StoryMaps tell science stories

June 27, 2021

As you can probably tell from this website and blog, I am a big proponent of science communication. I believe communicating science to the general public is just as important as publishing it in a peer-reviewed scientific journal or presenting at a scientific conference. Informing the public about important issues and new discoveries can influence how the public votes, what is discussed at town hall or community meetings, and government decisions related to funding and policies. Science communicator Jayde Lovett emphasizes the importance of science communication by giving examples of scientific communications breakthroughs and failures in this short video.

ESRI StoryMaps are a great science communication tool. You can share not only data, but also photos, videos, audio, and maps to tell a story about your research. StoryMaps do not require any prior knowledge or skills in GIS; a customizable template makes it easy for users to start creating. And, once you make an account, StoryMaps can be made for free! ESRI has some great resources to create a compelling StoryMap. Scientists at NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) have found that StoryMaps are the best methods to communicate their data and data products; they list a few tips for StoryMap success.

An additional tip that I learned from taking a graduate course taught by science communicators at UMCES Integration and Application Network (IAN) is to use short and active titles. An active title summarizes the key message and can take the form as a statement or a question. Ideally, it should make someone more interested to read the rest of the writing. So, instead of organizing a StoryMap of your research like a paper (“Introduction”, “Methods”, “Results”, “Discussion”, etc), consider using active titles to explain the main takeaways.

I recently published my first PhD dissertation chapter on how drones can be used to monitor water quality. I made a complementary StoryMap to tell my science story including background of aquatic remote sensing, the significance of using drones in water quality monitoring, and a synopsis of the methods and results of my study with a link to the open access article for more specific details. Major thanks to UMCES IAN Science Communicator Kelly Dobroski for help with figures, formulating my active titles, and overall design of my StoryMap.