Narrative Inquiry as a Research Design

Subject: Sciences
Pages: 11
Words: 1418
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: Master

In order to perform research with a high degree of reliability and validity, scholars need to obtain data from primary sources, be it results of experiments or personal opinions collected from respondents. In qualitative research, information is gathered through various kinds of observation. Scholars prepare surveys, ask for people’s views, or monitor the behaviors of their subjects. One of the most effective types of collecting data in qualitative research is narrative inquiry. When using this approach, it is possible to receive authentic information directly from a person. Although the method has some limitations, it is regarded as a highly effective one in current qualitative research.

The Description of Narrative Research

Narrative interviews are considered as a powerful tool of data collection. Muylaert, Sarubbi, Gallo, Neto, and Reis (2014) remark that narrations help to make research more profound due to the combination of personal life stories with socio-historical backgrounds. As a result, it becomes easier to understand the drivers which cause alterations in the values and beliefs motivating people’s actions and justifying their decisions. Muylaert et al. (2014) consider narratives as beneficial investigative resources the goal of which is to gather content submitted through subjective experiences. Narrative interviews are unstructured tools of research which function in two dimensions: the responders’ life stories are cross-examined within the cultural context.

Narrative inquiry was adopted almost two decades ago from higher education into a variety of sciences, including psychology and health care. The method originated in 1990 and was introduced by Connelly and Clandinin (Lindsay & Schwind, 2016). Narrative inquiry is based on John Dewey’s philosophy which presupposes that experience is situational, temporal, and relational. Thus, if experience is analyzed purposely, it can have an educational effect (Lindsay & Schwind, 2016). However, scholars also emphasize that the potential to uncover the development of knowledge and identity is the most positive when one reflects upon experience and when the story is reconstructed.

The main distinctive feature of a narrative interview is that it encourages the informant to share some crucial happenings of their life and the social context within which these events occurred. Thus, due to the purpose of recreating social events from the respondent’s point of view, the impact of the interviewer in this research design should be minimal (Muylaert et al., 2014). The general approach to narratives is the everyday practice of telling stories and listening to them. A significant feature of a successful narrative inquiry is employing only one type of language by the interviewer. In that way, they will make sure that the interviewee does not change the perspective of the story.

It is necessary to keep in mind that collaboration is highly important during narrative interviews. The speaker’s story is best developed from interaction and a well-developed dialogue, without which the method will not be successful (Muylaert et al., 2014). In this respect, scholars point out the distinction between the composition and description of narrative approaches. The composition is revealed through the ownership position embraced by the writer, which presupposes the engagement between the interviewer and interviewee. Meanwhile, the description is associated with the observer’s position, which does not necessarily involve interaction between the interlocutors (Muylaert et al., 2014). Therefore, researchers need to mind the collaborative principles during narrative inquiry.

Phases of a Narrative Interview

The narrative interview is composed of several stages, each of them having specific importance to the process. These phases are: (1) preparation, (2) initialization, (3) main narration, (4) questioning, and (5) small talk (Muylaert et al., 2014). During the first phase, the researcher’s task is to explore the field of research and prepare exmanent questions. These questions are the ones referring to research questions that develop from one’s approach to the study and the analysis of literature (Muylaert et al., 2014). The second phase involves the formulation of the primary theme of narration, and it may include the use of visual aids. The third stage is the longest and most important since here, the interviewee tells his or her story. At this point, the researcher must not interrupt the speaker. Only paralinguistic and non-verbal methods of encouragement to keep talking can be employed. To understand when the interviewee has finished a thought, one should wait for the “coda” signal (Muylaert et al., 2014, p. 186). The third phase thus helps to collect the major bulk of data from the informant.

During the fourth phase, the researcher can ask only one question, which involves encouraging the speaker to continue the narration. Unlike the “What happened then?” question, the “Why?” inquiry is not allowed (Muylaert et al., 2014, p. 186). The interviewer should not ask any attitude or opinion queries. Also, it is important to keep in mind that no contradictions or arguments should be encouraged by the questions. At this point, the researcher moves from exmanent to immanent inquiries. Immanent questions contain the topics that the respondent has brought about, and they do not necessarily coincide with exmanent ones (Muylaert et al., 2014). At stage five, the last one, recording is stopped, and only at this point, one can ask the “Why?” question. Directly after the interview, the researcher should make the necessary notes.

