Narrative interviewing is an approach to eliciting people’s accounts, or stories, of their experiences. Widely used in social science research, it has gained prominence in health research since the late 1990s. Narrative interviewing contrasts with semi-structured and structured techniques which tend to focus on specific topics introduced by the researcher. The growing popularity of the approach has coincided with the rise in the promotion of patient centred care. Narrative interviewing is mostly valued as a style of interview that seeks to get close to what is most important to participants through allowing them to focus on their own perspectives and priorities, using the language and terms that they prefer. The respondent may be seen as more in control than in a more structured interview, since they decide how to present their account, what they want to say and, of course, what not to say. The success of a study that uses narrative interviewing depends largely on the inter-personal and analytic skills of the researcher. Analytic approaches may examine how the participant talks about the topic as well as categorising what is said. Analysts may explore performance and presentation in a single account, or identify themes across a number of interviews. Critics of the method warn against naive readings of the data and caution that a desire to collect ‘successful’ narratives could privilege certain groups while excluding or alienating other important perspectives from research.
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