- 1 Welcome
- 2 And, But, Therefore
- 2.1 The And, But, Therefore Technique in Film and TV
- 2.2 The And, But, Therefore Technique in Science Writing
- 2.3 Let’s Explore the ABT Structure
- 2.4 Why Use the And, But, Therefore Technique?
- 2.5 When to Use the And, But, Therefore Technique?
- 2.6 Your Turn to Create an ABT Paragraph
- 2.7 More Information on the And, But, Therefore Technique
- 3 Loglines
- 4 Storyboarding
- 4.1 Storyboarding in Film and TV
- 4.2 Storyboarding in Science Writing
- 4.3 Three Different Methods for Creating Storyboards
- 4.4 Storyboard Examples
- 4.5 Why Use the Storyboarding Technique?
- 4.6 When to Use the Storyboarding Technique?
- 4.7 Your Turn to Create a Storyboard
- 4.8 More Information on the Storyboarding Technique
- 5 Closing Remarks
Welcome to the Storytelling in Science Writing module. The techniques in this module all come from the world of film and TV. The first technique, using the And, But, Therefore structure, can create an engaging narrative. The second technique, creating a logline, can help identify the single focus of your scientific articles. The last technique, creating a storyboard, can help with structuring your writing.
I am Chris Greyson-Gaito, and I will help you through the different storytelling techniques. I am currently a researcher examining food webs and ecological-economics. I really enjoy trying to incorporate story into my science writing. I have found the techniques I will show here to be immensely helpful. I hope you will find these techniques similarly useful.
Welcome to the Storytelling in Science Writing module. My name is Chris Greyson-Gaito and I will be your facilitator. I am a former writing support teaching assistant at the University of Guelph who mentored students through the writing process in all disciplines. Currently, I am a researcher who uses mathematical modelling to explore food webs and ecological-economics.
In this module, we will explore how to incorporate story and narrative into your scientific writing. I hope by the end of this module you will understand that scientific writing can be engaging and fun. We will go through three techniques from the TV and film scriptwriting industry that will help you write engaging scientific articles and theses. First, we will use the And, But, Therefore structure to write in an engaging manner. Next, we will create loglines to identify the single problem of your paper. Finally, we will explore storyboarding to help structure your paper.
I hope you enjoy this module. Thank you.
And, But, Therefore
The And, But, Therefore Technique in Film and TV
Let’s use a silly story I created to understand the And, But, Therefore technique.
Before we get into the And, But, Therefore (or ABT) technique, let’s first understand the structure of most stories by going through a silly story that I created.
Chris is happily and slowly working on his PhD. But one day, pirates steal Chris’s computer. Chris cannot complete his PhD without a computer so he must venture out and retrieve his computer. On his journey, Chris meets a cat that can make fireballs. They become firm friends. After battling dragons and knights, Chris and the cat find the pirates and take back the computer. Chris returns home with his computer and the cat. The cat helps Chris with his PhD. Everything seems to be going well, but the cat has a sinister motive for befriending Chris.
Let’s go through each part of this silly story to unpack the structure. At first, the main characters are introduced in their normal day-to-day lives. At the beginning of our story, we are introduced to Chris who is quietly working on his PhD. Then something occurs that spurs the action of the story. Usually, there is a problem that the main characters have to solve. In our story, the problem is that pirates have stolen Chris’ computer. The story then follows the main characters through their journey (physical or mental) to solve the problem. During Chris’ journey, he meets a friendly cat and, with the cat, battles a dragon, a knight, and finally the pirates. By the end of the story, the problem has been solved and often the main characters return to their normal day-to-day lives but with new insights/knowledge/friends/items, etc. In the story, Chris returns to writing his PhD but now with a friendly cat to keep him company. Sometimes, a story ends with a teaser (a cliff hanger) for the next story. At the end of our story, we find out that the cat has a sinister motive for befriending Chris but we are not told what this motive is. This is the teaser (or cliff hanger) for the next story to pick up on.
