Using Fiction to Reveal Truth: Challenges of Using Vignettes to Understand Participant Experiences Within Qualitative Research

Sana Rizvi


Vignettes are increasingly used within qualitative studies to research difficult topics, requiring ethical mindfulness and sensitivity from researchers. In this article, I examine the methodological issues of incorporating vignettes within qualitative research, specifically my research exploring South Asian maternal experiences of supporting their children with special education needs and disability (SEND). I present participants with seven vignettes concerning the roles of religion, culture, gender and immigrant history. By presenting the participants' responses, I explore the applicability of two ensuing methodological concerns: 1. Are authentic representations useful and straightforward measure of vignette's effectiveness? 2. Do reduced socially desired responses reflect the effectiveness of a vignette? I consider these questions in detail, as well as how addressing the first issue affected my commitment to the second issue. I conclude that vignettes can be a rich point of reference from which participants can exercise agency and actively construct their own understanding of the issues presented in the vignettes.


vignettes; qualitative research; authenticity; marginalised communities; socially desired responses

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