I love fiction, how events flow one to the next and ideas emerge from that flow. I believe that humans make meaning by telling stories. So, when I find myself sitting down to write an academic essay, facing what seems like a disconnected collection of ideas, a heap of boulders I have to push uphill, I often ask myself: “How can I make this a story?”
If creating a story can help people remember items on a grocery list, then giving my facts an explanatory beginning, a compelling middle, and a satisfying end will help readers make sense of my argument.
Recently, I was working on a literature review. All I had at first was a jumble of thoughts and questions. Sure, I knew they were related, but my reasoning was a tangled mess. I had to look for the story that would connect the information together. First, the setting: what did I see happening in the world that merited an investigation? Then, I introduced the facts I found in the existing literature, like events in a plot, each one leading to the next, revealing the answer to my initial question, and a mystery that still needed solving, the conflict between what I had investigated and what still needed to be.
This simple plot helped me organize my thinking in a way that felt natural and almost inevitable. While thinking in story terms doesn’t work all the time, it can help me make the information I have interesting and understandable. If my readers can follow my story, then we can all end up in the same place.
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