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May 25, 2012 / elenav90


Dialogue is largely what distinguishes humans from other species. It represents the foundation of our social and political organisation. I bet that even you were engaged in some form of dialogue during the last half hour (yes, Facebook chat counts). But aside from chatting to attract potential mates, dialogue can make a piece of writing much livelier!

Image                                       image 1.

The reading: Blow Fly

Author Patricia Cornwell incorporates a great deal of direct speech between characters in her novel to produce an entertaining and impressive style of writing. Dialogue allows the characters to distinguish themselves and express their own perspectives. This is particularly useful in a suspenseful story like this one, which develops to discover who committed the murder investigated, and how blow-fly larvae were used to decompose the cadaver, getting rid of the evidence.

 Image                                      image 2.

A morphological, syntactical, and semantic exercise

Direct speech in a text appeals to readers from three aspects of linguistics.

Linguistic morphology includes sentence shape, structure, and wording; these tend to be more varied and eye-catching in reported speech than in a standard paragraph of text.

Syntax refers to sentence construction; phrases can be shorter and punchier in dialogue, might contain grammatical errors, slangs and other dynamic aspects of language.

Finally, speech is important for the purpose of semantics, or the study of the meaning of words, phrases, signs and symbols. Dialogue not only provides much contextualisation, but can also be more effective than third person narration in the speaker’s character, motivations, intentions, and values.

Image                          image3.

So, we enjoy reading dialogue not only because it is a visually stimulating exercise, but also because we are interested in the development of a narrative through the characters’ ideas and interactions.

Education by dialogue

Much like we’ve observed before the efficiency of teaching science through narration, we can assess the usefulness of dialogue in conveying information.

Back in 1981, Don Norman argued that in the field of education, we should remember the sociality of human beings and the significant influence that emotion can have their behaviour. Therefore, considering individuals as purely intellectual, logical, and reasoning can prove ineffective when one aims to persuade, educate, or provoke action (Patraglia, 2009). Hear, hear, scientists! And indeed, few recent studies confirm the value of direct interpersonal exchanges in education: I’ll link to them below.

I’m sure it’s happened to all of us. When having to skim-read a long text, we are happy to hover a little longer over parts reporting dialogue. Or perhaps we’ve been motivated to do something we normally wouldn’t have, after being personally approached on the street.

Written speech reminds us social creatures of the direct interpersonal interaction we thrive on. Hence, writers can attain more attention and interest from readers by including some dialogue in their texts. This is not always easy, however. Can you think of examples of some science writing which would result more engaging if dialogue was included, as opposed to some others where it might prove ineffective and/or inappropriate?



Cornwell, P. D. (2003). Blow Fly. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

* Doyle-Jones, C. (2006). Story Dialogue: Creating Community Through Storytelling (M. A. Thesis). Retrieved from Simon Fraser University Summit.

* Labonte, R., Feather, J., & Hills, M. (1999) A story/dialogue method for health promotion knowledge development and evaluation. Health Education Research 14(1), 29-50. Retrieved from Oxford Journals.

Norman, D. A. (1981). Perspectives on cognitive science. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

* Patraglia, J. (2009). The importance of being authentic: persuasion, narration, and dialogue in health communication and education. Health communication 24(2), 176-185. Retrieved from Taylor & Francis Online.

* Refer to these studies if you’re interested in how they assessed the effectiveness of dialogue in education and persuasion.

Image references:

Image 1 modified from: Yarra Plenty. (n.d.). Chat [Image]. Retrieved from

Image 2 from: Hora por Hora. (2010) Taller de asertividad [Image]. Retrieved from

Image 3 created by Elena Vettorel. (2012).



Leave a Comment
  1. noelynn / May 27 2012 8:03 pm

    Nice piece of writing! It is short, simple and clear. Elenav90, you definitely provoked or encouraged dialogue through the style of your blog presentation. It is true that communicating science is exactly a dialogue between the communicators and the audience.

    Therefore, as communicators we should encourage and promote a dialogue approach instead of dictating the communication. I like the way you expressed and highlighted the three components of linguistics in the triangle. Yes, so while we aim to communicate the key message, it is vital that the aspects become our platform of communication.

    Great post!