This narrative structure can be distilled even further into the And, But, Therefore structure that was developed by Randy Olson. Randy Olson was a marine biologist who became a filmmaker. His excellent book “Houston, we have a narrative” draws on his experience of being a scientist and a filmmaker. This book introduces the And, But, Therefore technique (and many other techniques).
The And section of the structure introduces generally known facts. In a story, the And section is where the main characters are introduced.
The But section establishes a tension, a conflict, or a problem. In a story, the But section is where the characters first encounter the problem and where the characters must journey to solve the problem.
Finally, the therefore section provides the solution to the tension, conflict or problem. The Therefore section also ties all narrative strands together. In a story, the Therefore section is where the problem has been solved, the characters have returned, and potentially the next story is introduced with a teaser.
Many stories use this And, But, Therefore structure. Arguably too, all scientific articles and science theses inherently have And, But, and Therefore sections. When science writers acknowledge this fact and actively incorporate the And, But, Therefore structure in their writing, articles and theses become easier to understand and more interesting.
Let’s explore how the And, But, Therefore structure applies to scientific writing. Back to the web page.
The And, But, Therefore Technique in Science Writing
The And, But, Therefore (ABT) structure can be used in scientific writing. Below, I highlight the general purpose of each And, But, and Therefore section and compare how this structure functions in a fictional story versus in a scientific article:
|ABT||General purpose||Story||Scientific article|
|And||Known facts.||Introduce main characters.||Known facts in scientific literature.|
|But||Establish tension, conflict, or problem.||Problem that characters must solve. Journey to solve problem.||Knowledge gap (a problem) that must be solved. Methods.|
|Therefore||Solution to tension, conflict or problem.|
Ties all narrative strands together.
|Problem solved. Characters return. Teaser.||Results. Solution to the knowledge gap or problem (conclusion). |
States future research.
Let’s Explore the ABT Structure
Download the PDF and follow the instructions to explore the ABT structure in stories and scientific articles.
Why Use the And, But, Therefore Technique?
To answer the question “Why use the And, But, Therefore technique?”, let’s compare the ABT structure with other narrative structures in, what Dr. Randy Olson termed, the “narrative spectrum.”
And, And, And (AAA)
- List of facts without narrative
And, But, Therefore (ABT)
- Simple, cohesive narrative
Despite, However, Yet (DHY)
- Too many narrative directions
- Too many tensions, conflicts, or problems
The three abstracts below illustrate the narrative spectrum. One abstract is And, And, And (AAA), one abstract is And, But, Therefore (ABT), and one abstract is Despite, However, Yet (DHY). Try to determine whether each abstract is AAA, ABT, or DHY.
Bone is now regarded to be a key regulator of a number of metabolic processes, in addition to the regulation of mineral metabolism. However, our understanding of complex bone metabolic interactions at a systems level remains rudimentary, limiting our ability to assess systemic mechanisms underlying diseases and develop novel therapeutics. In vitro molecular biology and bioinformatics approaches have frequently been used to understand the mechanistic changes underlying disease at the cell level, however, these approaches lack the capability to interrogate dynamic multi-bone metabolic interactions in vivo. Here we present a novel and integrative approach to understand complex bone metabolic interactions in vivo using total-body positron emission tomography (PET) network analysis of murine 18F-FDG scans, as a biomarker of glucose metabolism signature in bones. In this report we show that different bones within the skeleton have a unique glucose metabolism and form a complex metabolic network. These data could have important therapeutic implications in the management of the metabolic syndrome and skeletal disease. The application of our approach to clinical and preclinical total-body PET studies promises to reveal further physiological and pathological tissue interactions, which simplistic PET standard uptake values analysis fail to interrogate, extending beyond skeletal metabolism, due to the diversity of PET radiotracers available and under development as well as the advent of clinical total-body PET systems.
