It is difficult to exaggerate the power and ubiquity of storytelling among human beings. Social scientists and neurologists have found in recent years that storytelling is not only a human universal, but also that it may reveal how we organize and analyze information in our brains. Storytelling is vital to our ability to understand a holistic concept and integrate it into our worldview. More and more researchers are realizing the power of the story, and they are learning how to use it to their advantage in their deliverables. A deliverable that follows the tenants of storytelling tends to be much more engaging for stakeholders and gives them a clearer idea of how to implement findings in the broader organization. When you were a child, your parents or teachers probably read some of Aesop’s fables to you. These little stories are designed to deliver lessons in a digestible format that is easily absorbed into the psyche. All of these stories share a few things in common.

1. They are brief.

For one thing, fables are bite-sized. In storytelling, brevity has the advantage of delivering a high impact in a short amount of time. And it doesn’t take an astute observer to see that our attention spans these days are getting shorter and shorter. The traditional market research report, on the other hand, can easily reach up to 60 – 70 pages or slides long. Many market researchers are realizing that shortening their deliverable to nuggets of information makes it easier for stakeholders to absorb this information and act upon it.

2. They follow a narrative arc.

Fables typically have a common structure. Usually it begins with Orientation (introducing the setting and characters), then introduces a Complication (a problem that disrupts the status quo), followed by a Resolution (response to the problem), then ending with the Coda (moral of the story). Researchers are increasingly structuring deliverables in much the same way: by introducing where we are today, presenting the problem or question that initiated the research, then suggesting a response to resolve the problem.

3. They are aesthetically pleasing.

Fables are beautiful. They have color and artistry to them that a straightforward moral statement doesn’t have. Most of us are familiar with their effervescent cadence and crafted simplicity. Traditionally, research reports have overlooked the beauty factor. It is easy to do. After all, you’re only presenting data. However, in our conversations with researchers, many are finding that making a deliverable aesthetically pleasing can actually deepen the impact and give it credibility. If nothing else, researchers often find that when something looks good, it tends to make everyone who sees it feel good, and that is certainly worth the effort.

4. They provide context.

When telling a story, it’s important to know the context and history behind the things that unfold. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and without context, events seem nonsensical and chaotic. Research reports have traditionally focused mainly on the insights gathered. However, many researchers have found that the concept of providing context applies to their deliverables as well, and that sometimes the setup to the findings is just as important as the findings themselves. It provides a jumping-off point for analyzing the meaning behind the data, and by extension, how and where to move forward.

5. They include recommendations.

Gratitude is the sign of noble souls. Be not hasty to envy the condition of others. These are just a few of the maxims in Aesop’s fables. Researchers are increasingly thinking about the moral of the story, or the “so what?” factor of the deliverable. They are learning that boiling down the insights into a few key recommendations moving forward does a lot to help drive action in the organization. So when you are preparing to write your next research deliverable, keep in mind these storytelling techniques. You’ll be sure to keep your audience on the edge of their seats!

Ellen Hart is a Senior Associate Consultant at Vivisum Partners. She specializes in in-depth qualitative research in healthcare and nonprofit fields.

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