Storytelling: bringing research to life

Melinda Kenneway

Melinda Kenneway – Co-founder and CEO of Kudos – highlights the importance of storytelling for research publications and discusses some storytelling techniques with the proven ability to make research more accessible and engaging for a wider audience.

A zeitgeist moment for storytelling

Storytelling is having a zeitgeist moment in research communications. The International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) has even selected storytelling as the central theme for their annual meeting in April this year.

Recognition of the relevance of storytelling for medical publications is an exciting leap forward for a field that has traditionally communicated in highly technical language targeted at niche, expert audiences. It’s actually surprising that it has taken so long for the importance of storytelling to gain traction within the research and pharmaceutical communities.

Storytelling as a memorable and impactful means of sharing information is well documented. There is evidence to support the use of a range of tools – including plain language summaries (PLS), multimedia content and infographics – to support effective storytelling. For example, short titles can increase article citations (perhaps through improved reader comprehension), and PLS and and video abstracts have been shown to aid comprehension and provide a greater feeling of understanding and enjoyment among readers of research publications than traditional abstracts.1,2 The use of digital features alongside research publications (e.g. videos, infographics, slides, podcasts) have also been associated with improved article metrics (increased downloads and citations and improved Altmetric scores).3 None of this is surprising given the age-old recognition by psychologists of the power of the image to convey information more readily than words. An analysis by Jeff Bullas – a recognized expert in content, digital and social media marketing – found that webpages with images or videos attract over 94% more views than those without.4 Video content is particularly powerful and reportedly shared 12 times more frequently than text and images combined.5 In the context of research publications, infographics have been shown to be an effective method of presenting highly technical concepts in a visual format to aid research communication and increase article citations.6

With such a body of evidence available to support the use of visual and simple language tools to improve research engagement, comprehension and impact, it is remarkable that their uptake remains in its relative infancy within pharmaceutical publications. The most common explanation for this is that the complexity of pharmaceutical research requires the use of dense and formal language, in keeping with the peer-review journal tradition. I once read that the more incomprehensible the article, the more prestigious it is considered. I can’t find the reference, but the sentiment certainly chimes true. Add to such legacy thinking an academic system that continues to focus on publishing research in prestigious journals and that still ranks article citations above research impact and utility, and you can readily see why tradition pervades the biomedical research communications.

Yet failing to capitalize on the power of storytelling is a lost opportunity to demonstrate the wonder and excitement of scientific endeavours. I come from a family of academics. My father was a senior academic at Imperial College working in bioscience, and our family home was often visited by his colleagues and PhD students. As a curious 8-year-old, I would ask these passionate academics countless questions. They were almost always able to explain their work to me without too much difficulty. For example, I knew that my father was working on lignans. He explained, and I readily understood, that he was working on something that was a waste product of the paper industry and that it had great potential as a new energy source. My sister and brother are now senior academics also working in highly technical and complex areas of research: one researches novel cancer therapies and the other conducts economic evaluation in a range of complex areas. To hear them talk about their work is inspiring and comprehensible when discussed in the family setting; their published articles are … less so!

Beyond open access

Research represents the very forefront of humanity’s knowledge and accomplishment. As such, I truly believe that it should be more widely shared, be better explained and made more accessible.

It was thinking along such lines that contributed to the open access movement. Open access initiatives remove paywall barriers to research publications; a critical first step towards equity of access to research. The next step is improved accessibility – explaining what the highly technical output means, how, why and to whom it might be relevant. With advances in biomedical research having so many and varied implications for a wide range of stakeholders (specialists, non-specialists and lay audiences included), ensuring that research is interpreted and interpretable is critical to maximizing the benefit of emerging therapeutic innovations.

After more than 30 years working in research communications and consulting on the use of new communication techniques, my personal mission to optimize research communications led me to co-found Kudos in 2014. Through Kudos, we help the global research community to showcase their ideas and discoveries to diverse global audiences (across academia, government, industry, education and the media), and to do so using a combination of methods proven to drive readership and impact.

Everyone benefits from simplified science

Kudos was founded as a platform that would aid communication of pharmaceutical and academic research to non-academic audiences (policy-makers, industry, journalists readers etc.). Yet it quickly became apparent that simpler and more visual communication methods were also valued by technical experts and researchers faced with reading ever-increasing numbers of papers.

It was evident that the ‘communications funnel’ (first awareness leading to interest and onwards to decision, action, loyalty, advocacy) – traditionally used in marketing and public relations – also had relevance to research communications and to specialist and clinical audiences. They too are busy and appreciate relevant content to be signposted, especially where it exists outside their immediate field and/or peer network.

The appetite among such communities for more accessible and engaging content has seen Kudos grow to become a community of half-a-million researchers working in the top global institutions. Unlike the scholarly ResearchGate and platforms, which largely facilitate peer networking, Kudos uniquely supports researchers and institutions to optimize the reach and readership of their research. Our ‘Stories’ (webpages that bring together peer-reviewed publications, PLS, article extenders, and layered publications for articles and clinical trials) are read by a global audience and can be shaped for specific target audiences (be they healthcare professionals or patients). Kudos Stories bring all the underlying evidence together into one place, offering huge convenience to readers, and the content is either hosted by us and/or by our clients so as to drive readers to their institutional website or repository. From an analytics perspective, we can also capture insights on ‘communication cause-and-effect’ – where and how content is being shared, in what formats and with what results. An independent study found that articles explained or shared on Kudos had significantly higher (23%) mean full-text downloads than those not featured/shared on Kudos.7

We are still but scratching the surface of how we can improve research dissemination, but I anticipate a sea-change in attitudes and methods in the coming years, particularly as the pharmaceutical industry pushes towards ever-greater transparency and to making the results of clinical studies more discoverable and accessible for all audiences.

Further information on Kudos services for pharmaceutical and medical communication companies can be accessed here. Kudos will be attending the 2024 European Meeting of ISMPP in London, 23–24 January.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Open Pharma and its Members.


  1. Letchford A, Moat HS, Preis T. The advantage of short paper titles. R Soc Open Sci 2015;2:150266.
  2. Bredbenner K, Simon SM. Video abstracts and plain language summaries are more effective than graphical abstracts and published abstracts. PLOS One 2019;14:e0224697.
  3. Adis. Guidelines for digital features and plain language summaries. Available from: (Accessed 19 January 2024)
  4. Bullas J. 6 powerful reasons why you should include images in your marketing – infographic. Available from: (Accessed 9 January 2024).
  5. Moroles J. Social video generates 1200% more shares than text and image content combined. Available from: (Accessed 12 January 2024).
  6. Pamplona F. Editage insights: A visual approach to research visibility. Available from: (Accessed 10 January 2024).
  7. Erdt M, Aung HH, Aw AS et al. Analysing researchers’ outreach efforts and the association with publication metrics: a case study of Kudos. PLoS One 2017;12:e0183217.

Melinda Kenneway is Co-founder and CEO of Kudos. She has a degree in Experimental Psychology from the University of Oxford, and over 30 years’ experience working in research communications. Her previous roles include Marketing Director for the Journals Division of Oxford University Press, Founder/Owner of TBI Communications, and Non-Executive Board Member of Bioscientifica. In 2014, Melinda co-founded Kudos as a platform that makes research and clinical data more discoverable and accessible.