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4 Core Elements of Compelling Research Stories

The importance of audience, sequence, character, and language.

Hi researcher. You may not realize it, but you are a story teller. You can’t ignore it. Embrace it! Don’t fret at your newly discovered task, we have 4 key principles to help guide you on your story telling journey, along with a really fancy 3D diagram.


The most important step in creating anything with meaning, stories included, is to understand your audience. Who are you speaking to? What do they already know? And, most importantly, what are the burning questions they need a piece of research to help inform?


Once you have this squared away, and your research results have (hopefully) shed light on these key questions, you need to think about sequence. How can you arrange the findings of your story in a way that is compelling for your audience to digest. Nearly all stories, from movies to print, follow the same basic flow:

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While there are more complex arrangements, we like to think about it in 3 simple stages: Setup, Conflict, and Resolution. Ideally, setup your findings so they build nicely to a pivotal point of “conflict." This could be a surprising finding, a deeply troubling nuance, a developing threat, or even a new opportunity. After uncovering the "conflict" element, your last responsibility is to resolve your story in some way. It could be showing relevant recommendations, another piece of data that absolves the fear you stoked, or even ideas to pursue an open opportunity area. Regardless, intentionally thinking about how you arrange your research findings in a way that builds to a pivotal point yet resolves in the end, will better engage your audience.


Another element to think about are the characters in your story. You may not think about your research respondents truly as characters, but they are indeed crucial personalities. How can you emphasize their humanity? How can you bring them to life? And, most importantly, what are the insightful nuances about them that really matter to your audience? The more deeply you develop your characters and the more you can highlight the important character elements, the more powerful your research (and research story) will be.


Next, think about the entire ecosystem and environment that surrounds your client’s product/brand/situation. What is happening in the industry? What is the competition doing and what problematic threats exist? How can these elements add context to help emphasize that pivotal moment of “conflict”? Don’t worry if your clients didn’t ask for this piece of info. If you think it matters in the story, it matters.


Lastly, your entire story needs to be wrapped in compelling language. Part of this means being concise and avoiding deathly “research speak.” The other part involves using words that are engaging to everyone and relevant to your particular audience. Use action verbs and speak in headlines. If you can’t fit it in a single sentence, then rewrite it.