TALK TO ME !!
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!
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.
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.
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 1 modified from: Yarra Plenty. (n.d.). Chat [Image]. Retrieved from http://yprl.wordpress.com/chat/
Image 2 from: Hora por Hora. (2010) Taller de asertividad [Image]. Retrieved from http://horaporhora.blogspot.com.au/2010/04/taller-de-asertividad.html
Image 3 created by Elena Vettorel. (2012).