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Published July 2023 | public
Journal Article

The Use of Narrative in Science and Health Communication: A Scoping Review


Background. Many people deny science and reject health recommendations despite widely distributed facts and statistics. Didactic science and health communication is often dry, and relies on the false assumption that people make purely evidence-based decisions. Stories can be a powerful teaching tool by capturing attention and evoking emotion. Objective. We explore the impact and appeal of, and describe best practices for, using narrative (storytelling) versus didactic methods in science and health communication. Patient involvement. No patients were involved in the review process. Methods. We searched PubMed and Web of Science for articles either: assessing effectiveness of narrative science/health communication; assessing acceptability of (or preference for) narrative science/health communication; giving advice on how best to use narrative; and/or providing science-based explanations for how/why narrative succeeds. Results. Narrative science/health communication is effective and appealing for audiences across a variety of topics and mediums, with supporting evidence across fields such as epidemiology, neuroscience, and psychology. Whether narrative or didactic messaging is most effective depends on the topic, audience, and objective, as well as message quality. However, combining narrative with didactic methods is likely to be more effective than using either strategy alone. Discussion. Narrative science/health communication merits wider implementation and further research. Narrative communication creates openness to information by delaying the formulation of counterarguments. Practical value. Science and health communicators should collaborate with cultural and storytelling experts, work directly with their target audiences throughout the message development and testing processes, and rely on popular story elements (e.g., first-person point of view, relatable protagonists) to improve the comprehension, engagement, and thoughtful consideration of their intended audience.

Additional Information

© 2023 Elsevier We appreciate Tina Proveaux for her help in the final formatting and submission of this manuscript; we thank Thirty Meter Telescope for providing funding. This work was funded by Thirty Meter Telescope, with which two authors (GKS and SD) were affiliated. Otherwise, the funding organization had no role in the study and/or submission. CRediT authorship contribution statement. The first author drafted the search strategy and terms; performed the searches, screening, and data extraction; and drafted the initial manuscript. All authors reviewed and revised the search strategy, and reviewed, revised, and approved the final manuscript. Data Sharing. No primary data was collected for this study (as it was a review of data already published). Search terms are included in the appendices. Declaration of Competing Interest. Dr. Dudley reports research support from Walgreens and Merck. All other authors declare no competing interests.

Additional details

August 22, 2023
October 20, 2023