Examples: Context:  There is a need to convey information to the user; the information is closely interrelated, but of diverse kinds, and there may be some subjectivity involved.

Problem:  In what form should the information be displayed to the user?


Solution:  Convey the information via natural language.  Use all you learned in high-school English class about good writing.  If users might be skimming the text to find specific data items, use color, fonts, and white space to set off items of interest; for readability in some situations, try using "senselining."

Notes:  [ Unfinished.  I think this is a very important pattern to understand, but I don't understand it yet. Natural language has wonderful, subtle gradations of meaning and emphasis that raw data can't have. How do we decide it's best to, say, give a  weather report in a narrative form, rather than as a table? I suspect that some factors are: memorability, subjectivity and biased interpretation (which is not always a bad thing), effort required to absorb and understand the information. ...Maybe we should turn the question around, and ask when we should NOT use narrative, since narrative is the default way that we humans communicate. ]

Random other notes...

Storytelling is a huge part of this pattern, but it's really outside the scope of this pattern language

Narrative is declarative, where Step-by-Step Instructions is imperative; both use natural language

Brenda Laurel's quote on the use of narrative in an interactive artifact:  "Narrative includes both the story being told (content) and the conditions of its telling (structure and context). ... Within that [narrative] framework, interface designers can adopt strategies from narrative theory, such as including multiple representations of events and information, or using characters as a means of representing material with an explicitly acknowledged point of view."  (pg. 182 in my copy)

Give two examples:  an image from The Weather Channel's daily weather report (tabular data and icons), and a cut-and-paste from the Mass. weather site (narrative).

Howard Wainer talks about senselining.  Strunk & White talks about good writing.  Nielsen talks about writing for Web pages.  Who talks about colors and fonts and whitespace?...

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Last modified May 17, 1999

Copyright (c) 1999 by Jenifer Tidwell.  All rights reserved.