Knowing what story you want to tell is only the first step in communicating what your data has to say. Next, you need to choose what type of data narrative you want to overlay it with.
When I work with partners trying to tell data stories, I have them consider nine different data narratives — primal story arcs — to see which will best convey the information they have. There is no right or wrong answer here. You can apply any narrative type to your story. But to tell a compelling story, you’ll want to choose a data narrative that resonates with readers. And the type that’s best will depend on your facts.
These nine data narrative types will help your audience better understand your numbers by putting them in the context of a story pattern people readily internalize and constantly seek out.
Type 1: Underdog
Everyone loves a good underdog story. This type of narrative could work well if your data demonstrates a story of oppression, inequity, or overcoming a challenge. These stories detail challenges faced by specific groups because of factors that are beyond their control:
- How the North American Free Trade Agreement prompted a spike in Mexican obesity numbers
- Why hormones may be setting overweight dieters up to break their healthy eating habits in the evening
Type 2: Redemption
Redemption stories appeal to human optimism. They convey the theme of rebirth or the idea of hope for the future of humanity. If your numbers indicate that a specific factor could bring about a major improvement in people’s lives, this might be the data narrative type for you.
- Research reveals previously unknown health benefits of eating fibre
Type 3: Betrayal
There’s a reason that soap opera and telenovela audiences follow the plots of their favourite shows so religiously. Many lean heavily on the theme of betrayal. Data that shines a light on corruption, greed, or actions that endanger others is well suited to this kind of narrative.
- Uncovering the hidden threat posed to the environment and our health by microplastics and how governments aren’t addressing it
Type 4: Victory
This data narrative is effective the opposite of the underdog. It’s a success story, the type that draws people to watch the Olympics. If your data tells a story of progress or triumph, the victory data narrative can help you convey that to your readers.
- The Green House Project is offering a new approach to nursing facilities for senior citizens
Type 5: Tragedy
As awful as it sounds, humans are also drawn to stories about tragedy. Like an accident you can’t look away from, tragedy narratives often focus on the negative results of actions — especially results of actions taken by the affected party.
- Scientists uncovered a massive cluster of prehistoric dinosaur and mammal tracks in a NASA parking lot
Type 6: Origin
Origin stories can be incredibly compelling. They leverage our innate curiosity by explaining how or why things came to be as they are. If you want to tell a data story that involves causality, an origin data narrative is probably the way to go.
- Looking at how new “The Fast and the Furious” movies affect driving habits
Type 7: Prophecy
Data that offers a glimpse of the future generally has wide appeal. If your data story offers any sort of prediction or an explanation of what you think the future holds, you’ll want to use the prophecy data narrative. Note: your predictions can be either positive or negative and confined to a specific niche or relatively broad.
- Pediatric and mental health experts warn of the dangers posed by Facebook’s Messenger Kids to young children
Type 8: Struggle
This type of narrative is perfect for data stories that focus on ongoing struggles between evenly matched opponents, competing ideologies, or any other kind of conflict between two things.
- Researchers examine the relationship between online activity and the average American’s sleep pattern
Type 9: Discovery
The discovery narrative works for a wide range of story themes. Births, new inventions, disruption, funny or surprising discoveries all fit in this data narrative type. If you want to tell readers about anything they probably haven’t heard of before, discovery is a logical choice.
- Scientists reveal that an accumulation of mutated stem cells in bone marrow significantly increases the risk posed by heart attack or stroke.
Which Data Narrative Type Best Suits Your Story?
I hope this post has provided some insight into the different types of data narrative you can use to tell your story. If you’re still not sure how to share your data story, the team at Datassist is always here to help. Get in touch with us today.
This is part two of our seven-part series on effective data storytelling. In case you missed them, check out our posts on identifying the basic elements of your data story and the seven ways to tell your story.