Suchacki, K. J., C. J. Alcaide-Corral, S. Nimale, M. G. Macaskill, R. H. Stimson, C. Farquharson, T. C. Freeman, and A. A. S. Tavares. 2021. A systems-level analysis of dynamic total-body pet data reveals complex skeletal energy metabolism networks in vivo. BioRxiv 431368, ver. 1, preprint. Abstract used under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
The flux of detrital particles produced by plankton is an important component of the biological carbon pump. We investigate how food web structure and organisms’ size regulate particulate carbon export efficiency (the fraction of primary production that is exported via detrital particles at a given depth). We use the Nutrient-Unicellular-Multicellular (NUM) mechanistic size-spectrum model of the planktonic community (unicellular protists and copepods), embedded within a 3D model representation of the global ocean circulation. The ecosystem model generates emergent food webs and size distributions of all organisms and detrital particles. Model outputs are compared to field data. We find that strong predation by copepods increases export efficiency, while protist predation reduces it. We find no clear relation between primary production and export efficiency. Temperature indirectly drives carbon export efficiency by affecting the biomass of copepods. High temperatures, combined with nutrient limitation, result in low growth efficiency, smaller trophic transfer to higher trophic levels, and decreased carbon export efficiency. Even though copepods consume a large fraction of the detritus produced, they do not markedly attenuate the particle flux. Our simulations illustrate the complex relation between the planktonic food web and export efficiency, and highlights the central role of zooplankton and their size structure.
Serra-Pompei, C., B. A. Ward, J. Pinti, A. W. Visser, T. Kiørboe, and K. H. Andersen. 2021. Zooplankton trophic dynamics drive carbon export efficiency. BioRxiv 434455, ver. 1, preprint. Abstract used under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
A major challenge in community ecology is to understand the mechanisms promoting stable local coexistence. A necessary feature of local coexistence is that species show negative frequency dependence, rescuing rare species from exclusion. However, most studies have focused on ecological differences driving negative frequency dependence, ignoring non-ecological mechanisms such as reproductive interactions. Here, we combined field studies with behavioural and mesocosm experiments to investigate how reproductive interactions within and between species promote coexistence. Our results indicate that the intensity of male mating harassment and sexual conflict increases as species become more common, reducing female productivity and leading to negative frequency dependence. Moreover, field surveys reveal that negative frequency dependence operates in natural settings, consistent with our experimental results. These results suggest that sexual conflict can promote local coexistence and highlights the importance of studying reproductive interactions together with ecological differences to better understand the mechanisms promoting species coexistence.
Gomez-Llano, M., S. Nilén, I. Moodie, and E. I. Svensson. 2021. Sexual conflict promotes species coexistence through negative frequency dependence. BioRxiv 434376, ver. 1, preprint. Abstract used under CC-BY 4.0.
Abstract 1: DHY
Abstract 2: AAA
Abstract 3: ABT
Hopefully you found the ABT abstract the most engaging. In the AAA structure, a reader is often not excited by (or interested in) a list of facts. In the DHY structure, there are too many problems and the article is unfocused, confusing the reader. Therefore, the best narrative structure along this spectrum is the ABT structure because there is one single focus and it introduces a problem which excites the reader. The answer to why use the And, But, Therefore technique is the ABT structure can help to produce engaging writing.
When to Use the And, But, Therefore Technique?
Structuring your research article
- As shown above, a research article takes the form of introducing known information, stating a problem, and then returning with an answer to that problem. This is the ABT structure. Remember, one answer to the problem in your article may be “we don’t know” if you do not have significant results (which is very common in science.)
- When writing your research articles, try to ensure that your whole article follows the ABT structure.
Structuring your whole thesis and thesis chapters
- A thesis usually has multiple smaller problems nested within a larger problem. Often each thesis chapter is a research article on one of the smaller problems. Therefore, the ABT structure can be used within a thesis chapter. The ABT structure can also be used for the whole thesis because the general introduction of the thesis can introduce the known information and general problem the thesis will attempt to solve. The general concluding chapter will then bring all the ideas together and provide a conclusion to the general problem.
Structuring your Abstract
- An abstract is a summary of the whole paper, so abstracts are an excellent place to use the ABT structure.
Structuring your Introduction
- An Introduction begins with known information, then introduces a knowledge gap or problem. Technically, an Introduction should not provide a conclusion, but you can end an Introduction with a brief summary of the results, which is effectively your Therefore part of the ABT structure.
