Home Forums Circularity Mike Strauss:  Session 7 comments

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      Questions about using ABT in a longer piece

      As Randy explains, we are working with a single ABT for you. That is to build the ability to recognize it and develop it. As you grow in learning how to use narrative it becomes more intuitive. After a couple years of working with Randy I sat down one day to write a short fictional piece about the adventures of a surfer named (oddly enough), Randy. It was one of those pieces where I started with a place and described “Randy’s” day. But what I found was that as I was writing I could “feel” things slow down (to becoming more AAA) so had to pause and think of a “but” that occurred to pick things up again. I now see this sort of “rhythm” in most things I write. In a larger piece, like a grant proposal, there should be an overarching narrative that is a concise and simple answer to “why should we give you this money?” But the “journey” through what you describe in detail should also contain “smaller” ABT structure that serves to advance the overall narrative.

      Elizabeth: I think the If/Then idea is powerful, especially in science writing. I’ve been trying to incorporate it into my writing for the last week or so, but I can’t square the IF in my ABTs with the BUT because then where does the THEN go?

      Here’s one thought: The IF/THEN isn’t always the solution but it can be powerful for some things. 

      If we could fund 10 student research programs Then we would markedly improve the output of our degree candidates BUT we lack the funding for such a program. 

      So the IF/THEN sets up the hypothetical ideal and the BUT says what the problem is in achieving that. And the Therefore is how you will solve that problem.

      Marissa: There’s been a lot of emphasis on increasing our but/and ratio, but at what point does our work tip from a good amount of buts to DHY?

      The ratio is a “rule of thumb” type measure. Too many buts is not the issue in DHY as much as too many narrative threads. The key is not the number of buts BUT rather, do they all advance the core narrative. Michael Crichton’s AAAS speech has a very high But/And ratio but it never deviates from his core narrative. Robert’s point is accurate.

      Robert: The point about DHY is that each D, H, Y is introducing a different narrative direction.

      Molly: Question for later: The ABT narrative format is more effective than the boring AAA format. However, in your experience, are there repercussions to avoiding the “expected” AAA format when communicating with traditional academics? Essentially: is it risky for an early-career scientist to “challenge the status quo” and use ABT format in scenarios where peer review/funding depends on it?

      You’re always going to run into academics who “know” how something should be written and will never like anything that doesn’t fit their narrow definition. I had a colleague whose attitude about writing was that he did not want ABT but rather AAA. His reasoning was that he didn’t want to be told the point of the writing but rather get all the data and make the decision for himself…and to be quite charitable, his writing was uninspiring. But granting agencies and grant reviewers want, above all else, to know WHY SHOULD I CARE? If you make them figure that out for themselves they’ll put your proposal down half-way through. Several years ago I walked into a review meeting and one of the reviewers held up a proposal and said, “I’m half way through this and I STILL don’t know what he’s doing!” So I would argue that because peer review or funding depends on it you SHOULD use narrative. Recall the explanation by Cathleen Hapeman from the AAAS Video about how well their plan did in review. I was in that review observing and the fact that the plan was crystal clear from the outset what it was about is what made the outcome so successful.

      Eric: I think Randy said the AAA works well for your inner circle, but not so well for the outer.

      But too often the “inner circle” is smaller than we think. For a group near the inner circle you may not need as much set up…but it’s always good to begin with the parts everyone agrees on before telling them about the problem you want to solve.

      Tanya: I love that comparison to this being art … I have had a lot of of feedback wanting ALL the rules, exactly the process to communicate effectively … I try to explain that a lot of this is organic and based on the research itself. “How is this advancing the narrative?” – Great question to keep asking yourself

      Tanya, in the words of Obi Wan Kenobi, “You have just taken a step into a larger world” ☺

      Regarding Crichton

      What lay under his disaffection with science? We may never know the answer. Some speculation: Perhaps some of it was his understanding that scientists are only human. Some of his heroes are scientist as are some of his villains. But also there is a tendency in the scientific community to eschew those who are seen as “popularizers.” Stephen Jay Gould ran into this difficulty as did Carl Sagan. Science’s conceit is too often that they want people to believe “we have all the answers.” That is counter to the real situation which is that we have an answer that is based on our best interpretation of the data we now have. So it’s not that science is wrong when the estimates for CoVID deaths changes but that it has new data. Crichton knew this about science and saw that the public did not. I recall a question at the press briefing after his talk at AAAS. He was asked how many and which genetic engineering firms he visited before writing Jurassic Park. His answer: “NONE! None of them know how to make a dinosaur!”


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