Qual Data Analysis & Narrative Research

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Qualitative data analysis varies by methodology. Learn about approaches for narrative and diary research in these open access articles. Read all posts in the series through this link: QualDataAnalysis. 

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Narrative research is focused on the elicitation and interpretation of people’s narrative accounts of their experience. A method based on the use of diaries which have been created for the purposes of research. Diaries can include narratives in semi-structured reports on key events or experiences or unstructured written accounts.

These multidisciplinary, open access articles illustrate options for data analysis in narrative or  diary research.

Revisiting a Boy Named Jim: Using Narrative Analysis to Prompt Reflexivity (Bischoping, 2018)

Abstract. Using examples from qualitative health research and from my childhood experience of reading a poem about a boy devoured by a lion (Belloc, 1907), I expand on a framework for reflexivity developed in Bischoping and Gazso (2016). This framework is unique in first synthesizing works from multidisciplinary narrative analysis research in order to arrive at common criteria for a “good” story: reportability, liveability, coherence, and fidelity. Next, each of these criteria is used to generate questions that can prompt reflexivity among qualitative researchers, regardless of whether they use narrative data or other narrative analysis strategies. These questions pertain to a broad span of issues, including appropriation, censorship, and the power to represent, using discomfort to guide insight, addressing vicarious traumatization, accommodating diverse participant populations, decolonizing ontology, and incorporating power and the social into analyses overly focused on individual meaning-making. Finally, I reflect on the affinities between narrative – in its imaginatively constructed, expressive, and open-ended qualities – and the reflexive impulse.

Narrative Research Evolving: Evolving Through Narrative Research (A. Bruce, Beuthin, Sheilds, Molzahn, & Schick-Makaroff, 2016)

Abstract. Narrative research methodology is evolving, and we contend that the notion of emergent design is vital if narrative inquiry (NI) is to continue flourishing in generating new knowledge. We situate the discussion within the narrative turn in qualitative research while drawing on experiences of conducting a longitudinal narrative study. The philosophical tensions encountered are described, as our understanding and application of narrative approaches evolved. We outline challenges in data collection and analysis in response to what we were learning and identify institutional barriers within ethics review processes that potentially impede emergent approaches. We conclude that researchers using NI can, and must, pursue unanticipated methodological changes when in the midst of conducting the inquiry. Understanding the benefits and institutional barriers to emergent aspects of design is discussed in this ever-maturing approach to qualitative research.

Perfectionism and Life Narratives: A Qualitative Study (Farmer, Mackinnon, & Cowie, 2017)

Abstract. We examined how perfectionistic people conceptualize perfectionism and narrate life events using thematic analysis. Participants included 20 university students who qualified as highly perfectionistic based on cutoffs on the Almost Perfect Scale–Revised (n = 6 adaptive, n = 14 maladaptive). Participants completed a qualitative interview. Using thematic analysis, we identified five themes regarding participants’ conceptualization of perfectionism. The most common themes supported prior theory (high personal standards, performance is never good enough), along with a few comparatively understudied themes (being neat and orderly, feels superior to others, gets caught up in the details). We also identified five themes in a life narrative interview (relationship success, relationship problems, agentic redemption, agentic contamination, and academic success), which provided insight into how young, perfectionistic university students create meaning and identity through autobiographical narratives. “Relationship success” themes were most central to adaptive perfectionists, whereas “agentic redemption” themes were most central to maladaptive perfectionists.

Open-Ended Online Diaries: Capturing Life as it is Narrated (Kaun, 2010)

Abstract. Weblogs and life journals are popular forms of reflecting and reporting online about one’s everyday life. In this article the author examines whether solicited online diaries can be used in qualitative research. She discusses advantages and disadvantages of the online research, diaries as a source of data, and narration as a method. The discussion is exemplified by the presentation of an online diary study conducted in two parts in the spring and autumn of 2009 with students from Tartu, Narva, and Tallinn, Estonia. This article shows the illuminating potential and richness of solicited online diaries applied in an open-ended, qualitative understanding as a way to investigate everyday life. At the same time, the main challenges are presented and discussed.

Reflections on the Narrative Research Approach(Moen, 2006)

Abstract. In her reflections on the narrative research approach, the author starts by placing narrative research within the framework of sociocultural theory, where the challenge for the researcher is to examine and understand how human actions are related to the social context in which they occur and how and where they occur through growth. The author argues that the narrative as a unit of analysis provides the means for doing this. She then presents some of the basic premises of narrative research before she reflects on the process of narrative inquiry and addresses the issue of the “true” narrative. Throughout the article, the author refers to educational research and in the concluding section argues that the results of narrative research can be used as thought-provoking tools within the field of teacher education.

An Alternative Approach for Personal Narrative Interpretation: The Semiotics of Roland Barthes (Tohar, Asaf, Kainan, & Shahar, 2007)

Abstract. In this paper the authors propose Roland Barthes’s analytical method, which appears in his classic work S/Z(1974), as a new way of analyzing personal stories. The five codes that are described in the book are linked to the domains of poetics, language, and culture, and expose facets that are embedded in the deep structure of narratives. These codes are helpful in revealing findings with regard to the development of the professional careers of teacher educators.

The Narrated, Nonnarrated, and the Disnarrated: Conceptual Tools for Analyzing Narratives in Health Services Research (Vindrola-Padros & Johnson, 2014)

Abstract. While analyzing the narratives of children receiving pediatric oncology treatment and their parents, we encountered three ways to look at their narratives: what was narrated, nonnarrated, and disnarrated. The narrated refers to the actors (characters) and events (scenes) individuals decided to include in the narration of their experiences, the nonnarrated are everything not included in narration, and the disnarrated are elements that are narrated in the story but did not actually take place. We use our reflection to illustrate how an integrative analysis of these different forms of narration can allow us to produce a holistic interpretation of people’s experiences of illness. This approach is still in the early stages of development, but we hope this article can promote a debate in the field and lead to the refinement of an important tool for narrative analysis.

Related Posts on MethodSpace


Bischoping, K. (2018). Revisiting a boy named Jim: Using narrative analysis to prompt reflexivity. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 17(1), 1609406918809167. doi:10.1177/1609406918809167

Bruce, A., Beuthin, R., Sheilds, L., Molzahn, A., & Schick-Makaroff, K. (2016). Narrative research evolving: evolving through narrative research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 15(1), 1609406916659292. doi:10.1177/1609406916659292

Farmer, J. R., Mackinnon, S. P., & Cowie, M. (2017). Perfectionism and life narratives: A qualitative study. SAGE Open, 7(3), 2158244017721733. doi:10.1177/2158244017721733

Kaun, A. (2010). Open-ended online diaries: Capturing life as it is narrated. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 9(2), 133-148. doi:10.1177/160940691000900202

Moen, T. (2006). Reflections on the narrative research approach. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 5(4), 56-69. doi:10.1177/160940690600500405

Tohar, V., Asaf, M., Kainan, A., & Shahar, R. (2007). An alternative approach for personal narrative interpretation: The semiotics of Roland Barthes. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 6(3), 57-70. doi:10.1177/160940690700600306

Vindrola-Padros, C., & Johnson, G. A. (2014). The narrated, nonnarrated, and the disnarrated: conceptual tools for analyzing narratives in health services research. Qualitative Health Research, 24(11), 1603-1611. doi:10.1177/1049732314549019

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