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Digital Storytelling in NVivo

26 July 2015 - IN autoethnography, data, digital, ethnography, NVivo, qualitative, storytelling, unstructured

The qualitative researcher may be left with impressions, thoughts, feelings and/or opinions after working with people and accompanying unstructured data.

A digital story, typically a 3-5 minute personal narrative, allows researchers to further identify and extrapolate their own perceptual and interpretive locations within their overarching investigations.

The researcher's digital story

In 2012, I took a digital storytelling workshop through the Center for Digital Storytelling at Mercy College, Manhattan. This experience created a heightened awareness for recognizing story potential within any of my interactions.

Using NVivo, as a storyboard and thematic generator, I created a digital story based on an aspect of my autoethnographic research exploring loss, specifically finding my late mother's unfinished scrapbook while emptying out my parent’s home. The experiential aspects of this project were unexpected and the process informed my autoethnographic work.

Here, and in the linked materials, I describe the planning of my digital story in NVivo, show you the digital story, and invite you to try creating your own digital story from research and share it if you are so inclined.

Planning the story

I found my mother’s scrapbook after she passed away. I knew there was a story worth exploring here, but it was inchoate. When I started this process of creating a digital story using NVivo, I also had a bin of all her materials that had not made it into her scrapbook.

I went back and forth between her container of newspapers, magazines, political buttons, etc., and NVivo

I started creating nodes in NVivo as both containers for material and an organizing system. I added images (such as the one above) under the Media node to the Images sub-node.

As I added sources - other themes began to emerge. There were so many – that I began to stack them. Not knowing which if any would be used in my digital story.

I decided that I wanted all of the themes in this stack to direct my story. Some, aspects of these themes required investigation. I gathered sources to approach an idea of my mother’s lifespan relationship with sociopolitical forces and more narrowly, the historical climate or zeitgeist that informed her life.

But, there was also something comforting here – to see this story with her material and a growing number of images building. I started to internally construct a sense of women in sociopolitical history that began with her grandmother’s generation, then surmising the intergenerational thinking on women that was passed down from mother to daughter in my own family.

I read historical suffrage material, all the while keeping my matrilineal circumstances in mind. When I read Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Solitude of Self –


Bringing it together

I saw my great-grandmother’s independence. A divorced woman, who owned her own business and saved enough money to build her own house in the 1920’s.And then I thought how this independence informed my grandmother, an itinerant school teacher who rode a horse from rural school to school and stayed in school parent’s homes.

My mother never shirked from addressing a prejudice or attempting to impart compassion to any singularly minded individual. She told me when I was a girl that the women in the family were strong. And I knew she meant the type of strength that carries one through adversity.

As I began to sit with and read and reflexively compare my sources with familial experience, my internal sense of my story became fuller and deeper.

As I continued to build nodes and find images and text – I had a greater sense of the story. It was now nested in multi-layered connections.


If you have NVivo, you are welcome to open and explore my project.

And here's a task outline that you might find useful:

Image Map

I'd love to hear about your experiences with Digital Storytelling - or maybe you have other creative research methods you'd like to share.

liz-lowe-temp-profile.jpg Elizabeth Lowe is a freelance instructional designer. She is also an adjunct professor at Mercy College, NY and doctoral student in Educational Psychology at West Virginia University.