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    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.

    About this paper

    Paper title The Craft of Storytelling
    Subject Science Communication
    EFTS 0.1667
    Points 20 points
    Teaching period Semester 1 (Distance learning)
    Domestic Tuition Fees ( NZD ) $1,482.46
    International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.
    NHFC 402, SCOM 402
    Limited to
    MSciComm, PGDipSciComm, PGCertSciComm, MAppSci, PGDipAppSci, PGCertAppSci
    Normally available only by distance. Students intending to take this paper on campus should enrol for SCOM402 instead.

    In most cases this paper is available only for those students enrolled in a programme of study with an endorsement in Creative Nonfiction Writing.


    Teaching staff

    Professor Jesse Bering

    Paper Structure

    Weekly Readings and Discussion
    Each week will feature a selection of assigned readings, listening and/or viewing exercises. All students in SCOM 432 are expected to have read, watched and listened to these materials by the onset of each Tuesday's class and throughout the week to have engaged in critical online discussion (on Blackboard > "Discussion Board - Distance Students Only Forum") about this content with the instructor and other distance students.

    Seminars (approx 60 min) focus primarily on the science of storytelling and narrative, drawing from an interdisciplinary mix of empirical approaches, including anthropology, psychology and neurobiological research and theory. We will explore how the mind makes meaning and the key elements of narrative that make a story memorable, persuasive and transformative.

    For those who cannot watch live, the seminars will be uploaded to Blackboard after each class and made available for you to watch at your convenience.

    A range of assignments is designed to develop the student's narrative storytelling skills in the field of science communication.

    Teaching Arrangements

    This Distance Learning paper is taught remotely.

    Please note: This a dual mode offering. For students who wish to take this paper on campus please enrol in SCOM402

    One weekly 1-hour livestreamed lecture (also available for download) with discussion. In addition, all students in SCOM 432 are expected to have read, watched and listened to assigned media materials by the onset of each class and throughout the week to have engaged in critical online discussion on Blackboard about this content with the instructor and other distance students.


    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, Teamwork.
    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.


    Semester 1

    Teaching method
    This paper is taught through Distance Learning
    Learning management system
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