What I Wish Everyone Knew About Multimodality In Storytelling

Learn how to fulfil the many functions of online journalism in one place

Abby Wynne


Multimodality… it’s a big word, but have no fear, it’s pretty self-explanatory. In this case, it’s multimodality in terms of storytelling. So, simply put, it’s using different modes (text, speech, music, video, image) to tell a story.

I know we are told not to always trust Wikipedia, but it has a very sound and accurate definition of multimodality:

“Multimodality is the application of multiple literacies within one medium”.

What’s the relevance?

As a journalist, you’re always telling a story, and it is important to stay updated with the best ways to tell it.

Deuze argues that multimodality helps to fulful the many functions of online journalism in one space. Knox supports his argument in a digital journalism article by stating:

“Multimodality allows journalists to develop new means of expression, such as newsbites, and to recontextualise traditional forms of journalism.”

If you’re not familiar with newsbites, they are considered as a pinch of information written in a particular way. News stories on Instagram could also be described to be newsbites as they are a condensed version of a news story, with visual and audio features.

With this in mind, online journalism tends to thrive on multimodality.

So buckle in as I take you through multimodal storytelling on Instagram, my experience with it, and the importance of it within journalism.

The art of storytelling

Storytelling can be expressed through several different means such as; books, film, music, websites, conversation, social media.

A blog post on HubSpot describes storytelling as:

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The evolution of storytelling

I read a blog on the “Top 5 Ways Storytelling Has Changed This Decade”. The most significant point that I picked up on was the rise of ‘visual storytelling’ through digital technology.

We are now able to tell stories like never before; the audience can interact and determine how some stories are told, and most importantly, anyone can tell a story.

It isn’t a one-way street, we are readers and storytellers alike.

Multimodality in theory

Gunther Kress is a scholar who has done a lot of research into multimodality. The theoretical framework that he developed helped to analyse semiotics and communication.

I looked into his theory in a little more detail and found a website which explained his framework as:

“A view of multimodality in which common semiotic principles operate in and across different modes — music can encode action, images encode emotions so on and so fourth.”

Therefore with mass media, technology and crossing boundaries of semiotics, it important that as journalists we think about the different ways we can ‘show’ a story, rather than just ‘telling’ it through words in a printed article.

Moreover, Kress argues that,

“In the age of digitisation, the different modes have technically become the same at some level of representation”

Hence, we have the choice to tell a story with whichever modes we like and it will get the same, if not a better, outcome — Music can encode action, or images can encode emotion.

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Why adopt a multimodal approach?

In the following video, Kress outlines some of the key reasons as to why we should all adopt a multimodal approach in our storytelling.

The quote the resonated with me the most was:

“writing gives you merely a partial account of what’s going on… it’s like having sentences which aren’t completed”

In this, I don’t entirely agree, because when I read a book I know exactly what is going on, and I feel completely immersed in the story.

However, when it comes to social media, the quote rings true.

Who wants to just see the text on a social media post?

We are on social media in search of instant gratification and with a low attention span, things need to be visual and with multiple, but effective, modes to keep us interested.

Multimodality in Instagram Stories

I lightly touched on multimodality on social media in my blog post “Microblogging For Dummies”. In which I recommended that you make the most of all features available to you — such as GIFs, polls, images, videos, music. Not only does this work in line with Instagrams algorithm, but it will also attract a greater audience.

On Wikipedia, it states:

“Multimodal texts can address a larger, yet more focused, intended audience.”

The different modes combine together to effectively draw more people in and tell a story. Plus, the range of modes makes it easier for the audience to decipher the meaning of the text.

Think of yourself for example, how likely are you to stop and look at something on your phone when the whole page is filled with text? Especially in regards to the story feature — it’s designed to be looked at quickly and in succession with other story’s.

You want to be able to quickly scan the page and have a clear meaning of what’s displayed in front of you.

My Instagram Stories

In light of what I learnt, I created my own Instagram stories. The first example of one of the stories I uploaded is a condensed version of one of my blog posts.

It works in a way to advertise my blog post. So when people see the story, if they’re interested, they can then read more about it on my blog.

I combined both text and GIFs and kept it fairly simple.

The limited amount of text and use of GIFs will cater to short attention spans — people don’t have time to read wordy posts and watch long videos.

The GIF’s help to keep the audience engaged because they make the story more visually appealing.

Also, they help to explain the text that is written and make the story’s more memorable.

If you want to learn more about why you should be using GIFs, then click, here.

Here is another example of multimodality in my Instagram stories:

I used both text, image and video. Compared to the last story, this is a lot more image-based.

The use of visual (images and video) will attract the attention of my audience and help to convey my message quickly.

Furthermore, the use of images allow the reader to interpret the meaning of the story better — they can relate to an image and recall a common experience and place it within their reality.

“Images have the power to draw the viewer into their narratives so that the viewer begins adding his or her own story” — Read more, here.

I tried to keep the text as minimal as possible, while still saying the essential facts.

To improve this story, I could've included some interactive features to further engage my audience. For example, they could have guessed the answers before I told them with the ‘questions’ feature.

(Both of these story examples are made in Canva with the templates that they supply. So if you want to have a go at creating your own, it’s free and easy to use!)

I also found it quite effective to compose stories within the Instagram app, because it allowed me to re-share other peoples posts and my own material.

For example, I was able to repost content from the likes of BBC Sport, and Spurs Offical, in the lead up to a football match. I could then insert interactive media to get my audience engaged such as GIFs, countdowns and polls, and then upload original content of my experience watching the game.

Below is a link to one of my story highlights which I created within the Instagram app.

Multimodality is the best way forward

So, it is clear that multimodality is essential to online journalism and is the backbone of what makes it so effective. Use technology to your advantage and include different modes in your journalism, you will reap the benefits in your audience engagement!

Instagram stories are a good place to start, so get out there and try it for yourself.



Abby Wynne

30% perfectly poised, 30% journalism aficionado, 40% stellar writer, 100% modest. Grab a drink and join me exploring all things #sportsjournalism.