Share the story of an expedition
Study an example
One of the most effective ways to learn is to copy good examples. In this lesson, you'll use the example of three National Geographic explorers who visited Guatemala to learn more about the coexistence of volcanoes and communities. This story contains a mix of text and media that is designed to keep readers' attention throughout the entire story. It introduces scientific inquiry without being too technical, and it uses maps and other locational elements to help readers step into the shoes of the explorers.
- Read through In the Shadow of a Volcano, a tale of three National Geographic explorers on an expedition in Guatemala.
Having a clear narrative arc is key to a good story. You may have noticed the example story is told chronologically—it has a natural beginning, middle, and end. It starts with the explorers arriving in Quetzaltenango. Ready to make a difference, the explorers head up the volcano to test their gear. It finishes with the photo exhibit created for community members, bringing the narrative back to the stated mission of the explorers and providing a satisfying sense of closure to its audience.
The author describes the geologic processes of volcanoes without relying on a lot of scientific jargon. Because there aren't many technical terms, a reader who isn't familiar with earth science can still move fluidly through the narrative, focusing on the high-level ideas that make the expedition important in the first place.
Gather visual content
Now that you've seen an example of the story you want to create, you'll start gathering material. It's helpful to have the story written and multimedia elements organized before you start putting the content into the StoryMaps builder.
- Download the StoryMap_Data folder and unzip it to a location you can easily access.
This folder includes visual assets you can add to your story as well as a draft of the story you can use to fill in content.
- Identify content that can speak to your journey's beginning, middle, and end.
The folder includes a list of the key messages and visuals associated with each part of the story.
Create an outline
With your content inventory complete, you'll start thinking about how you might weave all these pieces together into an outline. Outlines can take a variety of formats, from a simple bulleted list to an entire storyboard, a slide deck, or even a collection of index cards you shuffle around on your desk. The exact format isn't very important—what matters most is that you choose whichever one makes it easiest for you experiment and get creative.
- In the StoryMap_Data folder, open the In the Shadow of a Volcano Text document.
As you make your outline, you should keep two things in mind: your target audience and the key takeaway.
- Reorder the content to make sure the story flows in a way that your audience can easily follow, and that emphasizes the main ideas.
There are countless ways to tell any one story; your audience and key message are integral to finding the structure that's best for you. You'd take a very different approach to storytelling with an audience of middle school students versus your social media followers. The same is true depending on how you want a reader to feel when they get to the end of your story.
- Compare the example you're using to this version of the story.
Changing a story's structure can dramatically change the message and emotions it communicates. This story is written in the first person from the perspective of the volcano.
- Give your outline a final review to make sure it accomplishes the following five objectives, which are essential for any expedition story:
- Who: Establish who is venturing out into the world and explain why they've embarked on this journey.
- Where: Locate the place or places to which they are traveling and re-create the feeling of being there for the reader.
- When: Clearly communicate the chronological order of the events that occurred on the expedition, even if the story doesn't follow a linear timeline.
- What: Include elements that evoke tension or uncertainty in the reader's mind, keeping them invested in finding out what happens next.
Why: Explain the key takeaways from the expedition once it has ended, helping the reader understand why these takeaways are significant.
If you're working on this story with a group, now is a good time to review your story outline with collaborators or colleagues, so you can make any big structural changes before you start assembling your story map.
Add content blocks
Now that you have the story text and media, you'll start building the story using content blocks. Each title, paragraph, image, and media type is added as a separate block from the block palette. Using the published story as an example, you'll add blocks to the story to form your own version.
- Open the ArcGIS StoryMaps builder and sign in to ArcGIS Online.
The app is also accessible in ArcGIS Online via the App Launcher. If this is your first time using ArcGIS StoryMaps or the new builder, an informational window appears.
- If necessary, click Get Started, and then click Create New Story.
A blank story template appears.
If you've used any of the classic Esri Story Maps templates, you'll probably notice the new builder looks different. You're immediately presented with a free-form, flexible, what-you-see-is-what-you-get builder experience to put together your story. You'll get acquainted with all the new features available to you as you move through the next few phases of this lesson.
- For Title your story, type In the Shadow of a Volcano. For Start with a short introduction or subtitle, type or paste the following text:
Around the world, volcanoes threaten nearly half a billion people. Scientists are working to better forecast when eruptions will occur.
You can change these titles at any time. The title also appears on the ribbon, next to an orange badge indicating that your story is an unpublished draft (meaning it is only visible to you). Next to the badge you'll see evidence of the new autosave feature in StoryMaps; any time you edit your story, that text will let you know your story is saving and then confirm that your changes have been saved.
- Scroll past the cover and click Tell your story. Type or paste the following:
In 2017, a volcanologist, a photographer, and a cartographer traveled to Guatemala on a National Geographic-funded expedition.
