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May 25, 2012 / elenav90


 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 references:

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

Image 2 created by Elena Vettorel. (2012).

Image 3 from: Hora por Hora. (2010) Taller de asertividad [Image]. Retrieved from 




Leave a Comment
  1. baileymoser / May 26 2012 6:23 am

    Your post was very well-researched and supported, but perhaps including some dialogue yourself would have been an effective way to show the use of dialogue? Are there any examples from “Blow Fly” that exemplify how character development makes the text more engaging?

    I think what makes dialogue ineffective or inappropriate is the medium of the text rather than the topic or subject matter itself. For example, dialogue in a press release or fact sheet would be inappropriate and dialogue in a research report would be ineffective. However dialogue in novels, journal articles, newspaper articles, cartoons and auditory media can definitely be used to engage the audience. I think @priscillalyf ‘s post from last week suggests dialogue can be effective even when addressing topics as solemn as cancer.

    • elenav90 / May 30 2012 2:14 am

      Aaargh I know, I tried to think of a clever way to present this blog post in the form of a dialogue because it would have proven my point twice as well, but I really struggled to find an appropriate way. I mean, a blog is kind of personal, direct communication (more a monologue if you like, until we get to this part – the comments, feedback and discussions), but presenting information in a dialogue as such seemed very risky and might have been confusing for the readers.
      Good points on the relevancy/efficiency of dialogue use for different writing styles and purposes and thanks for referring back to @pricillalyf’s post.

  2. chimk / May 30 2012 10:01 am

    Indeed dialogue helps in enganging the audience. I have a feeling that children will easily understand scientific theories which have been presented inform of dialogues. I just had a thought of an example on communicating to children about “how wildlife live together in a zoo or park”, children will tend to like stories that would imitate the animals speaking to each other than just a list of points about them.

    I also found you blog well researched and enganging. I have learnt one or two things from the way you wrote it. Good work.

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