Your Turn to Create an ABT Paragraph
Download the PDF and follow the instructions to create your own ABT paragraph.
More Information on the And, But, Therefore Technique
Olson, R. 2015. Houston, we have a narrative: Why science needs story. University of Chicago Press
Science Needs Story: A Blog for the ABT Framework and Story Circles Narrative Training
The Logline Technique in Film and TV
A logline is a common technique in film and TV. Loglines are used to sell a film or TV script to a producer. Thus, a logline must be engaging and simple enough to excite a producer.
A logline is a one-sentence summary of a movie or TV program. This summary should contain one core conflict or problem.
Examples of film loglines:
When an optimistic farm boy discovers that he has powers, he teams up with other rebel fighters to liberate the galaxy from the sinister forces of the Empire.Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
When his son is swept out to sea, an anxious clownfish embarks on a perilous journey across a treacherous ocean to bring him back.Finding Nemo
The Logline Technique in Science Writing
In science writing, the core conflict is the problem or knowledge gap that must be solved. The logline identifies this core problem or knowledge gap and provides the answer.
Examples of science loglines:
DNA is a two chained structure, not a three chained structure.Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid
Hardwood content changes the community structure of parasitoid species associated with spruce budworm.Hardwood content impacts the parasitoid community associated with Eastern spruce budworm (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae)
Why Use the Logline Technique?
Often scientific researchers will write about too many problems that can confuse the reader. Thus, the logline technique can help to focus your thesis, thesis chapter, or scientific article around one problem.
When to Use the Logline Technique?
- Because the logline technique helps to focus scientific writing, the logline technique should be done before any writing occurs. Then, as you write you can continually refer back to your logline to ensure you keep the single focus of your writing.
- Remember too that the single focus of your thesis, thesis chapter, or article can change as you write. That is not a problem. You are free to update your logline as you write. Just ensure that the logline is about one problem and your writing is focused on this single problem.
- Lastly, you can use your logline to create your title. In many ways, your title is a logline because the title must engage a reader and usually it provides the result of your study (the answer to your knowledge gap).
Your Turn to Create a Logline
Download the PDF and follow the instructions to create your own logline.
More Information on the Logline Technique
Snyder, B. 2005. Save the cat! The Last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need. Michael Wiese Productions
Screenwriting Tips: How to Write a Logline. MasterClass
Storyboarding in Film and TV
Script writers for film will often produce a storyboard before they create their script. A storyboard is essentially a graphic representation of a story with cards or images that make up each scene. In script writing, storyboards are useful to create the narrative, identify the key scenes, and ensure the flow of the story makes sense and is interesting. Because storyboards are usually made of cards on large surfaces, script writers can move scenes around, change scenes, and visualize the whole story before any funds or time is invested in producing the film.
Storyboarding in Science Writing
Storyboarding in science is just as useful. Before any writing is done, you, the writer, can create the narrative of your article, identify your key paragraphs, and decide on the flow of your paragraphs.
For a scientific article (or your thesis or thesis chapter), the general technique is as follows:
Think about your scientific article in three Acts.
- Act 1 – Introduction
- Act 2A – Methods
- Act 2B – Results
- Act 3 – Discussion
Each scene in your scientific story is a paragraph in your article. When thinking about scenes (paragraphs), identify the main point you want to convey to your reader. Often the point of each scene is the single idea or message that you want the reader to understand. The point of the scene can also indicate the function of the paragraph. For example, the function and point of the last paragraph in the Introduction section is to summarize the goals, hypotheses, methods, and results.
A useful strategy when creating your scenes is the “known to new” technique. For each scene, identify the “known” information. The known information is what the reader already knows prior to reading this specific scene. Often this known information is the information from the previous scene. Sometimes (especially for the first scene), the known information is general knowledge that most readers interested in your article will know. Sometimes the known information will be information from scenes earlier in the article. For example, a Discussion scene will use known information from the Results section. Next, identify what “new” information your scene provides that logically follows from the known information. The known to new technique is useful for ensuring that the order and flow of your ideas make sense. Thus, the known to new technique is most useful in the Introduction and Discussion sections of an article because you need to lead your reader through your logic and ideas carefully. In contrast, you may not need to use the known to new technique for the Methods and Results sections because often the scenes in these sections are listing information chronologically.
