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Storylining FAQs


Here are the most common questions we are asked about Grouping storyline structures.

    Do I always need to build my grouping storyline from the top down?

    Build either top down or bottom up – but always tell the story top down

    The easiest way for your audience to understand what you have to say is if you begin telling your story from the top down: begin with a short introduction to set the scene and then work from the overarching ‘big idea' to the smaller supporting details.

    This involves beginning with the introduction (the context, trigger and question), then immediately following with the answer before moving step by step to the details. This is also the fastest way to prepare your communication once you are practiced at working this way, although this approach may not come naturally at first.

    As a result, you may opt for a bottom-up approach or a mix of bottom-up and top-down approaches when creating your storyline.

    If you try a bottom-up approach, start by brainstorming your ideas and then sorting these ideas into groups, perhaps by kind. This helps you, the writer, identify the themes and messages within each group. This process enables you to then work toward articulating the overarching answer, or governing idea, at the top of each section and then eventually for the whole storyline.

    Alternatively, you may use a mix of bottom-up and top-down approaches by beginning to narrow the context by articulating the context, trigger and question and taking your time to get this narrative flow tight. The next step is to ask yourself the question and use that as a stimulus for brainstorming the ideas that will, when organised, form the body of your story. Brainstorm these ideas and then sort them into groups by identifying themes and connections between the ideas, and then grouping groups into larger groups and eventually into a complete storyline.

    Once this bottom up clarification (problem-solving process) has been undertaken, the writer is ready to tell the story from the top down.


    How do grouping storylines work?

    Inductive storylines form a structured conversation

    The key to understanding how a grouping, or inductive, storyline works is to understand the notion of ‘structured conversation'.

    Most people like to receive information in person through conversation. These conversations tend to be quite organic, and provide opportunities for all parties to listen and to ask questions.

    However, when communicating remotely – via writing or presenting to larger groups of people – these conversations are by necessity structured.

    In this circumstance it is important for the writer to think through the questions that the audience might have and organise them into a sensible order so that they can present their ideas in a way that is easy for their audience to grasp.

    Organising your ideas this way involves creating a logical question and answer flow within the document. Each idea should provoke a question – just one – in the readers' mind that is then answered at the next level down in the story.

    For example, if the overarching answer for your storyline were to say “You should go for a holiday in Greece”, the audience would first ask either “why?” or “how?”.

    If they were to ask “how do we go to Greece?”, you would provide a series of steps or actions that they could take such as: “Work out how much you want to spend, talk to our travel agent, and agree an itinerary”. Then each one of these points may provoke another (sub) question that you would respond to until you go far enough down your storyline that you have run out of relevant things to say.

    If, however, they were to ask “why?”, you would provide a series of reasons such as: The scenery is beautiful, there are lots of fun things to do and it is surprisingly affordable. Again, you would keep unpacking the ideas one question, one answer at a time until you run out of relevant things to say.

    The test for whether you have structured your conversation accurately is to identify whether the series of ideas that respond to each question are all the same kind of thing – eg in the Greek story they would be either actions or reasons. If the ideas within a grouping (ie the ideas that all share the same parent idea) are not the same kind of thing, then they do not truly respond to just one question.

    How does an inductive storyline work?

    Inductive storylines occur when a proposition is supported by two to five ideas.

    An inductive argument is a story in which two to five premises provide support for the probable truth of a conclusion. In an inductive storyline the premises are intended to be collectively strong enough that the conclusion is unlikely to be false.

    It is possible that if one of the premises is inaccurate, the others may still be sufficient to support your conclusion. It will be weaker, but may still hold.

    For example, an inductive storyline may propose that Option 1 is best because it is the fastest, cheapest and most reliable solution to your problem.

    If you agree that Option 1 is fast and the most reliable solution, you may overlook that it is not the cheapest and still agree that Option 1 is the best solution.


    How does induction relate to storylines?

    Storylines are mind maps structured using logic

    Induction is a logical process whereby a person ‘induces' a conclusion by observing patterns in examples or cases. The person then suggests that because the examples ‘work' your recommendation which fits the criteria of the examples will also ‘work'.

    • For example, because the sun has come up every day in history, we can induce that it is also likely to come up tomorrow.
    • Alternatively, we reasonably expect that this fire will be hot, as every fire that we have touched in the past has been hot.

    When creating an inductive argument as a storyline, we are reflecting the inductive logical process into a diagram. Students of logic sometimes call this ‘working logic-book style'.

    Building an inductive storyline involves creating a storyline diagram which represents a proposition in which the premises provide support for the probable truth of that proposition, or conclusion. In an inductive storyline the premises are intended to be collectively strong enough that the reader will conclude that the proposition (conclusion) is unlikely to be false.

    It is possible that if one of the series of premises is inaccurate, the others may still be sufficient to support your conclusion. It will be weaker, but may still hold. For example, if you said that you should go to Greece for holidays because it is cheap, fun and sunny and your audience said they aren't looking for a cheap holiday, your recommendation to go to Greece may still stand, but not as strongly.


    How many ideas can I have within a grouping?

    Ideally five ideas or less within a grouping

    It is best to have five or less ideas within any grouping family. This helps your reader in two ways: they

    • are less likely to get lost in lots of data
    • will enjoy the synthesis that comes with organising your ideas into tight groups

    It also helps you clarify your thinking by encouraging you to identify the links between your ideas and to put like with like, rigorously using the question and answer flow.

    Only very occasionally will you need to have more than five ideas in a grouping. Some exceptions occur in the law and other technical fields where groups are prescribed by legislation or other industry accepted norms.

    What does the orange dot with the question mark represent?

    The orange question dot reminds you of the structured conversation.

    The orange dot with the question mark inside it represents the single question that you expect will occur to the reader as they read the idea above.

    This question is answered by the ideas in the boxes below, which then prompt another question from the reader and so on.

    The disciplined use of the question and answer response drives the logical clarity of your grouping story and helps you create what we call a ‘structured conversation' with your audience.

    Grouping Storyline Example - Due Diligence

    Monster Co is considering merging its Feral Business Unit with NiceGuys Inc and wants to make sure there aren't any issues that are likely to derail the transaction.

    (Implied question: are there any issues that could derail the transaction?)

    We have found some important issues that need to be resolved before the transaction can proceed, and some others which can be managed during and after the negotiation process.

    (Question: what are they?)

    • Firstly, three issues could derail the transaction unless they are managed carefully before contracts are drawn up.
    • Secondly, a couple of other complex operational issues need to be addressed during the contract drafting stage
    • Thirdly, two other issues could be problematic but can be managed once the merger is complete.


    Grouping Storyline Example - Proposal

    You have recently decided to look for a new software developer given that you are not satisfied with the reliability and the quality of the code that your current developer is delivering.

    (Implied question: how will working with us be sufficiently better to make the switch?)

    We have a proven track record in turning around failed projects.

    (Implied question: How will working with us be sufficiently better to entice you to switch?)

    • We understand your concerns around reliability and quality
    • We have a tailored approach that will allow us to use the best of what you already have and complete the task efficiently while delivering a quality outcome
    • We have a team that has experience in starting projects half way through and bringing them to completion
    • We can provide a timely and cost effective solution