If my experience reading some of the world’s best (and worst) literature has taught me anything, it is that all of the best stories have dragons in them. O.K. – many of the best ones have dragons, or mention dragons, or contain some dragon-like concept. Whenever there is a dragon, or something  that could potentially represent a dragon, then you tend to have stories that involve some element of fear, uncertainty, mystery, terror, desperation, curiosity, adventure, stress, adversity, and so on. These emotional experiences are an important part of storytelling because they provide one way to engage the audience at both a cognitive and affective level. Qualitative ethnographic data, multivariate statistics, and 80,000-word theses don’t have the same effect by themselves.

Let’s take mystery as an example. Mysteries generally involve questions:

  • Do aliens really come to earth to abduct humans?
  • Is there a Bigfoot?
  • Why did the chicken cross the road?

Fortuitously, research also involves questions, so you immediately have the beginnings of a mystery to talk about. If you can tap into the mystery part of your research questions then you are on the right track to telling an interesting story. But the mystery isn’t just about your topic, because while the long-dead German poet featured in your research is a necessary part of the story, he cannot be its leading character – you are! You must play the role of both the narrator and the leading actor/actress, because part of the mystery people can be wrapped up in is why on earth you have been trying to answer your questions in the first place – what is your motivation? People make connections with other people (and their research). Research that lacks a human component is just abstract research, and many people would have a hard time relating to it without being able to live vicariously through you.

Read the rest from Joseph Barber at Inside Higher Ed.

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