Narrative Research Design

The narrative design is one of the five research approaches to qualitative research. The five different qualitative approaches are, narrative, phenomenological, grounded theory, ethnographic, and case study research. According to Creswell & Poth (2018) the narrative research qualitative approach is best applied when the researcher wants to explore the life of an individual or group of individuals. The word narrative means chronicle or story and the story is told by the participant and the researcher is responsible for recording and reporting on the participant’s narrative.

The participant giving the narrative is responding to an open-ended research question posed by the researcher to capture a complete story to better understand their individual experiences (Creswell & Poth, 2018).

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Some common types of narratives are biographical study, autoethnography, and oral history. The biographical study occurs when the researcher records the life experience of the participant. The autoethnography is when information is recorded by the participant, and oral history is the reflection of the causes and effects of events of the participant’s personal reflections (Creswell & Poth, 2018). Narrative research is superlative when the scholar is attempting to express the story of an individual or capture the minutiae or life involvements (Creswell & Poth, 2018).

According to Creswell & Poth (2018) the narrative design is challenging to use overall given the procedures and characteristics of narrative research itself. Collecting sufficient data from narrative research constitutes a challenge of this design method. Since a narrative tells a story there must be a substantial relationship with the participant and the researcher (Cresswell & Poth, 2018). The issue is exacerbated when there is more than one participant. Understanding the nuances of a participant’s life in such a way that the researcher can adequately record the data and articulate them in aplomb represents a huge undertaking. The relationship that the researchers build with the participant is essential because an authentic story must be communicated. A breakdown in the relationship between the researcher and participant(s) threatens the narrative. Also, a challenge exists when the scholar must keep track of multiple stories.

It is perplexing to set up the time to interview the participants and fostering and maintaining a relationship so that the narrative is a true representation of all will be hard for one researcher. A researcher keeps up with the participant’s narratives in such a way that Polkinghouse (2007) described as, “the difference between those meaning and the stories they tell about this meaning and the connections between storied texts and the interpretations of those texts.” In addition to building and maintaining a rapport between research and participant, another challenge occurs around the ownership of the narrative.

Creswell & Poth (2018), posed questions pertaining to the collecting, analyzing, and telling of the stories of the participants. Determining the ownership of the story, who can tell the story or change it, and what happens when narratives compete are challenges to the narrative design. Riessman (2008) provides a solution as to how these problems can be addressed. The author stated that there are new methods that can help navigate the complexities of the narrative design by implementing the use of visual aids. The visual narrative inquiry tells the story utilizing pictures and other images in order to tell the story.

According to McGaghie, Bordage, & Shea (2001), the problem statement is an introduction to the research and it articulates the issues and the catalyst that gave rise to the study. The problem statement that will be addressed will be pertaining to the doctoral persistence of online doctoral business students. According to research, doctoral programs are very challenging to the students that matriculate through them. Only 40% of doctoral candidates earn their degree within ten years of them starting their program (Spaulding & Rockinson-Szapkiw, 2012). The qualitative narrative approach to the research will be employed to gather sufficient insight into why some students were able to persist to attain their doctorate. This approach should afford the researcher deeper insight and find conceptual framework to understand what some common factors appeared to manifest amongst those participants who successfully matriculated.

According to Creswell & Poth (2018) qualitative research questions should be, “open ended, evolving, and non-directional.” In constructing the research questions, the researcher should have one “central question” that should represent the entire study. Additional questions should be “sub-questions.” The subsequent questions serve to provide additional avenues to study the problem and find supporting information to solve the problem. After the problem statement containing the background information is given, the research questions help to build upon the foundation and gives deeper insight into interpreting the problem and potential solutions or augments wo the problem.

Using the problem statement regarding online doctoral student persistence and relationships with their academic departments, two possible research questions would be:

  1. What relationship did students have with their academic departments who persevered to complete their degree?
  2. What were the relationships of students with their academic departments who were not able to persist to complete their online doctorate?

The first research question is a variation of the problem statement and seeks to discover the varying strategies used by successful online doctoral students. The second question looks for the same strategies used by those online students who have been released from the institution due to academic dismissal. These questions are appropriate for narrative study because they are open ended and allow the study participants to tell their stories.

The purpose statement of the research presents a clear vision of what the researcher describes as the main purpose of the study. The purpose statement will determine if there is a correlation between the online doctoral candidate’s persistence and their relationship with their academic department. Golde (2005) states that the intimacy and relationships that doctoral students have with their department plays a significant role in attrition. In addition to a strong student, advisor, and instructor relationships, the department that a doctoral candidate plays a burgeoning role in their persistence (Fountaine, 2012).

Golde (2005) indicated that the academic department largely determines the policies that affect student life. Admissions, financial support, the requirements for degree completion, and the curriculum are all determined and controlled by the department or program and therefore can make or break the doctoral persistence of online doctoral candidates. After the narratives of the students are collected, the relationships of the academic departments of those students who could persevere and those who did not will be analyzed to generate research phenomenon strengthen doctoral persistence.


The narrative research design is one of the five qualitative studies that a researcher can utilize for their research. The Narrative design method lets the participant tell his or her story in order to give the researcher the opportunity to understand a story from an individualistic point of view. It is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the narrative design research as well as the methods to address these challenges. The problem statement, purpose statement, and research questions should be constructed and utilized by the researcher to recognize the phenomenon being studied utilizing the Narrative research design.


  1. Creswell, J.W. & Poth, C.N. (2018). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches (4thed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing, Inc.
  2. Fountaine, T. (2012). The Impact of Faculty—Student Interaction on Black Doctoral Students Attending Historically Black Institutions. The Journal of Negro Education, 81(2), 136- 147. doi:10.7709/jnegroeducation.81.2.0136
  3. Golde, C. M. (2005). The Role of the Department and Discipline in Doctoral Student Attrition: Lessons from Four Departments. The Journal of Higher Education, 76(6), 669-700. doi:10.1353/jhe.2005.0039
  4. McGaghie, W. C., Bordage, G., & Shea, J. A. (2001). Problem Statement, Conceptual Framework, and Research Question. Academic Medicine, 76(9), 923-924. doi:10.1097/00001888-200109000-00021
  5. Polkinghorne, D. E. (2007). Validity Issues in Narrative Research. Qualitative Inquiry, 13(4), 471-486. doi:10.1177/1077800406297670
  6. Rockinson-Szapkiw, A. J., Spaulding, L. S., & Knight, A. (2015). Protecting the marriage relationship during the doctoral journey. The Family Journal, 23(2), 141-146. doi:10.1177/1066480714565106

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Narrative Research Design. (2021, Apr 25). Retrieved from

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