Meet the Story Completion Research Group
We as a group have collectively – and in smaller groupings – worked with and explored the method and potential for qualitative story completion. You can also read profiles of some of the other researchers we know who have been exploring story completion!
Professor Virginia Braun
As a scholar, I’m fundamentally interested in the spaces of meaning-making, and the different logics and frameworks that enable and constrain different possibilities. Qualitative research opens up this world, and utilising a range of methods – of data collection, of analysis – allows me to tackle things from different perspectives. And Story Completion brings something quite new to the options available. Like Victoria, I first encountered story completion when doing my PhD at Loughborough University (same time, overlapping supervisors!), but it was starting to write and engage with qualitative methods more diversely, with Victoria, much later, that we first started to play around with the method, first starting with thematic analysis. Since then, I have worked with Victoria and others, looking at what story completion can offer for qualitative research around a range of health, gendered bodies, and sex/uality topics. As an (co)author and (co)editor (e.g., of Successful Qualitative Research; Collecting Qualitative Data; Qualitative Research in Psychology Vol 16(1)), and part of this community of scholars, and through this website, I’m delighted to be part of a conversations that adds what we feel is an exciting, fun, creative, mostly textual, method onto the platter of qualitative data collection approaches. You can find more information on my University of Auckland profile, Google Scholar and on twitter @ginnybraun.
Associate Professor Victoria Clarke
I discovered story completion when doing my critical qualitative PhD research on same-sex parenting in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University, UK. My PhD was supervised by Celia Kitzinger, lead author of the paper Engendering infidelity that reworked story completion as a (fully) qualitative method. In a supervision meeting with an undergraduate psychology student a year or two after completing my PhD, story completion popped into my mind. The student wanted to research domestic violence and I knew an undergraduate student wouldn’t get ethical approval to interview people about experiences of domestic violence, so I suggested story completion. Once I’d explained the method, she was keen to use it, and it worked really well. So well in fact that I added story completion to my repertoire of potential methods for student projects and eventually included story completion in the curriculum for our psychology undergraduate research methods teaching at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, UK. This meant other undergraduate psychology students at UWE began to use story completion in their projects (resulting in papers like Walsh & Malson, 2010, Clarke, Braun & Wooles, 2015). When writing an introductory qualitative textbook Successful qualitative research (2013, Sage) with Virginia a few years later, we decided to include story completion as a method ideally suited to student projects, even though it was not widely used. After this book was published, I formed the Story Completion Research Group with various colleagues; this collaboration resulted in several publications, including a Special Issue of Qualitative Research in Psychology, and numerous conference presentations and workshops on the story completion method. I began using story completion in my own research on gender, sexuality, appearance and embodiment and relationships and family. I have now published papers on body hair practices using story completion and have several collaborative projects using story completion ‘in the works’ – including on couples choosing not to have children, straight anal sex and embryo donation for family building. It is exciting to see that other researchers are now using story completion in their research. You can find more information on my UWE profile, Google Scholar; I also tweet regularly about qualitative research @drvicclarke.
Dr Hannah Frith
As a critical social psychologist my research focuses on gender and sexuality often exploring the ways in which language and discourse shapes how individuals experience and make sense of sexual embodiment, identities and selfhood. As an undergraduate, I was introduced to story completion by my fellow student and good friend Deborah Powell who, under the supervision of Celia Kitzinger, used the method to explore constructions of sexual infidelity (later published as Engendering Infidelity, which articulated how story completion could be used as a qualitative for doing critical social science). It struck me as a fun, engaging and powerful method which had the potential to circumvent the tendency for participant responses to reflect expected, well-rehearsed and perhaps socially desirable ways of talking about social phenomena. The open-ended format allows such an array of different responses, but patterns nonetheless emerge. I often recommended it as a method to students as a way of researching sensitive topics ‘at a distance’. I used story completion again years later in my own research looking at the ways in which individuals accounted for the absence of orgasm in sexual interactions. This reignited my enthusiasm for this deceptively simple method. I wrote about the method for Sage Research Methods Cases and co-edited a Special Issue of Qualitative Research in Psychology on using story completion methods in qualitative research and participated in the Spoken Word discussion that features in this Special Issue. You can find more information on my University of Surrey profile and Google Scholar.
Dr Nikki Hayfield
My research has mainly focused on sexualities and I have a keen interest in qualitative methods. I was introduced to story completion when I first started being involved in teaching undergraduate students at UWE. I quickly realised that story completion was appealing to students, who embraced the novelty and creativity of the method. Story completion has been really useful for students doing final year research projects around sensitive topics which would have been ethically challenging for them to research using most other methods. When Victoria invited me to become a member of the Story Completion Group, I had the opportunity to explore story completion in more depth with colleagues and postgraduate students at UWE (see, Braun, Clarke, Frith, Hayfield, Malson, Moller, & Shah-Beckley, 2019; Clarke, Hayfield, Moller, Tischner, and the Story Completion Research Group, 2017). I decided to pick up my own thread of research on sexuality and appearance. I suspected that my previous survey research on this topic had been met with some socially desirable responses (Hayfield, 2015), and I wondered whether using story completion tasks could minimise this. I had also used visual methods in previous appearance research and was keen to do so again. This led to Matt Wood and I designing a story completion task to explore sexuality and appearance where we also asked participants to create their own cartoon images via avatar software (Bitstrips) (Hayfield & Wood, 2019). One of my favourite things about using story completion has been working with others to explore research methods as much as the topic of interest. My latest story completion project is on young people’s understandings of menopause and perimenopause and I continue to teach and supervise students using story completion and other qualitative methods. You can see my publications and more about my most recent research on my UWE staff page and see my published work on Google Scholar and ResearchGate.
