Life Story Interviews

Life story resized

Life story interviews are open interviews which ask the participant to share their life story with the interviewer, leading them through their life events as they see fit. This method is employed within a huge range of disciplines including sociology, geogrpahy, medical sciences, linguistics, history and gender studies.

One of the key benefits to using life story interviews is that it centralises the participant’s experiences and subjectivities, allowing the researcher to deduce narratives that speak to both micro and macro level social issues and collect data that offers depth, meaning and context to their wider social livesThere are a wide range of methodological approaches which use the life story in some format such as the biographical-narrative interpretive method (Corbally and O'Neill, 2014), narrative analysis (Wilson et al., 2007), linguistic analysis (Talmy, 2010) and the life history approach (DeHart et al., 2014).

In their essence, life story interviews and other biographical methods seek to “examine how local, communal, societal and global changes affect, and are understood and responded to, as meanings are carried as well as shaped, within ‘ordinary’ lives” (Roberts, 2014, p. 11). Some people also consider in-depth interviews as a biographical method due to the rich nature of the data they can elicit (Oakley, 2010), and the definition of ‘biographical research’ is ever changing.

Newcastle University hosts an Oral History Unit and Collective with an expanse of expertise on oral history and biographical interviewing, both of which share underpinning philosophies with life story interview. Find out more here. 


Related Courses 


  • Corbally, M. and O'Neill, C.S. (2014) 'An introduction to the biographical narrative interpretive method', Nurse Research, 21(5), pp. 34-9. 
  • DeHart, D., Lynch, S., Belknap, J., Dass-Brailsford, P. and Green, B. (2014) 'Life history models of female offending: The roles of serious mental illness and trauma in women’s pathways to jail', Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38(1), pp. 138-151. 
  • Oakley, A. (2010) 'The social science of biographical life‐writing: some methodological and ethical issues', International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 13(5), pp. 425-439. 
  • Roberts, B. (2014) 'Biographical research: Past, present, future', in O'Neill, M., Roberts, B. and Sparkes, A. (eds.) Advances in Biographical Methods. Routledge, pp. 31-49.
  • Talmy, S., (2010). Qualitative Interviews in Applied Linguistics: From Research Instrument to Social Practice. 30(1), pp.128-148.
  • Wilson, S., Cunningham-Burley, S., Bancroft, A., Backett-Milburn, K. and Masters, H. (2007) 'Young people, biographical narratives and the life grid: young people’s accounts of parental substance use', Qualitative Research, 7(1), pp. 135-151.