Their goal was three-fold: to conduct innovative research that could help shape volcanic eruption warning systems; to create educational materials that explain the risks of living in the vicinity of a volcano; and to better understand what it is about these locations that is appealing enough for communities to remain there despite the risks.
These paragraphs serve as both an introduction and a summary to your story. You'll make them stand out by italicizing them.
- Highlight the first paragraph. In the text menu, click the Italics button.
You can also use keyboard shortcuts such as Ctrl+I for italics and Ctrl+B for bold.
- Click under the second paragraph. In the left margin, click the Add button.
The block palette appears with options for adding content. You'll tell your story using these blocks to add sections of content to the body of your story.
There are a few types of blocks you can choose from. There are of course text blocks—paragraph, heading, quote, and so on—and there are also a few options for adding small visual accents, such as a separator or a button. Then there are media blocks such as an embed (for external web content), image, video, or map. And finally, there are new immersive blocks such as sidecar.
Immersive blocks are unique in that they become full-screen takeovers of your story, providing different, interactive reading experiences. Those familiar with the classic Story Maps Journal template, for example, may recognize the split-screen feel of sidecar, where a fixed media panel displays visual content while a smaller narrative panel scrolls by.
- Click Subheading and type or paste the following: There's nothing quite like the thrill of going into the field for research.
This text serves as your first subheading. Now, you'll add the rest of the text.
- Paste the rest of the story content to the builder from the In the Shadow of a Volcano Text document you downloaded. Use the block palette to format all subtitles and paragraphs as needed.
The text is broken into sections, each with a few paragraphs. Once all the text is in place, you'll start adding media elements.
Work with media
Once you've added your text, you'll start adding and adjusting media to bring your expedition to life. Images, video, and other media are important because they break up a long narrative and provide context. You'll add both individual images and an immersive sidecar to the story and change their appearance to best fit the story. You'll also add video footage to the story.
The first image you see in the example story is one of the volcano complex the explorers visited that serves as a banner image.
- Between the italicized introductory paragraphs and the first subheading, hover over the left margin and open the block palette. Choose Image.
- In the File Upload window, browse to the StoryImages folder inside the StoryMap_Data folder and choose VolcanoPanorama.png, and then click Open.
The image is added to the story in the smallest form. Because this is a panorama, it's meant to be shown as a large image.
- Hover over the volcano panorama image. In the toolbar, click Large.
Depending on the width of the image you upload, larger sizes may not be available, ensuring that your content is never stretched beyond its maximum width. Full-width media, for example, must be at least 2,001 pixels wide.
- Hover over the image again and click Properties.
The Image properties window appears. You'll add alternative text, or alt text, that describes the image so that anyone consuming your story with a screen reader (typically used by the visually impaired) can still enjoy your work in its entirety. You can specify alt text in the properties menu for each media item using the Properties button. Unlike captions, which appear below an image, the alt text associated with an image can be viewed by hovering over it.
- In the Alternative text box, type Santiaguito volcano complex and click Save.
The next image also includes a caption.
- After the goals paragraph (The goals for the expedition are threefold), open the block palette and add another image.
- In the File Upload window, choose arrival.jpg from the Beginning folder in the lesson images.
- Click Properties and add a descriptive sentence of alt text to the image.
- Under the image, click Add a caption for this image and type or paste the following text:
Dr. Stephanie Grocke sets up and tests photogrammetry equipment before the expedition up Santa María Volcano. Photo: Gabby Salazar.
Media should break up your text and underscore the points you're trying to make in each section.
As you go, be sure to pause and ask yourself if this is working the way you expected. While having a plan for your story is important, it's okay to iterate and adapt as you go; some things that seem great as a concept don't pan out as expected in practice.
- Modeling your story on the published version, continue adding images to the story until you reach the Why do people live so close to active volcanoes section.
This section contains several images with scrolling text instead of captions. These scrolling image elements are called sidecars and help emphasize certain media items.
- After the paragraph block in the Why do people live so close to active volcanoes section, open the block palette and choose Sidecar.
When you add a sidecar to your story, you'll immediately be presented with a few configurable pieces. Add a map or image to the large media panel, and then experiment with adding text, photos, videos, or even a basic map in the scrolling narrative panel.
- Scroll down until the sidecar ribbon appears at the bottom of the builder. Click Add image.
- In the File Upload window, choose coffee.jpg and click Open.
The image of raw coffee beans is added to the story. You'll add explanatory text to the image.
- Next to the image, click Continue your story and type or paste the following:
Agriculture around volcanoes thrive in the productive soil. Coffee grows particularly well around Santa María.
