Storytelling and the interpretation of meaning in qualitative research

J Adv Nurs. 2002 Jun;38(6):574-83. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2648.2000.02224.x.


Aim: This paper reviews literature on narrative analysis and illustrates the meaning-making function of stories of chronic illness through analysis and discussion of two case studies from a study of acute episodes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Background: Individuals living with COPD experience acute exacerbations characterized by extreme dyspnea, but there has been little research to provide understanding of these events from the perspectives of individuals with COPD, family caregivers, and nurses. Narrative analysis -- considered in the context of the aims of qualitative research -- illuminates how these people make sense of acute exacerbation events by telling stories.

Design and methods: In an ethnographic study, 10 patient-family nurse units in two Canadian general hospitals participated in interviews concerning acute episodes of COPD. Narrative analysis enabled identification of several story forms and their functions.

Results: Examples were found of a story told twice with different meanings, and of a patient's 'death story' used to communicate distrust of the nurse's ability to recognize the seriousness of distress and implications for its potential course. These examples are presented, and interpreted with respect to issues of meaning.

Conclusions: The analysis indicates that stories told by patients in the context of nurse-client interactions inform understanding of the individual's acute exacerbation events beyond the biophysical.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Canada
  • Chronic Disease
  • Clinical Nursing Research / methods*
  • Communication
  • Cost of Illness
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / psychology*