The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Foreword (InDepth Issue 19)

Once upon a time…Four words that send a thrill of expectation down the spine. Everyone, everywhere, whatever age or cultural background, loves a good story; they are a means for sharing and interpreting experiences – and as researchers, they are absolutely central to what we do for our clients.

Stories have been used since ancient times, as a tool to transfer knowledge, and also to bring understanding and meaning to human existence. In fact, storytelling is intrinsically linked to the development of the human brain; it’s not by chance that it contains the necessary tools to understand, remember, and tell stories. Stories form a vital part of how humans learn and communicate. Philip Pullman, one of my favourite storytellers said, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world”.

We know stories are important, and they definitely aren’t new, so why has there been such a buzz around storytelling in recent months? It’s the latest topic to hit the trade press and conference circuit (including AQR’s own QFest), but the term is also being rather indiscriminately applied to everything from giving a good debrief to the successful curation of brand content.

This edition of In Depth aims to get to grips with the different facets of storytelling, and explore if and how they are relevant to us in our professional lives. When people talk about storytelling, what do they actually mean? And what has this got to do with our work in research, marketing and communications?

There’s a lot to get your teeth into in this edition, so settle down, put your feet up, and turn the page…

What's the story about stories?
Martin Lee, co-founder of Acacia Avenue and scarred Mills & Boon author, starts us off by asking What’s the story about stories? He gives us an overview of the subject of storytelling, and what it means for us as researchers. He focuses on the conflict that sits at the heart of all good stories and then goes on to say why, despite the advances of ‘big data’, stories remain such an intuitive way to communicate insight and ideas.

Why stories matter
Tim Rich tells us Why Stories Matter. Tim specialises in helping organisations communicate through periods of crisis and believes the power of stories can be an effective catalyst for corporate change. In this article he defines ‘story’ as a distinct form, goes on to illustrate some good brand storytelling practice, before revealing that the confidence of a real storytelling approach won’t work for every brand or business culture. If you like what he’s saying, you can read more from him at

Tricks of the other trade
Neil Griffiths, MD of The Blinc Partnership, brings an interesting dual perspective as both a researcher and a novelist. In Tricks of the other trade he focuses on the craft of storytelling, and explores how we, as researchers, can use these skills (character, plot, narrative and prose style) to tell better, more engaging research stories to clients. Whether they want them when they get them is another story altogether.


Blue Martin
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