On your storyboard, you can add as many scenes as you feel are necessary. As you add scenes or after adding all your scenes, you can change the order of the scenes or even change out scenes with new scenes.
Adding drafts of your figures to Act 2B: Results can be very useful.
Three Different Methods for Creating Storyboards
In the following video, I will show you three different methods for creating storyboards. Two of these methods are using templates that we have created for you. These templates are 1) a fillable pdf, and 2) a presentation. The final method is using a corkboard and cue cards.
In this video, I will show you three different methods for creating storyboards. Two of these methods are using templates that we have created for you. These templates are a fillable pdf and a presentation. The final method is using a corkboard and cue cards. However, there is no correct method for storyboarding. Instead, use whatever method works best for you and adapt the method for your needs. Really, the most important aspects of storyboarding are identifying your scenes or paragraphs, identifying the message of each scene, and ensuring that the flow of scenes makes sense.
Let’s start by using the fillable pdf that we have created as a template for you to make your own storyboards. In this fillable pdf template, we have created tables for each section of a scientific article. We have tables for the introduction, the methods, the results, and the discussion sections. Within each table, each column is a scene where you can enter the point or message of your scene, the known information that sets up the scene, and the new information that the scene provides. We have also provided extra scenes in case you need more than four scenes per section. As an example, I will fill in the first scene column of the introduction as if I was storyboarding for the article “Hardwood content impacts the parasitoid community associated with Eastern spruce budworm (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae)”. My message for this scene is simply that there are massive outbreaks of spruce budworm caterpillars because the first scene in the introduction should be quite broad but still related to my research question which was “how do hardwood trees impact parasitoid communities?” The known information is that spruce budworm caterpillars cause extensive forest damage. Although, you may not personally know that spruce budworm caterpillars cause extensive forest damage, my target audience of forest researchers and managers will know this. The new information for this scene is that we need to find methods to reduce the severity of spruce budworm caterpillar outbreaks. This is new because it follows from the known information and I want to use this new information to set up the next scene. So that’s an example of filling in a single scene. Let’s look at a completely filled out storyboard. Remember that as you fill out a storyboard or start writing, you can move around scenes or add new scenes. For the sake of an example, I will exchange scene 2 with scene 3. Now, I know this new order does not make sense, but I know that because I can move the scenes around and because I have carefully thought about the flow of ideas using the known to new technique. Finally, you will notice in the methods and results section, that I did not add information in the known and new sections. This is because information in the methods and results sections are usually given chronologically or the flow of information is a lot more obvious. You are welcome to add thoughts to the known and new sections for the methods and results scenes but you may not find it useful.
Let’s move onto the second method. Here, we will be using presentation slides to create a storyboard. In fact, my PhD supervisor is always asking me and my fellow laboratory colleagues to create presentation storyboards because he thinks presentation storyboards (and storyboarding in general) really helps to hone and improve your story in any research article. We have again created a presentation template for you to create a storyboard. In this presentation template, we have created individual slides for a single scene in each of the introduction, methods, results, and discussion acts. As you create your storyboard, you will need to duplicate these template slides to create new scenes. Again, in each scene slide, we have added sections for you to add the point or the message of the scene, and the known and new information in the scene. As an example, I will create a scene slide for the second scene in my introduction. My point for this scene is that hardwood trees could reduce severity of spruce budworm caterpillar outbreaks. This is my point because my research question is “how do hardwood trees impact parasitoid communities” and so I must introduce hardwood trees in the context of spruce budworm caterpillar research. My known information is actually a copy of the new information in the previous scene because the new information in the previous scene is now the known information that sets up this scene. My new information is that researchers think that hardwood trees could help reduce the severity of spruce budworm caterpillar outbreaks because I plan to provide ideas and evidence in this scene to show research on hardwood trees and spruce budworm caterpillar outbreaks. Let’s see the whole storyboard filled out. I have multiple scenes for each section and I can move scenes around if I want.
