Journal Article

Memory in narratives and stories: Implications for nursing research


Stories enable us to explore hidden experiences (East et al 2010) or ‘unknown unknowns’ and are a way for people who have been through illness to share their experiences (Frank 2016). Much research is dependent on human memory (Barusch 2011) and qualitative research in particular relies on people telling stories or accounts to describe their experiences (Palacios et al 2015). Nursing research especially focuses on people's experiences of health and illness (Bonis 2008). Qualitative research can inform and facilitate positive change in health research (Streubert & Carpenter 2011) and focuses on the “meaning rather than the measurement” (Holloway & Biley 2011 p.968). One of the ways meaning can be explored is through asking people about their experiences. Participants are often invited to share their stories with researchers via interviews, focus groups or other means, and their memory is crucial to communicating these. The nature of much nursing research can be described as sensitive (Dempsey et al 2016). Here again memory plays a role, participants are asked to draw on memories of experiences that may be distressing or that may raise unanticipated issues for them. These can have serious consequences and remembering these events can trigger thoughts and emotions which can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (McNally 2010). As a concept, memory is rarely discussed or described within qualitative nursing research. Rather, it is taken for granted and there is little acknowledgement that memory is much more complex than a simple storage and retrieval system. A discussion of the implications of this for qualitative nursing research is therefore timely. Furthermore, specific considerations on how to support participants recalling negative or traumatic events are pertinent.

Attached files


Blakey, Emma
Jackson, Debra
Walthall, Helen
Aveyard, Helen

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences\Oxford School of Nursing and Midwifery\Department of Nursing


Year of publication: 2019
Date of RADAR deposit: 2019-02-12

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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