Types of Narrative Research


People experience and attribute meaning to life by telling stories. Researchers in many disciplines collect and study these human narratives as part of qualitative research. Narratives exist in many forms: oral histories, collections of personal artifacts, stories, letters, autobiographical and biographical writings and many other narrative data sources. (Reference 1 / 2/3) The goals and objectives of the research project determine the approach to narrative research.

Narrative Analysis Projects

  • Narrative analysis research involves collecting descriptions of events, usually through observations and interviews. Use this approach when your purpose is to synthesize descriptive data to produce a story -- also known as restorying. Your story shows and tells the outcome of the research by narrating how and why something happens. For instance, a researcher might use this approach to study adolescent drug use in school, explain why it happens and show how a teacher confronts and deals with this problem.

Analysis of Narrative Projects

  • An analysis of narrative project uses research to find and state themes that reveal general knowledge. For example, you might use this approach to study the effectiveness of certain types of learning environments or to find common themes surrounding teenage pregnancy. One strategy you can use is to collect narratives, analyze and look for motifs -- patterns of behavior and descriptions, key words and emotional experiences that are common to all the stories you collect. A theme might show that one-on-one teaching helps students learn faster than technology based systems.

Interviews and “Restorying”

  • Record interviews for transcription, takes notes and observe while the participant tells stories in a casual, unstructured manner. Note nuances such as anger or sadness, confusion, laughter. Condense transcription data and annotate key elements such as coping mechanisms or individual efforts to establish communications to solve a problem. Organize the story into chronological order using the same techniques storytellers use: settings, characters, actions, conflicts and resolutions. Invite participant to collaborate on the final version.

Oral History and Journals

  • Interview participants in a structured way with predetermined questions or construct a timeline. Ask the participant to expand on significant events and to later write descriptions in a journal. Next, combine chronological data and journal entries to form a complete oral history which includes all narrative data.

Collecting Background Narratives

  • Ask your participants to write an autobiography with background information that shows why and how they engage with life experiences in a certain way. Collect written descriptions of personal and family photographs and discuss the contents of memory boxes. Use this research to formulate approaches to interview questions and techniques and to find ways to structure observations.

Storytelling, Letter Writing and E-mails

  • Ask participants to share thoughts and stories as an ongoing process in the field, before and after an event such as a class or particular activity related to the research study. During conversations in the field, take observational and verbatim notes. Incorporate field stories with other narrative data such as letters and emails.


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