Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

SCOM402 The Craft of Storytelling

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a selection of on-campus papers will be made available via distance and online learning for eligible students.
Find out which papers are available and how to apply on our COVID-19 website

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

This comprehensive paper focuses on the craft, commerce, and culture of storytelling as the cornerstone of effective science communication, whether in film, writing, or exhibitions. In addition to exploring practical wisdom on the tools of the trade, we will examine theoretical issues on the scientific study of narrative, including evolutionary, cognitive, and neurobiological approaches. Along the way, we may have occasional online Q&As and conversations with professional "sciencetellers" who regularly weave stories into their work.

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) $1,403.61
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

^ Top of page

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

Teaching staff

Dr Gianna Savoie

Paper Structure
  • 9.00-9.45 am - Part One (45 min): Weekly Readings and Discussion
    Each class will begin with a discussion of the assigned readings, listening and/or viewing exercises from the week before. (These materials will be made available on the server or, in some cases, emailed as links.) All students are expected to have read, watched, and 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 'Reading Assessments'.
  • 9.45-10.45 am - Part Two (60 min): Seminars
    Seminars 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. Guest speakers (typically via Skype) 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 when appropriate.
  • 10.45-11.00 am (15 min): Tea/bathroom break
  • 11.00-11.45 am - Part Three (45 min): Visiting "science storytellers" and In-Class Exercises. Following the break, we will occasionally host a range of industry professionals and academic experts for an informal dialogue about their work and processes. On other occasions, students will participate in an in-class exercise related to the content of the lectures. These exercises will include a variety of illustrative tasks that involve either individual or team effort.
  • 11.45 am - 12.00 pm - Part Four (15 min): Instructions for Next Assignment
    At the end of each class, students will be given instructions regarding the next assignment, which is due at the start of the class on its given due date. These are mostly brief writing assignments and are in addition to the weekly material for class discussion. More substantial assignments will be broken up into two segments to enable sufficient time. As with the in-class activities, most of these assignments will be marked based on individual performance, but a few are collaborative projects done in coordination with fellow students.
Teaching Arrangements
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
  • Learn the key elements of an effective story, their theoretical underpinnings, and how to infuse narrative into the practice of science communication
  • Participate actively in narrative activities (individually and in collaboration) that model effective science communication in the workplace
  • Understand how to apply technical information and knowledge for a variety of public audiences, using the tools of storytelling
  • Practise the unique qualities of professional science communication, including conciseness, readability, clarity, accuracy, honesty, avoiding wordiness or ambiguity, previewing, objectivity, unbiased analysing, summarising, 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

^ Top of page


Semester 1

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Tuesday 09:00-11:50 9-15, 17-22