Associate Professor Helen Malson
I first encountered story completion as a research method in a corridor conversation with Victoria Clarke. As a critical feminist researching eating disorders the method had immediate appeal. Undergraduates often ask me to supervise their third-year dissertations on eating disorders and obviously their options are limited. Story completion offered a creative way for those students to research this topic while avoiding the ethical and pragmatic issues involved in recruiting people with lived experience (one of these projects has been published in the journal Feminism & Psychology). Along with vignette studies it has proved a popular choice and has resulted in some excellent projects on eating disorders and on other topics too. What I particularly like about story completion is its open-ended imaginative aspect; that it guides participants to articulate cultural ideas and values around an issue without directly asking for their opinion. I think it’s fascinating that participants could say anything at all in completing their story but that so often they produce quite similar narratives to each other. As a post-structuralist with a long-standing interest in psychoanalytic theory, I would like to spend some more time thinking about the possibilities for theorising those parameters of imagination. You can find more information on my UWE profile.
Professor Naomi Moller
I trained as a Counselling Psychologist in the US and part of the training involved learning to use projective tests as part of a clinical assessment – the Rorschach (inkblot test) but also the Thematic Apperception Test in which clients are asked to tell a story in response to an image. Later I trained to use the Adult Attachment Projective Picture System (George & West), a research and clinical instrument that also involves story telling in response to an image prompt. So, I was primed to be curious about a research method that involves telling a story in response to a prompt! In my academic career, first at the University of the West of England and now at the Open University. I have used story stem methods to look at diverse topics (e.g. fat bodies in therapy, perceptions of mental health in the workplace) and been struck by how this method facilitates new understandings of sensitive or taboo topics. As part of the Story Completion Research Group, I have contributed to two chapters on the method (Braun et al., 2019; Clarke et al., 2017) and co-edited a Special Issue of Qualitative Research in Psychology on the method.
Dr Iduna Shah-Beckley
I have always been drawn to question the structures that underpin social phenomena and for me, this is what story completion method invites us to do. I came across the story completion method during an undergraduate critical psychology seminar and again years later, through Victoria Clarke whilst completing a Professional Doctorate in Counselling Psychology at UWE. Despite it not having been used before in doctoral research, I was keen to use it to explore the social construction of heterosexual sexual relationships and the power dynamics within them. I focused on sexual refusal and later on sexual experimentation and masturbation. I was particularly struck by the way the method was able to make the invisible dynamics that underpin sexual relationships visible in ways that more direct methods may not have shown so clearly. I have since been involved in a story completion project on the social construction of gender variance across the life span. This project showed how narratives about gender fluidity are negotiated with discourses of childhood, adolescence and parenthood to produce different possibilities and challenges for people at different stages in life. As a Counselling Psychologist in a Personality Disorder Service on the Offender Personality Disorder Pathway. I have become curious about how discourses of risk and violence are often gendered and how deviance and guilt become produced and reproduced phenomena. I am currently involved in a research project on the discourses underpinning the decisions taken at transgender case boards about the care pathways for prisoners who identify as gender variant. I have been particularly intrigued by the way the prison service is attempting to meet the challenges posed by accommodating gender non-conforming people in spaces that have segregated the sexes for as long as we can remember.
Professor Dr Irmgard Tischner
I am a critical health psychologist with a keen interest in health and social justice issues such as the social constructions of health, ‘healthy living’, gender and ‚the body’. As such, I focus on the productive nature of language and the dominant discourses on these matters in my work, predominantly using discourse and thematic analysis as my method of analysis. Being introduced to the story completion method, which allows me to explore socially constructed values and knowledges on sensitive issues, while giving participants the chance to both be creative and express themselves freely, naturally excited me. I came to the University of the West of England, where I first learned about story completion, from the University of Worcester, and have moved to Germany in 2017, where I now work at the Technische Hochschule Deggendorf. I have been using story completion tasks on topics such as ‘motives for dieting and the construction of health’, ‘perceptions of mental health in the work place’ (with Naomi Moller and Andreas Vossler), and ‘perceptions of foreign students in a small rural town in Bavaria’. I am currently trying to strengthen qualitative methods, and to introduce and develop story completion methods, in Germany/Bavaria, and would love to hear from anybody who would like to join me in my endeavour.
Dr Matthew Wood
I am a lecturer in social psychology at UWE in Bristol. I first encountered story completion as a participant, as an undergraduate student in psychology here at UWE. I found the method exciting and fun, I enjoyed the surprise of reading the story stem and the creative process of writing a story. Then, as an MSc student in Health Psychology (also at UWE) I joined the Story Completion Research Group. I was a research assistant on Victoria Clarke and Virginia Braun’s story completion study on body hair (Clarke and Braun, 2019), and I worked with Nikki Hayfield to design a study that combined story completion with visual methods. In that study, we asked participants to make an avatar of their character using Bitstrips, after completing their story, to examine constructions of heterosexual, lesbian and bisexual appearance. This work was published in a Special Issue on the story completion method of Qualitative Research in Psychology (Hayfield & Wood, 2019); I also conducted an interview with qualitative story completion pioneer Celia Kitzinger for this Special Issue (Kitzinger & Wood, 2019). I did my PhD in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at Open Lab, Newcastle University, where I used the method to look at matters of technosexuality. This has included a study on virtual reality pornography (Wood, Wood & Balaam, 2017), and I am currently working with colleagues at Northeastern University, Boston, US, using the method to look at ethical issues surrounding sex robots.