- On another line, add the photo credit: Photo: Gabby Salazar
Together, a media panel and narrative panel constitute a slide, and you can have multiple slides in one sidecar block. Along the bottom of the builder you'll find the slide panel, where you can add or remove slides, adjust the transitions between them, or remove the sidecar block from your story entirely. You can change which side the narrative panel is on by using the double-arrow button where the media and narrative panel meet.
- In the Sidecar pane, open the block palette to add a slide.
A blank sidecar is added to the pane.
- Click Add image and choose hotsprings.jpg. Add the following sidecar text:
Hot springs are common in this region because of the geothermal activity near volcanoes. Tourists and locals alike can relax and enjoy the beautiful landscapes.
Photo: Gabby Salazar
- Add a final slide with flowers.jpg and the following text:
Volcanoes have spiritual significance to local communities. It is not uncommon to see flower offerings as you climb a volcano.
Photo: Gabby Salazar
Finally, you'll add a video to the story. Videos can be hosted on Vimeo or YouTube. Any URL parameters you add to the video link—to start the video at a specific time, for example—will be preserved.
- In the Like all good expeditions section, under the second paragraph, open the block palette and choose Video.
- In the Video properties window, paste the URL https://vimeo.com/328687492 and click Save. In the Properties window, add descriptive alt text.
For these videos, the embed preferences are set to remove all of the video player features (Vimeo profile, progress bar, and so on).
Make sure you're providing a mix of different views with your visual assets. Wide shots are important for setting the scene and letting a reader fully appreciate the setting of your expedition, but tight shots of textures and little details will give them a more intimate understanding of what it was like to be there. Also keep in mind that it's okay to include silent clips to provide visual texture to your story. Atmospheric clips can catch a reader's eye and pull them into the scene, but do so in a way that is subtle and doesn't interrupt the story with a separate audio narrative.
Work with maps
This story takes place in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. To help readers picture where this is, you'll add a locator map using an express map. Express maps are a unique feature of StoryMaps. These simple, focused maps can only be created in the story builder and will only be stored in the story in which they are created. With basic drawing and annotation tools, express maps enable you to add points, lines, areas, arrows, and more with ease. You'll also add content from ArcGIS Online, a 3D web scene of the volcano and surrounding peaks.
- In the first section, at the end of the first paragraph (It's kind of a nervous excitement), open the block palette and choose Map.
With StoryMaps, there are a number of options for adding and configuring a map in your story. You can add maps from your ArcGIS Online content, your organization, or ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World. You can also make a simple locator map using the express map feature.
- Click Create an express map.
A map of the world appears. First, you'll locate the site of the expedition, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
- In the search bar, type Quetzaltenango, GTM and press Enter.
The map zooms to Quetzaltenango.
- On the pop-up, click Add to map.
A pin is added to the map. In the Map layers pane, you can add an image and descriptive text to this point. This information will be displayed in a small pop-up window if a reader clicks it for more context.
- Click Add image and choose the quetzaltenango.jpg image from the Beginning folder. For Description, type or paste Quetzaltenango is home to approximately 224,703 people (the second largest city in Guatemala).
- In the Map layers pane, click Done.
The Map layers tab is displayed. Here you'll see your newly named feature in a layer named Points. This layer is also displayed in the map legend, a small white box in the corner of the map. You can rename this layer through the More Options menu, which will also rename it in the map legend. Since this map only has one feature, though, a reader can understand the map without a legend.
- At the top of the Map layers pane, click Settings and turn off the map legend.
Unless your reader is familiar with the cities of Guatemala, this map still won't be very helpful. To provide more context for the location of this story, you'll zoom out.
- Zoom out on the map until you can see the entirety of Guatemala and some of its neighboring countries.
- Position the point near the center of the map.
You can now adjust the size of the block, interact with the map itself, and preview its pop-up.
- Click Place map.
A locator map showing the rough location of the expedition is added to the story.
You can use express maps for many purposes in an expedition story. You can add numbered points to the map to show important places you went chronologically, draw a line that retraces a route you traveled, or even outline the boundaries of your area of study. Go ahead any play with the different drawing tools to see how each of them works—you can always press the undo button or drag a feature to the trash if you don't like something you've added.
Next, you'll add a 3D scene showing the route the explorers took. This scene was authored in ArcGIS Online. To add maps and scenes to your story, you can create them in ArcGIS Online and then navigate to them in the map browser when you add a new map block. (Not sure how to create a web map or web scene? Make your first interactive web map or build your first 3D web scene.)
- In the Like all good expeditions section, above the video, open the block palette and choose Map.
In the Add a map pane, the map browser separates content into tabs like those you see in ArcGIS. You can add any map that is shared to your organization from the My Organization tab, for example.
- Open the item details page for the Santa Maria Volcano scene. If necessary, sign in to your ArcGIS Online account.
