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Difference between narrative analysis & ipa

Updated March 21, 2017

In the qualitative lens of research, there are two similar but different approaches. One is called a narrative analysis, or the sequential analysis of data or literary elements. Another is called interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), or the reasoning behind events and processes in data or literary subjects. Within the social sciences and the humanities, both approaches are most often used in psychological analysis.

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Narrative analysis is focused on how a person's life chronological has led him to his current state. Processing data from his birth to recent times helps a psychologist assess his current mental health. IPA, on the other hand, assesses how the person viewed or views his life and past experiences in his life. This approach can bring up inherent perspectives the individual has over his life.


Although both approaches are qualitative in their methods, they differ in the nature of data they are trying to measure. For example, a psychologist who utilises narrative analysis is going to find an objective level of analysis to assess the person's life experiences. IPA advocates, however, are open about the subjective nature of the measurements since each individual has a unique perspective of her own life.

Roots and Assumptions

Narrative analysis assumes that the subjectivity of the person is measurable in a qualitative way. However, narrative analysis borders on quantitative research at times, if the narrative analysis is utilised to measure social trends. IPA assumes and is rooted in the philosophies of phenomenology and hermeneutics. Phenomenology is the study of perception while hermeneutics is the study of interpretation. Although subjectivity is assumed, an IPA advocate works within the subjectivity of the person to interpret her psychological profile, never removing the arena of study away from the person's perception of things.


Both approaches are helpful in psychology and should be used at the researcher's discretion. Narrative analysis works well to measure patterns in a person's life and qualify what the experiences mean in the aggregate. IPA is useful for researchers who want to see how people perceive, organise and experience their daily lives.

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About the Author

Mark Fitzpatrick began writing professionally in 2006. He has written in literary journals such as Read Herrings and provides written online guides for towns ranging from Seymour, Connecticut to Haines, Alaska. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Massachusetts.

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