Using personal stories or examples, including clinical vignettes, in scholarly writing can be appropriate, despite many believing that these are generally contraindicated. Stories and examples can even strengthen the content of the paper. However, it is important to be cautious in using personal stories. When they are not used correctly, they can be as filler material to make the paper longer, tangents, distractions, or sloppy writing. Below are several items to consider if you are planning to use stories in your paper:
- Make sure the story or example is relevant to the paper and the section of the paper.
- Stories and examples should be focused, and they should avoid including unnecessary material as much as possible.
- Stories and examples should be directly tied to content. Do not include a story or example just because it is interesting. It should clearly illustrate a point you are trying to articulate in your paper.
- Be sure the story or example helps to clarify a concept in your paper. If the concept is already sufficiently clear, then the example is not necessary and should be avoided.
- Limit the number of stories or examples that you use. If you use too many, or if these are too long, then it will look like filler material.
- Limit the length of your stories and examples. As a general guide, stories and examples should not be more than about 5% of your total paper.
- Be careful to not shift the tone or style of writing when discussing the example or story. It is common for authors to shift to a more informal style when including an example or story, which makes the writing in the paper inconsistent.
In more informal writing, such as writing for a general audience, a blog, or a newsletter, it is common to include more examples and write in a more informal style. Many will draw on examples from these more informal styles of writing when integrating examples and stories. When this is done in scholarly writing, it shifts the tone that the paper loses credibility.