    • elenav90 / May 30 2012 1:58 am

      Thanks @Noelynn, I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I must apologise for posting it twice :/
      What’s interesting about communication is that (they say) that only about 20-30% of it concerns WHAT you say – the rest of communication, just generally, concerns HOW you say it. I guess this is why we are learning how to most effectively adapt our writing style to our audience, and direct communication is one way of communicating which suits almost everybody, doesn’t it? The trick, I guess, is really to find out how to communicate to different people with different backgrounds/interests/knowledge/expectations etc….

  2. caitiedunlap / May 29 2012 11:19 am

    I think youve donea great job, using analogies and explanations to illustrate the technical jargon which is used. i agree with noelynn that science communication is definitely the dialogue between the communicators and the audience. it is definitely something which needs to be encouraged to promote the exchange between people and get these ideas across so it can be further passed on. dialouge is definitely very important in everyones lives but what we communicate is also very important.

    well done!

  3. thiarayoanita69 / May 29 2012 5:02 pm

    The use of dialogues definitely stimulate most readers’ interest. I think that’s why there are a few different formats of dialogues.. For example, on a factsheet, some layouts may use a “question and answer” format.. I guess this is considered as a dialog as well? since there are technically two people discussing about a particular problem.. To me personally, this is more engaging compared to just massive informations on a sheet of paper; because I feel like the questions presented are generated from public, and thus is speaking on behalf of me as well.. However, as @baileymoser has commented earlier, dialogue is inappropriate to be used in writings such as lab reports, thesis, essay assignments.

    A well-structured post 🙂 Your writing is straight forward which makes it easy to follow. And I can see you have done a great amount of research for this post. However, I think it’d be more effective if you incorporated examples from your reading “Blow Fly” to justify your points.. Nice use of visuals that you’ve got there 🙂 Just as a suggestion, I think it might be better if you put a small title below the 2nd image (the triangle one), to give a brief overview of what the image means.. And one more thing, I guess it would be easier to distinguish the sub-headings, by (1) using a slightly larger font size (2) introducing the three main aspects that you are going to discuss about in the opening paragraph.. 🙂

    • elenav90 / May 30 2012 1:42 am

      Thanks @Thiarayoanita69, you’ve actually pointed out something I hadn’t thought of by highlighting the questions & answer format of many factsheets. Many websites do this as well, to give more information in a straightforward and engaging manner. People will end up learning more if they can easily find information about the specific questions they’d like answered! Also, I appreciate your suggestions in the second paragraph, they are very valid, thanks 🙂

  4. fullclever / May 31 2012 6:11 am

    Hi, elenav90
    I like your post! Your really “saved the best for last”. Now I can say I loved Science Writing and sleep happily. Thank You. I understand the your technical limitations we in posting because I faced them as well. For me, your post is simply great and easy to understand.
    The effectiveness of the speech is far more important than the structure and I felt it in your post. I agree with every single word of yours.
    My personal opinion is that dialogue is good for brainstorming. Sometimes the author wants to show different points of view and how people would discuss them. And you are right: the oral speech tends to be simpler than the written because people do not want to look boring.
    So, the dialogue is a powerful tool to deliver simple yet precious ideas.
    I also enjoyed your careful language and the scholarly support. I will read all of them. The images truly added value to your post. Your level of research was good and the simplicity of your explanation is as good as Cornwell’s.

    • elenav90 / May 31 2012 6:22 am

      Wow, @fullclever, thank you very much for your enthusiastic support, I’m glad you can “sleep happily” now – better late than never!
      You’re right, brainstorming is a very important activity allowed by dialogue! Almost any idea improves and develops through the interaction with others, so yes, it’s definitely another important function of dialogue.
      Cheers 🙂

  5. maria93 / Jun 1 2012 10:52 am

    Great post, your explanations are simple and easy to understand.

    I personally find dialogue more appealing especially when reading longer texts, such as novels.

    I agree that dialogue helps in engaging an audience and is an important part of science communication although in certain texts such as scientific reports, it can be ineffective.

  6. axl1228 / Jun 2 2012 7:27 am

    I totally agree with @fullclever that you “saved the best for last”!!! Really a good piece of writing.
    I agree with you said that dialogue is “a development of a narrative through the characters’ ideas and interactions”. Sometimes different opinions are very difficult to put in a plain text to discuss. Just like detective novel, such as Sherlock. If every logical deduction is expressed one after another, or put in a huge paragraph of Sherlock’s quote, it would be very boring. But with the dialogue between Sherlock and Watson, it’s very easy to figure out what’s happening. It’s the same for realistic topic.
    Well done! I enjoyed your post so much!

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