Context: The use of narratives (stories) in research, education, audit and evaluation is increasingly common, but there is no consensus on when research ethics committee approval is necessary for such studies or what counts as 'good narrative research'.
Objective: This study aimed to produce preliminary guidance for researchers, reviewers and ethics committees on what to classify as narrative research in health care and how to evaluate it.
Methods: We carried out a 3-round Delphi study on a volunteer sample of 20 academic researchers, practitioners and service users who were active in narrative health research and its application. After reading academic papers on narrative theory and method, and via extensive online discussion, participants generated a set of preliminary statements. Each participant ranked these on a 9-point Likert scale for relevance and validity (round 1), and then received feedback on his or her scorings compared with the group median and range for each item. This cycle of group discussion, revision of statements, individual rankings and aggregation of scores was repeated twice.
Results: The study produced a definition of narrative research which allows such work to be distinguished from the non-research use of stories in health care, and preliminary quality standards for evaluating narrative research. Most participants on this heterogeneous panel felt able to sign up to the final guidance. Residual disagreements were generally attributable to incommensurabilities in philosophical positions.
Conclusions: Research ethics committees and scientific reviewers may find the guiding principles in this paper a useful starting point for further reflection and discussion about narrative research studies.