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Qualitative Research: What is Narrative Research? A Brief Summary

Previously when I first read about research methodology, my stomach churned. It seemed as though methodology was a little rigid and I felt like I already was experiencing palpitations. KIDDING. But when I started reading Creswell (2019) and Patton, how they wrote about qualitative research and methodology broadened my horizons. Your research methods really depend on what it is you want to study. So what if you wanted to study the experience of parents who lost their children in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Or the trauma that Bosnian Muslims faced during the Bosnian War? If your aim is to understand their experience by retelling their stories, then you would probably use narrative analysis.

So let me give you a brief summary of what narrative research design is. Again, this is based on my readings from Creswell and Patton. I have to reiterate that I am not an expert on research methodology. So you’d need to do more readings if you’d like to understand more 🙂


Narrative analysis is a research method that focuses on the stories/narrative of participants to understand the lived experiences, perceptions of individuals. It helps to “reveal cultural and social patterns through the lens of individual experiences.” (Patton, 2002).

Why is narrative design important?

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It’s important because people’s stories and narratives give a peek into the cultural and social context. So for instance, if a student would like to study the challenges experienced by a teacher of students with disabilities, he or she could use narrative research design as it would illuminate the individual problems that a teacher faces.

It’s also important to remember that what makes qualitative research different from quantitative research is that the qualitative approach does not generalize the findings. Instead, qualitative methods aim to unearth the complexities and richness in the description of participants. One can really understand the WHY and REASONS behind the numbers, which quantitative research cannot provide.

What makes narrative design challenging is that, you would need to have a close relationship with the participant because you would need to collaborate with him or her when you’re writing or retelling the story. So if you don’t have a good relationship, I assume things can get tough. Also, the beauty of the narrative design lies within the language of the story, which is rich in description is differentiates narrative analysis from case studies.

What are the main traits of narrative research?

  • Experiences of the individual – both social and personal interactions
  • Chronology of experiences – past, present and future
  • Life stories – the data are the stories of the first-person, oral accounts
  • Restorying ( retelling the story) from the field texts *** When people are telling their stories, it is usually disorganized. Therefore, the researcher would need to restory what had happened by providing a chronological sequence and causal link among the ideas
  • Coding the field texts for themes or categories
  • Incorporating the context or place into the story or themes
  • Close collaboration between the researchers and the participants in the study

(Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Lieblich et al., 1998; Riessman, 2008 as cited in Creswell 2019)

What are the sources that one uses when using narrative analysis?

A narrative design borrows a phenomenological approach BUT includes the following types of sources:

  • In depth interview transcripts
  • Life history narratives
  • Historical memoirs
  • Creative non-fiction
  • Observation

What is the process of collecting/analyzing data like when you use a narrative design?

  1. Interview participant
  2. Transcribes the audio recording (raw data)
  3. Retranscribe the raw data by identifying important elements
  4. Restory the participant’s account by reorganizing the key codes into a sequence. What does sequence refer to? It is often presented as:
    • setting
    • characters
    • actions
    • problem
    • solution

(Creswell, 2019)

So these are just the basic features of what narrative design is that I was able to process. For more information, I recommend reading Creswell and Patton. Once I read more, I will edit and add more information here.

You might ask yourself, how is this different from phenomenology? Click below to read:

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