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Section 2

What is a Qualitative Narrative Inquiry Design?

Narrative inquiry is relatively new among the qualitative research designs compared to qualitative case study, phenomenology, ethnography, and grounded theory. What distinguishes narrative inquiry is it beings with the biographical aspect of C. Wright Mills’ trilogy of ‘biography, history, and society’(O’Tolle, 2018). The primary purpose for a narrative inquiry study is participants provide the researcher with their life experiences through thick rich stories. Narrative inquiry was first used by Connelly and Calandinin as a research design to explore the perceptions and personal stories of teachers (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990). As the seminal authors, Connelly & Clandinin (1990), posited:

Although narrative inquiry has a long intellectual history both in and out of education, it is increasingly used in studies of educational experience. One theory in educational research holds that humans are storytelling organisms who, individually and socially, lead storied lives. Thus, the study of narrative is the study of the ways humans experience the world. This general concept is refined into the view that education and educational research is the construction and reconstruction of personal and social stories; learners, teachers, and researchers are storytellers and characters in their own and other's stories. In this paper we briefly survey forms of narrative inquiry in educational studies and outline certain criteria, methods, and writing forms, which we describe in terms of beginning the story, living the story, and selecting stories to construct and reconstruct narrative plots. 

Attribution: Reprint Policy for Educational Researcher: No written or oral permission is necessary to reproduce a tale, a figure, or an excerpt fewer that 500 words from this journal, or to make photocopies for classroom use. Copyright (1990) by the American Educational Research Association; reproduced with permission from the publisher. 


Tips for Using Narrative Inquiry in an Applied Manuscript

First, the applied doctoral manuscript narrative inquiry researcher should recognize that they are earning a practical/professional based doctorate (Doctor of Education), rather than a research doctorate such as a Ph.D. Unlike a traditional Ph.D. dissertation oral defense where the candidates focus is on theory and research, the NU School of Education applied doctoral candidate presents their finding and contributions to practice to their doctoral committee as a conceptual professional conference level presentation that centers on how their study may resolve a complex problem or issue in the profession. When working on the applied doctoral manuscript keep the focus on the professional and practical benefits that could arise from your study. If the Applied Doctoral Experience (ADE) student is unsure as to whether the topic fits within the requirements of the applied doctoral program (and their specialization, if declared) they should reach out to their research course professor or dissertation chair for guidance. This is known as alignment to the topic and program, and is critical in producing a successful manuscript. Also, most applied doctoral students doing an educational narrative inquiry study will want to use a study site to recruit their participants. For example, the study may involve teachers or college faculty that the researcher will want to interview in order to obtain their stories. Permission may be need from not only the NU Institutional Review Board (IRB), but also the study site. For example, conducting interviews on campus, procuring private school district or college email lists, obtaining archival documents, etc. 

The popularity of narrative inquiry in education is increasing as a circular and pedagogical strategy that lends itself to the practical application of research (Kim, 2016). Keep in mind that by and large practical and professional benefits that arise from a narrative inquiry study revolve around exploring the lived experiences of educators, education administrators, students, and parents or guardians. According to Dunne (2003), 

Research into teaching is best served by narrative modes of inquiry since to understand the teacher’s practice (on his or her own part or on the part of an observer) is to find an illuminating story (or stories) to tell of what they have been involved with their student” (p. 367).

Summary of the Elements of a Qualitative Narrative Inquiry Design

  • Temporality – the time of the experiences and how the experiences could influence the future;
  • Sociality – cultural and personal influences of the experiences; and;
  • Spatiality – the environmental surroundings during the experiences and their influence on the experiences. 

From Haydon and van der Riet (2017)

  • Narrative researchers collect stories from individuals retelling of their life experiences to a particular phenomenon. 
  • Narrative stories may explore personal characteristics or identities of individuals and how they view themselves in a personal or larger context.
  • Chronology is often important in narrative studies, as it allows participants to recall specific places, situations, or changes within their life history.

Sampling and Data Collection

Sampling and Sample Size
  • Purposive sampling is the most often used in narrative inquiry studies. Participants must meet a form of requirement that fits the purpose, problem, and objective of the study
  • There is no rule for the sample size for narrative inquiry study. For a dissertation the normal sample size is between 6-10 participants. The reason for this is sampling should be terminated when no new information is forthcoming, which is a common strategy in qualitative studies known as sampling to the point of redundancy.
Data Collection (Methodology)
  • Participant and researcher collaborate through the research process to ensure the story told and the story align.
  • Extensive “time in the field” (can use Zoom) is spent with participant(s) to gather stories through multiple types of information including, field notes, observations, photos, artifacts, etc.
  • Field Test is strongly recommended. The purpose of a field study is to have a panel of experts in the profession of the study review the research protocol and interview questions to ensure they align to the purpose statement and research questions.
  • Member Checking is recommended. The trustworthiness of results is the bedrock of high-quality qualitative research. Member checking, also known as participant or respondent validation, is a technique for exploring the credibility of results. Data or results are returned to participants to check for accuracy and resonance with their experiences. Member checking is often mentioned as one in a list of validation techniques (Birt, et al., 2016).
Narrative Data Collection Essentials
  • Restorying is the process of gathering stories, analyzing themes for key elements (e.g., time, place, plot, and environment) and then rewriting the stories to place them within a chronological sequence (Ollerenshaw & Creswell, 2002).
  • Narrative thinking is critical in a narrative inquiry study. According to Kim (2016), the premise of narrative thinking comprises of three components, the storyteller’s narrative schema, his or her prior knowledge and experience, and cognitive strategies-yields a story that facilitates an understanding of the others and oneself in relation to others.
  • In qualitative research the researcher is the primary instrument.
  • In-depth, semi-structured interviews are the norm. Because of the rigor that is required for a narrative inquiry study, it is recommended that two interviews with the same participant be conducted. The primary interview and a follow-up interview to address any additional questions that may arise from the interview transcriptions and/or member checking.

Birt, L., Scott, S., Cavers, D., Campbell, C., & Walter, F. (2016). Member checking: A tool to enhance trustworthiness or merely a nod to validation? Qualitative Health Research, 26(13), 1802-1811.

Cline, J. M. (2020). Collaborative learning for students with learning disabilities in inclusive classrooms: A qualitative narrative inquiry study (Order No. 28263106). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (2503473076). 

Connelly, F. M., & Clandinin, D. J. (1990). Stories of Experience and Narrative Inquiry. Educational Researcher, 19(5), 2–14.

Dunne, J. (2003). Arguing for teaching as a practice: A reply to Alasdair Macintyre. Journal of Philosophy of Education. 

Haydon, G., & der Riet, P. van. (2017). Narrative inquiry: A relational research methodology suitable to explore narratives of health and illness. Nordic Journal of Nursing Research, 37(2), 85–89.

Kim, J. H. (2016). Understanding Narrative Inquiry: The crafting and analysis of stories as research. Sage Publications. 

Kim J. H. (2017). Jeong-Hee Kim discusses narrative methods [Video]. SAGE Research Methods Video

O’ Toole, J. (2018). Institutional storytelling and personal narratives: reflecting on the value of narrative inquiry. Institutional Educational Studies, 37(2), 175-189.

Ollerenshaw, J. A., & Creswell, J. W. (2002). Narrative research: A comparison of two restorying data analysis approaches. Qualitative Inquiry, 8(3), 329–347. 

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