Writing an Effective Narrative Inquiry in Qualitative Research [2022]

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I. What is a Narrative Inquiry?

Narrative inquiry documents the experiences of a single person or a small group, showing the individual’s lived experience or unique perspective, usually through an interview that is subsequently recorded and organized into a chronological narrative. Oral history is often recorded as a biography, a life history, or an older/ancient traditional story recording.

Narrative inquiry, also known as narrative research, arose from the broader area of qualitative research in the early twentieth century, with evidence suggesting it was utilized in psychology and sociology. 

To explore and understand how people construct meaning in their lives as narratives, narrative inquiry uses field texts such as stories, autobiography, journals, field notes, letters, conversations, interviews, family stories, images (and other artifacts), and lived experiences as the units of analysis.

In the domains of cognitive science, organizational studies, knowledge theory, applied linguistics, sociology, occupational science, and education studies, a narrative inquiry has been used as a technique for study. 

Other techniques include developing quantitative methodologies and tools based on large-scale capture of fragmented anecdotal material and material that is self-identified or indexed at the time of capture. 

Narrative Inquiry concerns the concept of “objective” data and challenges the logic underpinning quantitative/grounded data collection; nonetheless, it has been criticized for not being “theoretical enough.”

Narrative inquiry in research is a valuable investigative tool. Narrative inquiry and storytelling provide us with a new way of knowing, investigating people’s lived experiences, and delving into subjectivity. Narrative knowledge is formed and constructed through stories of lived experience and sense-making and the meanings individuals assign to them, thus providing valuable insight into the complexities of human lives, cultures, and behaviors. 

It enables us to capture the rich information included in stories, such as feelings, beliefs, images, and time. It also considers the connection between personal experience and broader social and cultural circumstances. It also entails collaborative inquiry and co-construction of meaning between participants and the researcher, which is crucial.

A. Narrative Approach

A narrative technique provides direct insight into the participants’ lived experiences and exposes the researcher to the participants’ identities and perspectives.

A Narrative analysis explains how people make sense of their lives in social, cultural, and historical contexts by displaying the intricacies of human experience. 

Inquiry into human experience narratives or inquiry that provides data in narrative form is both parts of the narrative method. It also entails compiling narratives (stories) from individuals or small groups. It can be used in a variety of formats, including documents, written texts, and observations. This type of analysis also contributes significantly to a better understanding of human perceptions and experiences.

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II. Narrative Inquiry Methodology

Narrative research relies heavily on storytelling. The narrative interview is a conversation in which both parties participate. This approach can be quite personal and might elicit strong feelings from both sides. As a result, this type of qualitative study isn’t for everyone. 

The interviewer must have excellent listening skills and a thorough understanding of the interview process. In order to deliver authentic narratives, the interviewee must also be at ease.

To make narrative inquiry in research, researchers must first grasp the research respondents’ background, environment, social, and cultural context. This provides researchers with a greater understanding of what their subjects are trying to convey in their narration. It’s especially true in context-rich research, where numerous buried levels of meaning can only be revealed through a thorough study of the culture or surroundings.

Researchers should learn as much as they can about their research participants before beginning their research. They conduct interviews with key informants and gather vast amounts of data from them. Other sources, such as existing literature and personal recollections, are also used.

The following are some sample methods for conducting narrative inquiry:

  1. Interview
  2. Qualitative survey 
  3. Recordings of oral history 
  4. Focus groups can be used where the focus is a small group or community.
  5. Topical stories
  6. Personal narrative 
  7. Entire life story

Although there are a lot of other methods and techniques used, this list provides some of the most commonly used methods in narrative research design. 

Researchers notice specific patterns and themes as they read and evaluate the narratives after they have been collected. They take notes on them, compare them to past research on the subject, figure out how everything fits together, and finally propose a theory to explain the findings.

Many social scientists have used narrative research to test their theories and hypotheses. Because story analysis is a more extensive and diversified instrument, this is the case. It helps academics not only obtain a deeper understanding of their subject and figure out why people act and react the way they do.


III. Strengths and limitations of Narrative Inquiry

A. Strengths

One of the narrative research’s advantages is that it allows users to interact with many types of data and examine the same data in different ways. Narrative researchers use a variety of data sources.

Interviews, sampling web materials, and obtaining instances of naturally occurring speech, letters and diaries, images, and video are all common data generating and collection procedures in narrative research design. 

Public and private documents (birth certificates, newspaper reports, greeting cards, scrapbooks), court reports, literary works, drama, representational and abstract artwork, dance, music, souvenirs and mementos, buildings and landscapes, and ethnographic records of patterns of action in everyday lives are also included in narrative research materials.

Some other notable strengths of narrative analysis include:

  • Describes a circumstance or a life experience in great detail.
  • Can uncover historically significant concerns that haven’t been documented elsewhere.
  • Narrative research was viewed as a means of democratizing the documentation and lived experience of a broader range of people. Narrative research provided a voice to marginalized individuals and their lived experiences when only the wealthy could hire a biographer to chronicle their life experiences.

B. Limitations

Because of its inherent methodological approach, a narrative research design also presents several challenges and limitations. The following are the most common challenges faced by researchers, which is also the reason why any researcher should be aware of them during narrative inquiry in research. 

  • The Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect is “the tendency for people to change their behavior because they are aware that they are being researched, so distorting (usually unknowingly) the research findings.”
  • In order to successfully and realistically depict the subject’s life experience, the researcher must be deeply immersed in the topic and have a thorough comprehension of the subject’s life experience.
  • Beyond the interview procedure itself, there is a lot of data to sort through, making this a very time-consuming method.
  • Subjects will concentrate on their personal experiences rather than commenting on larger social movements at work at the time. For example, they can discuss how the Global Financial Crisis impacted their life rather than what caused the crisis.
  • This study method mainly relies on the subject’s memory. As a result, triangulation of the data is recommended, such as repeating the topic again at a later period, checking for relevant paperwork, or interviewing people who are similarly linked.

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