class will begin with a discussion of the assigned readings, listening and/or viewing exercises/assignments from the week before. (These materials will be made available on the server or, in some cases, emailed as links.) Students may be assigned to lead discussions from week to week on a rotating basis. However, all students are expected to have read/watched/listened to these materials by the onset of class and to be prepared to engage in critical discussion and detailed in-class analysis of the assigned weekly content. Failure to do so will be obvious. *Note: student engagement with this pre-class material will be formally assessed (graded) under the heading of ‘Participation’.

9.50-10.00am (10 min): First tea/bathroom break.

10.00-10.50am. Part Two (50 min): Seminars

Seminars focus primarily on the science and practice of storytelling and narrative. We will explore how the mind makes meaning and the key elements of narrative that make a story memorable, persuasive, and transformative. More practical elements of narrative construction will also be investigated.

10.50-11.00am: Second tea/bathroom break.

11.00-11.50 am: Part Three (50 min): Guest Speakers/In-class exercises

Following the break, students will participate in a class exercise demonstrating the applied principles of storytelling. These exercises willinclude a variety of illustrative tasks that involve either individual or team effort. Whenever feasible, guest speakers (in person or via Zoom) with relevant expertise and experience in the subject area may occasionally join in during the seminars, depending on timing and availability. Students are expected to contribute.

Teaching Arrangements

The Distance Learning offering of this paper is taught remotely.

Please note: This is a dual mode offering. For students who wish to take this as a Distance Learning paper please enrol in SCOM432.

One weekly 3-hour session.


Recommended texts:

  • Curran-Bernard, S. (2015). Documentary storytelling: Creative nonfiction onscreen. Focal Press.
  • Coyne, S. (2012). The story grid: What good editors know.
  • Herman, D. (2013). Storytelling and the Sciences of Mind. MIT press.
Course outline

The course outline is advised at the beginning of the semester.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Environmental literacy, Information literacy, Research, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

Students will develop competency in the following areas:

  • Describe the key elements of an effective story, their theoretical underpinnings, and how to infuse narrative into the practice of science communication.
  • Participate in narrative activities (individually and in collaboration) that model effective science communication in the workplace.
  • Apply technical information and knowledge for a variety of public audiences, using the tools of storytelling.
  • Practice the unique qualities of professional science communication, including conciseness, readability, clarity, accuracy, honesty, avoiding wordiness or ambiguity, previewing, objectivity, unbiased analyzing, summarizing, coherence and transitional devices.
  • Understand the standards for legitimate interpretations of research data within scientific communities; know the ethics of the nonfiction narrative practitioner.
  • Revise and edit effectively in all assignments, including informal media (such as email to the instructor).
  • Receive critical feedback on creative work positively and in the constructive spirit in which it was intended.
  • Develop professional work habits, including those necessary for effective collaboration and cooperation with other students, instructors, and potential colleagues.

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Semester 1

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Tuesday 09:00-11:50 9-14, 16, 18-22