The Power of Fiction: A Novel Approach to Presenting Research Findings

By Wade, Danny; Vaughn, Courtney et al. | Journal of Thought, Spring-Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

The Power of Fiction: A Novel Approach to Presenting Research Findings


Wade, Danny, Vaughn, Courtney, Long, Wesley, Journal of Thought


As a professional educator and a recent doctoral graduate, I am constantly trying to master the intricacies of qualitative research. This, I have come to believe, will take a lifetime. Case study, phenomenology, ethnography, grounded theory, interpretivism--no one road leads to Rome, as is so clearly apparent in quantitative designs and analyses where I initially believed all the same rules and procedures of validity, reliability, control, generalization, prediction, etc. applied.

I took my first doctoral qualitative research course from Courtney Vaughn. One of her requirements was to decide which of at least forty some qualitative approaches best fit my research. At first she taught us to code and theme data. Then we explored more complex types of qualitative analysis and writing. I was intrigued by the fact that although the various traditions had their own suggested processes, the way of writing up the findings was similar and somewhat flat. Even with heuristic and narrative inquiry, I still felt a sense of detachment from the participants as they lived the phenomena under investigation. During one class, Courtney provided us with her co-authored, published phenomenological research study on adolescent drug addicts as an example of utilizing vignettes to intimately acquaint the reader with the various participants. By analyzing the vignettes, we learned that through a series of catastrophic life events the participants enter drug and alcohol treatment centers and strive for sobriety. (1) For example, one of the vignettes depicts Linda. One night, when Linda is fourteen, she goes out drinking with friends and takes a handful of pills someone gives her. She soon becomes violent. As a result, her companions drive her home and dump her, semiconscious, on her neighbor's front lawn. That night Linda decides she can no longer continue using alcohol and drugs. (2) Despite the sporadically quoted material included in Linda's vignette, as a reader I hungered to hear more of Linda's voice, to see her vicious behavior and watch her so-called friends dump her on the lawn. I yearned to be "shown." Although the vignettes provide many details of the participants' lives, I still felt the absence of their voices and feelings as they lived through their experiences with drug and alcohol addiction.

I was especially attuned to this lack of voice and feeling in Courtney's and other scholars' qualitative articles because I had recently implemented an alternative approach to writing research in my high school English classes in an attempt to help my students "bring to life" their topics of research. I had tired of teaching high school students the expository research paper format (introduction with thesis statement, body paragraphs conveying main points about the topic of research, and conclusion restating thesis and main points) required by my district. Year after year I read voiceless and mundane research papers (no fault of the students) as students displayed more and more apathy and unconcern with a format they had grown accustomed to and that no longer inspired, motivated, or challenged them. What could I do?

An answer came one day while exploring possible topics for my master's thesis. (3) I discovered Tom Romano's concept of the multigenre research paper. In defining multigenre research Romano writes:

   [It] arises from research, experience, and imagination. It is not
   uninterrupted, expository monolog nor a seamless narrative nor a
   collection of poems. A multigenre paper is composed on many genres
   and subgenres, each piece self-contained, making a point of its
   own, yet connected by theme or topic and sometimes by language,
   images, and content. In addition to many genres, a multigenre paper
   may also contain many voices, not just the author's. (4)

This does not change the way research is conducted, but the way in which the research findings are presented. Instead of representing research through only the expository essay, the multigenre research paper requires the utilization of a variety of forms, voices, and ideas. …

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