Qualitative studies retrieve non-numerical data, such as observations, written text, statements or explanations. Narrative data analysis is one technique that you can use to analyze and evaluate qualitative data. Narrative data analysis evaluates the speaker or writer who provided the information, asking what their statement says about them as well as what it says about the issue you are studying. Researchers often use narrative data analysis to evaluate literature, folklore and diaries.
The narrative data analysis technique studies the author’s perceptions through the narrative that the author developed. This is an important technique when you evaluate literature. Researchers developed the technique based on the idea that an author reveals parts of her beliefs and ideals in writing. By evaluating the writing, you can come to understand the ideals and intentions of the author. Alternately, you can use this technique to evaluate written studies about your focus and understand the biases of various authors.
You can use the narrative data analysis to evaluate the significance and relevance of information and determine whether you can use the information in your research. This includes author bias, but it also evaluates any misleading significance that an author may place on her words. As an example, after collecting surveys from a number of people, you may notice that some survey takers may suggest that the severity of their problem is much greater than it actually is. Narrative data analysis is the process of evaluating the significance that an author puts on her words, giving you the opportunity to consider whether this significance is valid.
A narrative data analysis should always focus on your primary question, or thesis. This includes questions related to a specific event, time, group of people, individual or circumstance. You can use your thesis to identify specific questions that you want to answer, through your analysis. For instance, if you are doing a narrative data analysis of “Pride and Prejudice,” you can develop specific questions related to the time period, Jane Austin, the marriage market or women’s issues.
You can use a narrative data analysis to organize your research into two categories. The first is information that addresses or furthers your primary research questions. The second is the identification of emergent issues: ideas or questions that you identify through your research process. Emergent categories allow you to expand your thesis and can provide you with additional research options. As an example, while reading “Pride and Prejudice,” you may identify the pressures that parents of girls were in as a result of the marriage market and decide that their stress should be a category of research by itself.
Kristyn Hammond has been teaching freshman college composition at the university level since 2010. She has experience teaching developmental writing, freshman composition, and freshman composition and research. She currently resides in Central Texas where she works for a small university in the Texas A&M system of schools.