“Narrative” is a framework used to tell a story by connecting a series of events. Randy Olson offers a more compelling definition—narrative is the series of events that occur in the search of solutions to a problem.
However, in these posts we’re talking science communication. So we can say that “narrative” is one of the buzzwords currently used by science communicators—but it’s a buzzword because its importance has been highlighted only during the past few years, so it’s used over and over again. The use of this buzzword has been useful, though. Now, everyone recognizes its power—we all know that a convincing narrative is needed to win over an audience.
“Narrative” takes on different nuances in different worlds. For example, in the business world, you may often hear “We need a new narrative”—meaning a narrative that defines an updated company’s vision and culture, and explains why the company exists and what makes it unique.
In the scientific world, it is often used to encourage scientists to make communication more compelling. For example, you may hear “Do not organize your presentation as a string of facts, use narrative instead”. The underlying meaning is “Please don’t be dull, tell a good story instead”.
So, the suggestion is that you should not communicate through an orderly set of small chunks of information that will disengage most of your audience, but rather tie those chunks together in connected events that whip up a plot.
Don’t forget that a good science communicator visualizes narratives inspired by the intent to meaningfully connect with an audience.