Ravishankar Iyer

#SOTD 22: Two tweets, five story lessons

published4 months ago
1 min read

I think I have come across one of the most engaging analyst-storytellers on the Russia-Ukraine war.

This is Paul Poast, an Associate Professor of Political Science in the University of Chicago. (Hat/tip: J Ramanand for the recommendation to follow him).

Prof. Poast's tweet threads are fascinating case studies in crafting a narrative from data.

I decided to take his latest thread (published yesterday, 14-Mar) and break down the story techniques he uses.

It's a 45-tweet thread and begins with this one:

Then I realised, hang on. This is TOO much work for one #SOTD.

And so this week, we shall do an #SOTD series on this tweet thread by the good professor.

Let's start with the first tweet itself. He doesn't say:

  • I have analysed the Russia-Ukraine issue and come up with some conclusions (too vague)
  • Analysis of Russian economic condition and implications (title, not a clear message)
  • Russia is in dire straits due to the economic sanctions (clear message, but not evocative enough)

Instead he:

- Looks back in history (norm-variance) and comes up with an analogy for what historical precedent best describes the Russian economic situation.

- States that point well upfront: "Russia seems to be following the British WW1 financial model"

- Adds a 'So-what does it mean' to that statement... ("That didn't end well for Britain ... or the world economy") implying that there's bad news for Russia and the global economy going ahead.

- And then adds a funny WW1 era cartoon that tells a thousand words in 1 image.

And finally for the coup de grace - check out tweet number two:

With the first tweet, he piqued your curiosity and got your attention ("Oh really, like the Brits in WW1, how?").

With the second, he's telling you: "I'll tell you the answer, but let me tell you a story first."

What he is doing here is: Controlling the release of information (to manage your curiosity and attention).

"The only useful definition of narrative is that it's a controlled release of information. The way in which you release that information is all up to you.” - Christopher Nolan

To recap, Prof. Poast uses the following story techniques:

  • Gives a clear takeaway summarising the issue (give BLUF)
  • Delivered using an analogy (Analogy)
  • With an implication for the audience (make the audience care by showing implication)
  • With an evocative image (Show, don't just tell)
  • And rounded up by piquing our curiosity to read the whole thread (control release of information)

All of this in just four simple sentences across two tweets.

This is an #SOTD bonanza.

And we have just begun.

#SOTD 22