Finally, let’s look at one method to create a physical storyboard. For this method, you will need a corkboard (or a large piece of cardboard), lots of cue cards, and lots of pins. On this corkboard, find a way to denote the different acts of a scientific paper. Now use the cue cards as your scenes. On each cue card write the point or message of your scene, and the known and new information. Pin up your scenes and move your scenes around as I am doing right now.
So that’s three potential methods for creating a storyboard. Again, find the method that works best for you and feel free to adapt the method for your needs. You may also find that you like the digital and physical versions for different reasons. For example, having a physical version above your computer is nice to continually look over as you write but creating a digital storyboard may be easier for you.
Check out my storyboard for the article “Hardwood content impacts the parasitoid community associated with Eastern spruce budworm (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae)” using the fillable pdf and presentation templates.
Example of a storyboard using the fillable pdf template.
Example of a storyboard using the presentation template.
Why Use the Storyboarding Technique?
- Writing without a plan (a storyboard) is difficult because you don’t know what each paragraph will be about and what the general structure of your thesis chapter or article will be.
- Sometimes you can waste time by writing without a storyboard because you will try to write something that you discover later is not useful for the reader. Perhaps they don’t need to know this information to understand your knowledge gap and your answer to the knowledge gap.
- Therefore, use the storyboard to ensure you effectively communicate your knowledge gap and your answer. Use storyboarding to save time.
When to Use the Storyboarding Technique?
- The best time to use the storyboarding technique is before you start writing. Create your storyboard, then share your storyboard with your supervisor or your colleagues to get feedback. After getting feedback on your storyboard, start writing.
- Continually come back to your storyboard as you write. Try to match your writing to your storyboard but remember that you can update and change the storyboard as your write.
Your Turn to Create a Storyboard
To create a digital storyboard, use either of these templates (specific instructions and starter scenes are in the templates.)
This template uses fillable boxes within a table for the scenes and Acts.
This template uses presentation slides for the scenes and Acts.
Or, to create a physical storyboard, use whatever tool you like. For example, use a corkboard and cue cards or a big sheet of paper and cue cards. The tool doesn’t matter, only the general method.
More Information on the Storyboarding Technique
Snyder, B. 2005. Save the cat! The Last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need. Michael Wiese Productions
Storyboarding research. LSE Blog
The Art of Science Writing, Part 1: Getting Started. Science with Style blog.
How to Use All Techniques in Combination
- The ABT paragraph can be thought of as a longer version of the logline. So, you could write an ABT paragraph about your research and then use the ABT paragraph to create your logline.
- The logline technique can be used before creating the storyboard to ensure your storyboard is focused. I suggest placing the logline right next to your storyboard as you create your storyboard.
- Finally, always think about the ABT structure as you create your storyboard (and then write). You will want to ensure your whole storyboard (and your Introduction) follows the ABT structure.
We have reached the end of the Storytelling in Science Writing module. We have learned that scientific articles are structured similarly to a story, that using the And, But, Therefore structure can create an engaging narrative, that loglines can help identify the single focus of your scientific articles, and that storyboarding can help with structuring your writing.
Well, we have reached the end of the Storytelling in Science Writing module. We have learned that scientific articles are structured similar to a story, that using the And, But, Therefore structure can create an engaging narrative, that loglines can help identify the single focus of your scientific articles, and that storyboarding can help with structuring your writing.
Before I go, I want to leave you with some closing thoughts. These techniques and storytelling in general are not just useful for writing scientific articles or theses. You can use storytelling in your posters, your presentations, any grant or scholarship applications, and in elevator pitches. For anyone who doesn’t know, elevator pitches are a short summary of your research that you might say to another colleague that you have just met. They are called elevator pitches because the idea is that you enter an elevator with an important researcher in your discipline. They ask you what research you do. You have the time it takes to get to the floor you are both going to (two minutes) to tell them about your research. The And, But, Therefore and logline techniques are perfect for an elevator pitch because these techniques force you to summarise your research in an engaging way.
With these final thoughts, I wish you all the best for using storytelling in your science writing.
The content of this page was created by Christopher J. Greyson-Gaito.