January 22, 2022 11:28 am

Sarah Pye

How do we use narratives for conservation?

When it comes to conservation, if we are to save some of the world’s endangered species, scientists need whole communities to change their behaviour.

I first met Wong Siew Te in 2012, back then I felt scientists were not doing a particularly good job of engaging ordinary people in their work. I wondered whether stories or narratives could help.

I decided to write Wong’s narrative biography as part of my doctoral research. Of course, that meant plenty of time traipsing through the rainforest in Borneo!

Sarah Pye Author Speaker Environmentalist Walking Tour of Borneo2

What is a Narrative Biography?

Let’s start with biography, which is simply writing the life of another person. A narrative is a story, so a narrative biography is one written like a story.

The facts are there, however they are weaved together using literary techniques. Therefore this generally makes them more readable and engaging.

If you have read Saving Sun Bears, let me know what you think. 

The Separation of Science and Art

Science and art have long been considered divergent career paths. Just think back to your own high school career guides or curriculum streams.

This is detrimental to society as a whole because scientists and creatives have complementary skills.

Therefore, by breaking down this perception and working together (like Wong and I did) we can make a change.

Science and Art Narratives for Conservation

The Power of Biography

I am not alone in this assumption. The narrative style, coupled with accurate information, can be more appropriate and persuasive than cold scientific facts (Dahlstrom 2014).

Narratives have even been found to increase comprehension (Zabrucky & Moore 1999), and biography is one of the most effective ways of disseminating scientific knowledge (Nye 2006).

Beginning My Doctoral Journey

Encouraged by this research, I embarked on a doctoral journey. The output of which was both Saving Sun Bears and an exegesis— a thesis highlighting how I wrote the book, and justifying it with academic research.  

My exegesis explores all kinds of topics which I will tackle in future blog topics… sign up for alerts (in the opt-in box at the top right of this page) if you don’t want to miss any of them!…

The journey might have been a long one, however, there were some benefits. Like watching sun bears playing in the rainforest.

Watching Sun Bears at BSBCC Narratives For Conservation

The Challenges of Writing a Biography

  • What is the process for interviewing people for whom English is a second language?
  • How can photos help?
  • How do you plan a full-length biography?
  • Is chronology important?
  • How do you bring a story alive?
  • What if there are gaps in the story?
  • How do you deterime who you are writing for?
  • Is objectivity hard if you like your subject?


Dahlstrom, M 2014, 'Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 111.

Nye, M 2006, 'Scientific biography: History of science by another means?', Isis, vol. 97, no. 2, pp. 322-9.

Zabrucky, KM & Moore, D 1999, 'Influence of text genre on adults' monitoring of understanding and recall', Educational Gerontology, vol. 25, no. 8, pp. 691-710

As you can see, there's a lot to consider. Have you ever thought of writing a biography?

Let me know in the comments below.

About the Author

Sarah Pye is a nature and wildlife nerd. When she’s not writing or teaching, she can be found outdoors… camping, kayaking, exploring or walking with her dog Gypsy.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}