Once Upon a Time…

It’s so true that so many ideas come to me while I’m in the shower. And according to this PhD comic, I’m not the only one 🙂

The other day, I found myself thinking about stories, how they relate to qualitative research, and why I identify as more of a “qual” girl.

So let me tell you a story:

Several years ago, my grandmother was scheduled to have heart surgery. When we spoke on the phone about it, I told her lots of comforting statistics, like how Tuesdays were the best days to have surgery, and how heart procedures are almost routine. I told her these things to give her (and myself) comfort and hope. But ultimately, her surgery was unique, because my grandmother was an individual, and so were her doctors, and the nurses, and everyone who had a hand in her care. And although the surgery itself was successful, she ended up developing complications and passed away two months later.

We like to take comfort in numbers. When faced with the unknown, we like to think of the odds, and whether we’ll be in the small minority that wins the lottery, or the majority that will never be in a plane crash. We play the odds, and hope we end up in the right percentile.

But at some point, those unknowns become knowns, even if it takes a lifetime. Each of us is a collection of stories, and that’s what qualitative research is about: telling a specific story. And by looking at true stories, at things that really happened, maybe we can figure out “why” they happened the way they did. It’s an examination of the actual, not just the possible.

So I prefer to look at one story at a time, to follow that adventure, and see how it turns out. To learn the lessons it has to share, and then do it all over again.



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