Robert Cialdini discovered a secret to learning in 2005. As a world-leading psychologist he was surprised he didn’t already know this secret but now swears by it. He was researching a new psychology book he wanted to write for a general audience and wanted to know the characteristics of effective science writing for an informed public readership. Most of his review confirmed what he already knew: must have a clear and focussed point, well written, concrete examples. The big surprise for Robert was that the best examples where written in the format of a mystery story.
Robert’s laboratory is his classroom so he tried out the approach there. A typical lecture, before using the mystery story format, would end with his students starting to pack up five minutes before the lecture’s scheduled finishing time. When he presented the same information as a mystery story, and he was yet to reveal the who’d dunnit, the students remained totally engaged and didn’t move, even after the lecture was supposed to have finished. It was like magic.
So here is the structure Cialdini discovered in his review and then wrote up in volume 24 of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.
- Pose the mystery
- Deepen the mystery
- Home in on the proper explanation by considering (and offering evidence against) alternative explanations
- Provide a clue to the proper explanation
- Resolve the mystery
- Draw the implications for the phenomenon under study
To test this out I wrote a blog post using the mystery format called ‘What is happening to Melbourne’s trains?’ I would be grateful to receive your feedback. Just leave comments on the blog post.
Cialdini, R. B. (2005). “What’s The Best Secret Device for Engaging Student Interest? The Answer Is In The Title.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 24(1): 22-29.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on: