Developing theory-driven narrative messages with personal stories: A step-by-step guide

Psychooncology. 2022 Dec;31(12):2113-2121. doi: 10.1002/pon.6047. Epub 2022 Oct 21.


Objective: Narratives are commonly utilized in health promotion and behavior change interventions due to their efficacy over didactic or expository interventions. While grounding narratives in behavioral theory may render them more effective, balancing the integration of theoretical and creative aspects of the narrative development process while maintaining authenticity is challenging. Thus, this manuscript describes a rigorous process through which researchers can intentionally integrate theory and personal stories for health interventions.

Methods: The process for creating theory-driven narratives involves the following steps: (1) defining the purpose of the narratives, (2) selecting a guiding theory, (3) collecting personal testimonials, (4) immersing self into testimonials, (5) identifying central narratives and important variations, (6) considering additional theories, (7) piecing quotes into cohesive stories, (8) filling in the gaps, and (9) checking for resonance.

Results: To exemplify this step-by-step process, we provide a case study from our research involving the development of a psychoeducational intervention to model information seeking strategies for managing cancer-related uncertainty among women who have recently tested positive for pathogenic genetic variants that increase risk for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

Conclusions: We discuss special considerations for developing theory-driven narrative interventions and reflect on how this rigorous step-by-step process can be adapted by other researchers.

Keywords: cancer; communication; health disparities; intervention; narrative; oncology; psycho-oncology.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Promotion*
  • Humans
  • Narration*