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Story completion


Welcome to our story completion resource and information pages! This is a site for people who are using, or think they might want to use, story completion in qualitative research.

We are the Story Completion Research Group – a group of qualitative psychologists who are story completion enthusiasts - see who we are on our profile page! We use story completion in our own research, supervise students using story completion, teach story completion to students, give presentations about the story completion method at conferences, seminars and other events, and publish the method.  These resources also provides details of other researchers using story completion in their research.

Story completion offers qualitative researchers a way of generating data for qualitative research that is quite different to most common methods: most qualitative research involves generating first person accounts of experiences, views, practices and so on. With story completion, participants are invited to write a story in response to a story ‘stem’ or ‘cue’, a hypothetical scenario created by the researcher.

Story completion is both serious and fun! We’ve found students love learning about the story completion method in teaching and enjoy using it in projects – so we hope you’re inspired to include the story completion in your qualitative research methods teaching and supervision ‘toolkit’.

On this site, you will find a wide range of information about the use of story completion in qualitative research, including a brief introduction to the story completion method and resources for using story completion in research and teaching about story completion.

If you are using, or considering using story completion, and have a question, please first look at our "frequently asked questions” – we develop these based on the type of questions we get regularly asked about story completion. Unfortunately, we simply don’t have time to answer in person many of the queries we get. We hope you find some useful answers there. If there’s something you really can’t find then, then please contact us.


About story completion

Story completion, as its name suggests, involves participants completing a story, or stories, in response to a pre-determined ‘stem’ or ‘cue’. The story stem consists of an opening sentence, or several opening sentences, of a story created by the researcher, and usually presents a hypothetical scenario involving one or several characters. The participant is then asked to continue or complete the story, either unconstrained or following some guidelines. Most qualitative story completion to date involves written story telling.

Read more.


Questions about story completion

What kind of research questions is story completion suitable for?

We think story completion is best suited to questions about social meanings and meaning-making around a topic. It’s less suited to questions about personal experiences and views because of the indirect mode of data collection. To use story completion to research personal meanings you would need to make the interpretative leap that the stories people write are a straightforward reflection of their thoughts and feelings about a topic.

How many completions do I need?

You know what we’re going to say, right? It depends! Of course it does… It always depends in qualitative research. It depends on the scope of the project (e.g. small student project or publish-able study), the number of stems, the number of stems each participant is asked to complete, and other less knowable in advance factors – such as the richness and complexity of the stories, and the diversity of the stories (if the stories are very diverse a larger sample may be needed to identify patterning in the data). There is no clear agreement in the published story completion literature with regard to sample size, with a wide range of sample sizes reported (from as few as 20 to more than 200 or even 1,000). Twenty to thirty rich and complex stories are likely to provide an appropriate data-set for a small one-stem-design student project. For a publish-able study expect to collect at least 100 to 200 completions for a one-stem-design project. We discuss this a bit further in this paper.

Isn’t comparison problematic in qualitative research?

Many qualitative researchers would say yes to this, but we don’t – well not for story completion at least. We don’t think it’s problematic for two main reasons: the ‘set of conditions’ for comparison is otherwise similar, but more importantly, because we’re exploring social-level meaning, not looking at group difference and therefore interpreting difference as revealing something fundamentally or essentially different about X or Y group. So, for instance, if there are differences told in stories about a male or a female protagonist, we’d be interested in what that says about gendered meaning-making.

What do I do with fantasy stories (when I haven’t sought them)?

Fantasy stories are not unusual. And sometimes they are effectively a ‘refusal’ of the task, whereas other times, they transpose the topic into the ‘fantasy’ domain… So, it depends on whether the fantasy content has relevance to your research question and focus. If it does, they do, and then you might incorporate them into your analysis (for instance see this paper).

Is story completion a good method for student projects?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Our enthusiastic response tells you that we think story completion is a great method for time and resource limited student projects. Data collection can be very quick and efficient, especially when using online completion (e.g. using online survey software) or going into a setting armed with hard copies and lots of pens where there is a large group of your target population with time to participate in a study (e.g. students in a university lecture). The indirect mode of data collection and limited interaction between research and participant facilitates exploring sensitive topics that might raise tricky ethical questions if an inexperienced student proposed to address them more directly (e.g. asking people’s experience through an interview). Indeed, we first recommended the use of story completion in an undergraduate student project when the student wanted to research experiences of domestic violence – a topic we felt strongly wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) receive ethical approval in the context of the proposed study. Instead, the student successfully (and ethically!) used story completion to explore how people made sense of domestic violence in same-sex and different-sex relationships, identifying some interesting similarities and notable differences in sense-making.

Does story completion research have to be social constructionist?

Most of us have used story completion within constructionist frameworks, but it doesn’t have to be (see our Resources section below)Qualitative story completion can be essentialist, it can focus on the psychological meanings presumed to lie behind the story and motivate the way it is told, but this requires the interpretative leap that personal feelings and motivations directly inform story writing, and so needs to be well thought through. Story completion can also be critical realist or contextualist – a focus on social meanings doesn’t require a constructionist orientation. For an example of a critical realist story completion study see this paper.


Talks related to story completion

We regularly give talks about story completion and sometimes these talks are recorded. You’ll find links to these talks below.


Once upon a time… | Qualitative story completion methods

Victoria Clarke, Nikki Hayfield and Naomi Moller provide an introduction to qualitative story completion. 

The talk was recorded at the University of the West of England in November 2016; the event was a seminar entitled Collecting Qualitative Data: Beyond the face-to-face interview.


Resources for qualitative story completion

We have organised our reading list (see the downloadable PDF below) into the following sections to help guide you through different uses of the story completion method in qualitative research.

  • Practical guidance on using story completion in qualitative research
  • Early examples of qualitative story completion research
  • Examples of first-person story completion
  • Examples of third-person story completion
  • Story completion history: Some examples of quantitative story completion
  • Story completion history: Story completion as a projective technique
  • Other resources on story completion
Resources for qualitative story completion
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