Is There a Role for Narrative Attributes in Scientific Literature?
Hillier, Ann Elizabeth
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Scientists strive to produce relevant work that is both well-received within their fields and influential on the world around them. Effectively communicating science is an essential step in achieving this. Given the widespread acknowledgment that narratives are powerful tools of communication, I sought to identify a role for narrative attributes in scientific literature. I distilled six measureable indicators of narrativity from the literature, which reflect specific attributes described by narrative theory. I probed the abstracts of scientific peer-reviewed articles for these indicators by crowdsourcing, and measured their effect on article influence, as proxied by citation frequency. My results support the hypothesis that attributes associated with narrativity are positively associated with article citation frequency, with two exceptions: narrative perspective (first-person narrators are negatively associated with citations, p<0.01), and conjunctions (unimodally associated). Furthermore, the regression tree analysis predicts that among articles published in lower-rank journals, abstracts with explicitly related events and that offer an evaluative standpoint are more likely to achieve higher citation outcomes. I speculate that by incorporating narrative attributes into their writing, scientists mirror the way we as humans experience the world, and in turn, captivate their readers and extend their influence. Ultimately, this research helps form a more comprehensive understanding of how scientists can effectively communicate their work.
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