Three Ways of Collecting Data with the Help of Narrative Inquiry

There are several approaches to gathering information through narrative inquiry. The first one is a single one-to-one meeting between the interviewer and the respondent. The second way involves multiple sessions for collecting more data. The third method presupposes more than one interviewer (Haydon, Browne, & van der Riet, 2018). Each of the approaches requires thorough reparation, but the one involving several interviewers is the most difficult since it demands extremely cautious collaboration.

Benefits and Limitations of Narrative Research

The most evident advantage of storytelling is the authenticity of data. This method seems reliable because of direct communication with the interviewee. However, as any qualitative research method, narrative inquiry has a limitation which is manifested through the impossibility of checking data reliability. Another challenge is that misunderstanding, and misinterpretations can occur during the interview. Still, the method is regarded as highly helpful, and correct preparation may eliminate the negative issues.

An Overview of the Research Topic of Interest

Taking into consideration the benefits of narrative inquiry as a research design, it seems relevant to apply it to the field of psychology. Namely, it would be highly interesting to investigate the mental problems of homeless youth by employing narrations. There are several advantages of using storytelling as a core method of data collection for such a theme. First, it is easier to arrange personal conversations with homeless young people than to gather a large cohort of participants for some survey. Secondly, this vulnerable population group is not likely to share personal experiences and perceptions easily. Thus, meeting person-to-person may encourage young people to talk freely and be more willing to dwell on their problems. Thirdly, storytelling offers a high degree of openness and reliability in case all the phases of the interview are arranged properly. Therefore, the prospective topic is “Using the narrative approach to analyze the psychological problems of homeless youth.”

Some endeavors in this direction have already been made by scholars. Particularly, Cannuscio, Dupuis, Graves, Hanson, and Hersh (2015) have analyzed the hardships experienced by homeless young people with the help of storytelling. Toolis and Hammack (2015) also have performed research on the lived experience of this population group. Riebschleger, Day, and Damashek (2015) have investigated the homeless youth’s perceptions of trauma, which is directly related to the selected topic of interest. Another study focused on mental mechanisms of coping has been performed by Thompson et al. (2016). Williams and Baumgartner (2014) have concentrated on community work with homeless youth and its effect on the population’s mental state. All the mentioned studies are related to the chosen topic of interest to some extent. However, there are not many similar recent articles investigating the psychological problems of homeless youth through narrative inquiry. Therefore, it is necessary to develop research in this direction.


Narrative inquiry is a relatively new but highly important type of research design that allows scholars to obtain the necessary data directly from informants. Narrative interviews require much preparation and dictate a specific line of conduct on the part of interviewers during the conversation. Although it is not possible to reach the full reliability of the information obtained through storytelling, it is quite achievable to eliminate the likelihood of bias through using effective precautions. Narrative inquiry can offer substantial help in research I the field of psychology.


Cannuscio, C. C., Dupuis, R., Graves, A., Hanson, C., & Hersh, S. (2015). The life stories of homeless youths. American Journal of Public Health, 105(11), 2216-2219.

Haydon, G., Browne, G., & van der Riet, P. (2018). Narrative inquiry as a research methodology exploring person centred care in nursing. Collegian, 25(1), 125-129.

Lindsay, G. M., & Schwind, J. K. (2016). Narrative inquiry: Experience matters. Canadian Journal of Nursing Research, 48(1), 14-20.

Muylaert, C. J., Sarubbi, V., Gallo, P. R., Neto, M. L. R., & Reis, A. O. A. (2014). Narrative interviews: An important resource in qualitative research. Revista da Escola de Enfermagem da USP, 48(2), 184-189.

Riebschleger, J., Day, A., & Damashek, A. (2015). Foster care youth share stories of trauma before, during, and after placement: Youth voices for building trauma-informed systems of care. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 24(4), 339-360.

Thompson, S. J., Ryan, T. N., Montgomery, K. L., Lippman, A. D. P., Bender, K., & Ferguson, K. (2016). Perceptions of resiliency and coping: Homeless young adults speak out. Youth & Society, 48(1), 58-76.

Toolis, E. E., & Hammack, P. L. (2015). The lived experience of homeless youth: A narrative approach. Qualitative Psychology, 2(1), 50-68.

Williams, B. D., & Baumgartner, B. (2014). Standing on the shoulders of giants: Narrative practices in support of frontline community work with homelessness, mental health, and substance use. International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies, 5(2), 240-257.