Digital Storytelling: Best Practices How to capture the attention of any audience

Building a Digital Story

Understanding Successful Digital Sto

Think back to the last paper you wrote. The last contract you read. The last instruction manual you skimmed. What about it made it hard to write? Read? Even skim?

Whatever the reason was, chances are, the information is still important, and you still want (or maybe just need!) to know it. This is why using multimedia features to enhance the way information and stories are displayed is so important. Writers and designers now have the ability to recreate how information is presented by using digital features to focus on the most dynamic, most compelling aspects of their story.

Effective Features

There are many amazing tools to enhance how an audience experiences a story. The five best practices to utilize when building a digital story are:

  • Photographs - always try to include at least five images!
  • Pull Quotes - utilize key moments of description or dialogue!
  • Sidebars - add in information that gives context to the story!
  • Audio - think back to the moment and incorporate the sounds you heard!
  • Image Compare - emphasize similarities, differences, and senses

Digital Story Examples

The following two stories will be used to show how these key features are utilized in emphasizing significant aspects of the stories.

"Rediscovering Mia's Roots" is a digital story about how a JMU studen, Mia, and her family travel back to Vietnam to visit the area she and her sister were adopted from. This feature goes into the experiences Mia had with her family while she was there, and the process of how she decided she and her sister were ready.

"Another Man's Eyes" is about Robert Marney's experiences with low-vision and recently becoming legally blind. This story is also meant to advocate for the low-vision communities, and encourage those pursing careers in the media and communications to keep an open mind to these perspectives.


Due to the overuse of PowerPoint and other presentations, the process of choosing what images to include in any kind of information sharing thing has become to seem quick and easy. However, because technology has given society such easy access to high quality images, this means that deciding which images to use is even more important.

For example, photographs in a digital story are not supposed to cover up weak points of the structure. When choosing photographs for your story, make sure they enhance your story, not explain your story.

"Rediscovering Mia's Roots" is about how a JMU student and her family travel back to Vietnam, and visit the city where she and her sister were adopted. .
"Another Man's Eyes" is about Robert Marney's experience with vision loss, and encourages those pursuing careers in communications and media arts to be conscious of the low-vision community when entering the workforce.

Good photographs do not make up for poor writing; the images you choose should add context to the story, not add description.

Pull Quotes

Similar to a sound bite, pull quotes are an opportunity for writers to give pieces of context to a story, and emphasize important moments and information. Using effective pull quotes also give the readers that only skim a "sneak peak!"

In "Another Man's Eyes," this pull quote allows the reader to get a piece of information that is supposed to evoke curiosity about the context of the story. For example, this quote is meant to make the reader wonder about another perspective.

Pull quotes are a great tool to create suspense, to foreshadow, and to leave lasting impressions on an audience, even if they don't read the full story.


Sidebars are a great tool to use to give background information or context to the story. When using a sidebar, make sure the information does not distract the reader, but if they glance at it is provides a deeper understanding of the story.

In "Rediscovering Mia's Roots," the sidebar tool is helpful with giving definitions and descriptions for terms that those who are unfamiliar with adoption might like to understand her experience.
In "Another Man's Eyes," using a sidebar is a helpful way to incorporate information that isn't necessarily essential to the story itself, but is important context for having a full understanding.

Sidebars offer writers a chance to add in any "leftover" information, or important aspects of a story that add context to the overall theme. They are also helpful with instilling intentional thoughts for the readers to keep in mind as they continue through the site.


Audio is a great feature to incorporate to create a tone for your story. For example, if you were building a digital story about the Amazon rainforest, adding rainforest sound effects would influence the audience's interpretation of your story.

In "Rediscovering Mia's Roots," the audio gives the reader the opportunity to gain a different understanding of what the moment was like for Mia and her sister. Being able to have access to one of the senses of that particular moment gives the reader one step closer to "being there."
In "Another Man's Eyes," audio is especially effective because it provides an inclusive perspective for the visually impaired, which is the purpose of the digital story. This is an example of how the use of a digital feature can expand the experiences an individual has, because regardless of ability or disability, the audience will become aware of other perspectives.

Audio is one of the senses that has a large influence on how humans react to memories and experiences, which is why utilizing this digital feature is an extremely powerful way to convey a message. It also offers writers a chance to add on to their own descriptions, and become creative with how they incorporate their writing and the audience's senses.

Image Comparing

Contrast is quite arguably the most influential concept when it comes to society. There is always a need to find the sweet spot between opposites, the fine line where things that are different can harmoniously be different together.

In terms of digital stories, using the image compare feature allows the writer a chance to emphasize those areas of contrast, in addition to focusing on areas of similarities and key senses.

In "Another Man's Eyes," the image compare feature is effective in connecting the audience to Mia's story. Showing an old photograph next to a current one is always a way to emphasize the emotional connection that forms when you learn about someone's past.
"Another Man's Eyes" uses the image compare feature to attempt to recreate the visual perspective of someone with low-vision. This feature is extremely powerful, and can offer a new direction for communities to show the differences in experience.

...and this is only the beginning

These five features are only a handful of the many different ways you can enhance the way you present your story. Some exceptional examples are After the Storm (The Washington Post), After Hurricane Matthew (The New York Times), Taxi Detour (Sobra Toppa), Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt (NPR), The Fallen of World War 2.

Although these digital stories cover a wide variety of topics, each one uses various features to not only capture the audiences' attention, but to enhance the reader's experience as well.

Now, take a moment to think back to an assignment, experience, or even just the best story someone's ever told you. How you build a digital story for it?

If you are interested in creating your own digital story, try exploring great beginning sites, such as Adobe Spark or Atavist.


Created with images by Hannes215 - "new york nyc city" • MichaelGaida - "architecture building window" • MichaelGaida - "rain puddle water" • Carl Raw - "iPhone Only" • Daniel_Nebreda - "night city white"

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.