11 May 2020

Using StoryMaps to tell science stories

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Katie Palubicki

Jesse Varner, Angela Sallis, and Katie Palubicki at their AGU OSM poster. Credit: Katie Palubicki

At NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), we have found that one of the best methods for making our data and data products captivating is through story maps. ArcGIS story maps combine maps, locations, or geography with text, images, and multimedia, transforming our data into a visual narrative that connects with all audience levels. The beauty of this medium is that it combines the benefits of multiple communication channels into one application. 

Creating a good story map requires time, dedication and a well-rounded skill set. Our NCEI story map team is made up of staff with a variety of skills; from writing and editing, to graphic design, to GIS development. We work directly with our scientists to create a story map that is not only informative and accurate, but also entertaining. 

But you don’t need a team to create your own story map. A few tips for success whether working on your own or with a team include:

  1. Brainstorming and honesty: Start by asking “What’s my story?” and then determining if a story map is the correct medium for that. Story maps aren’t a replacement for a website or user guide. 
  2. Compile and organize: Especially if you’re working with partners, make sure you have all of the content for your story map collected and organized before you begin writing. It’s best to have too much information to start and then refine from there. 
  3. Choose your template: ArcGIS has a variety of templates to choose from. Go through the various options and determine which will best suit your story. 
  4. Create visual interest: This is the fun part. To make a truly engaging story map, you’ll want to include graphics, maps, videos, sound, and images to go along with your written content. 
  5. Revise, revise, revise: This will be the most time-consuming task, but it is also the most important. After you’ve written the initial content and have the graphics and maps in place, revise and edit. It’s easy to put too much content into the story map and lose your reader’s interest. If you have communication staff within your organization, reach out and ask for assistance. 
  6. Publish and promote: What’s the point of putting all your time into something if no one is going to read it? Link to the story map from your organization’s website, promote it on social media, and reach out to partners and stakeholders who may be able to amplify it on their channels.

Whether you have a story map team or are on your own, give your research a chance to be discovered in a whole new way. 

Katie Palubicki is the Scientific Engagement Coordinator with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. She lives in central Virginia with her husband and a myriad of animals.