Note:You can also search for this content by typing Santa Maria Volcano Data owner:RossDonihue in the global search bar and ensuring you have the Only search in my organization filter turned off.
- On the item details page, under the thumbnail, click Add to Favorites.
- In the StoryMaps builder, on the Add a map pane, click the My Favorites tab.
The My Favorites tab shows all the ArcGIS Online content that you've marked as a favorite, including the scene you just added.
- Click Santa Maria Volcano Data.
The scene opens in a map editor similar to the one you used to create your express map. The Scene layers pane lists the layers included in the scene. In this case, these layers show the path that the expedition took up the volcano as well as the names of the peaks. You can make these invisible or edit them by clicking the icons on the Scene layers tab. Note that these edits will only be applied to the scene in the story; to make permanent changes, click the Edit scene in ArcGIS button.
- Move the scene until you can see all the labels and click Place scene.
Review the story
Before publishing, you'll review the story. This step is important because you want to make sure what you're sending out to the public is accurate and represents the best telling of your story. In addition to proofreading and editing your own story, this is a good point to ask others for feedback on the story.
- In the builder's header, click Design.
The Design pane appears with options to choose the cover layout and theme that best suit your narrative. Finalizing your story's design—its overall look and feel—is just as important as choosing the right content for your story. You want to ensure that the story's visual cues (its colors, typography, map symbology, and so on) match the tone of the narrative. These cues are what form a reader's first impression of a story's tone: dark, somber colors paired with formal fonts will signal a more serious story lies ahead, for example. When your design aesthetic and your content tone don't align, it makes for a jarring reading experience.
- For Cover layout, click Minimal.
The story cover is the first thing a reader sees, so you want to make sure you start off with a captivating image. For In the Shadow of a Volcano, it was important to provide immediate context about the expedition and its location, which is why the story begins with a minimal cover followed by an express map and synopsis of the overall expedition.
While you're looking at covers, revisit the title and description of your story to make sure they're accurate and enticing and set the right expectations for a reader.
- For Theme, switch between Summit and Obsidian.
When choosing a theme, find the one that best matches the tone of your story and the look of its visuals.
Since In the Shadow of a Volcano is a fairly light story, with images featuring strong sky blues and lush vegetation greens, Summit was the right theme choice. This light theme's modern typography and minimalist feel let the content come forward, helping communicate the excitement the explorers felt while on the expedition.
Story themes affect everything from color scheme to typography to the basemap and symbology of an express map, all with a single click. You can switch between themes as much as you like while trying to decide which one is most aligned with your story, watching your content transform right before your eyes.
- For Theme overrides, click Accent color.
The accent color is the color used for links, captions, and other elements. If you want, choose another color for the accent, which will change the appearance of visual details such as buttons, quotes, separators, and drawn features on your express maps.
- In the header, click Preview.
The Preview mode lets you see a story as a user would.
- Review the story for typos, missing alt text, continuity, and other changes you might want to make before publishing.
Pay careful attention to the narrative flow, and the kinds of emotional responses it elicits.
It's best to do a full review after you've taken a break from story crafting; you'd be surprised what you pick up on when you have fresh eyes. Remember, storytelling is an iterative process. It's okay to change your mind about decisions you made when outlining your story. When in doubt, show someone else your draft and ask for their reaction.
- If necessary, in the header, click Edit story to make changes.
- If desired, now is a good time to ask others for feedback or suggestions for your story.
Publish and share
Finally, you'll publish your finished story and share it with others. Once published, you can choose to share the story with only people within your organization, or you can share it publically.
- If necessary, on the ribbon, click Edit story and click Publish.
The Publish button is only visible in the Draft view.
- In the Sharing menu, choose My organization and click Publish Story.
Sharing the story publicly would allow anyone to search and view your story. Choosing My organization keeps viewership limited to your ArcGIS organization. You can always update these sharing settings later through the More Options menu in the story builder's header.
The story is now available to others. You'll see the Draft badge is replaced with a Published badge.
After publishing, you can reopen your story in the builder and continue to make edits or updates without affecting the shared story. Make a change, and then look in the builder header to see the Published badge change to Unpublished Changes. This signals that you've made some revisions to your story, but they have yet to be pushed to the published version.
Once you have your adjustments finalized, click Publish again to update the shared story. Or, you can discard your unpublished changes using the More Options menu in the header. This is also where you can unpublish your story entirely, which will revert it to a draft and unshare the story.
Now that you know the basic block elements of StoryMaps, you can use them to build any kind of story you want. Try telling the story of your latest vacation or adventure. When you're happy with your story, you can share it on social media, send it to everyone on your email list, embed it on your website, or share it any other way you want. Also, be sure to share it with the StoryMaps team by tagging them on Twitter.
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