How to Do a Narrative Research Essay
Another name for narrative research is “narrative inquiry” because the process requires authors to ask questions and piece together clues. In a narrative research paper, a researcher gathers information to later share in a storytelling format, according to researchers in the Colorado State University writing department. The researcher interviews people, takes field notes, reads journals, finds letters, listens to oral histories and searches autobiographies and biographies to understand a group of people, a culture, a beliefs or a concept of self in the world. Narrative researchers work in fields such as literary theory, history, anthropology, drama, art, film, theology, philosophy, and aspects of evolutionary biological science.
Pick a theme to research. Choose a theme that is wide enough that you can find people to interview and documents to record, but narrow enough that you do not feel lost in your work. Choosing your community’s reactions to the cinema over the past 10 years may make a good project. Researching the life of an author who lived in your town for many years may also make an ideal subject.
Start researching. Before you interview anyone, sneak through letter or sift through newspaper clippings, research the time period and people involved. For example, if you writing a narrative research essay on a community affected by water waste from a nearby factory, research the town, the factory and everything you can find about the water safety in the area. Do not go blindly talking with people if you do not have the facts straight.
Interview. Set up interviews with individuals who can give you relevant testimonies. Using the community water crisis as an example, choose families to work with who are suffering the lack of water first hand. Choose to speak with the young and old. For instance, you can interview an entire family—a mother and father, 3 children, and maybe the grandmother or grandfather living with them. This way you will get a range of reactions and solutions on how to get the factory kicked out of town. Also interview people outside of the community, to gauge public awareness of the crisis.
Gather second source materials. Inquire whether any of the families have written letters to government officials, the mayor, the president of the factory or human rights organizations. Ask to copy these letters and keep them on file. These testaments will make an ideal mosaic of requests and pleading from the community. If anyone received a letter back, ask for a copy of it to add to your files, too.
Borrow journals. If you are working on researching a scientist, writer, dancer, musician or biologist who lived in your area, or abroad, try to get a hold of his or her old journals. Artists in particular take notes on ideas they want to sculpt into a larger project, or keep drawings of what they will work on in the future. Journals are goldmines for narrative research—the person’s story tells itself through the patchwork of writing, drawing and expressing ideas.
Organize. Bring all the information together in all the forms. Lay out photographs, letters, journal pages, newspaper clippings, audio recordings and all on a desk or large working space. Piece together the story as you believe it was told to you. Validity becomes an issue in narrative research essays and works, but it is, ultimately, how you interpret the story you were told through all of the mediums and individuals with whom you spoke.
Write the essay. Synthesize all your research into a narrative, storytelling form. Construct your own narrative of the study you have conducted using story convention, such as scene and plot. ‘Research is a collaborative document, a mutually constructed story out of the lives of both researcher and participant," note Connelly and Clandinin, two narrative researchers. In other words, combine the research you have gathered into a compelling story that both accurately gives a knowledgeable account, and is compelling for its story telling nature.
Noelle Carver has been a freelance writer since 2009, with work published in "SSYK" and "The Wolf," two U.K. literary journals. Carver holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from American University and a Master of Fine Arts in writing from The New School. She lives in New York City.