Arts-based forms of participatory visual methods are emerging as rapidly developing social enquiry fields (Driessnack, 2006; Squires, 2008; Bagnoli, 2009) to complement and enhance other qualitative data.

Arts-based form of participatory visual methods, derived from a broader framework of graphic elicitation designs, include a variety of methods, including Critical Incident Charting (Chell & Pittaway, 1998; Davis, 2006), concept mapping (Kane & Trochim, 2006; Kinchin & Cabot, 2007; Ross & Dzurec, 2010), career cartography/ mapping (Messmer, 2003; Feetham & Doering, 2015), the Life History Calendar method (Glasner et al., 2012; Nelson, 2010), and timelining (Sheridan et al., 2011; Kolar et al., 2015; Nguyen et al., 2016).

Timelining is a visual, arts-based data collection method, that although utilised in diverse disciplines for many years, has no universally accepted definition (Berends 2011; Kolar et al. 2015). Generally, timelines depict participant’s life events, placed in chronological arrangement, with a visual indication of the significance or meaning attached to highlighted events (Berends, 2011; Patterson et al., 2012). Depending on the focus of the research, timelines can span a participant’s lifetime, a certain number of years, or even a few months. Timelines can be constructed by the participant alone (participant-generated timelines), by the researcher (researcher-generated timelines) or in collaboration between both (jointly generated timelines).

Researchers who have used visual methods have identified several advantages, including the possibility for data triangulation (Denzin & Lincoln in Denzin and Lincoln, 2013) and real-time respondent validation (Torrance 2012) as the researcher can challenge participants ‘version’ of events (Glasner et al., 2012). Next, timelining can support the construction of an open and closer relationship between the researcher and participants (Sheridan et al., 2011), resulting in trust that leads to the disclosure of personal incidents (Guillemin & Drew, 2010; Adriansen, 2012). During the interviews, timelines can provide visual references or anchor for the participant, enhance memory recall resulting in richer data (Prosser & Loxley, 2008; Pauwels, 2011) and help participants to contextualise events in wider context of their life. Finally, it has been argued that timelining puts participants in the driver seat in the production and interpretation of their data (Sheridan et al., 2011; Kolar et al., 2015; Guillemin and Drew, 2010, Pell et al. 2020). Timelining is also appropriate with sensitive and complex topics or when interviewees’ oral language expression is limited due to a variety of circumstances. Challenges with timelining include that it requires some level of visual “skills” from participants and/or researchers and that it often generates an overload of information that can generate difficulties during the analysis process. Generating timelines can also be more time consuming for both participants and researchers as participants require additional time to draw, reflect, and revise.


Angela Mazzetti – Senior Lecturer in Management Practice

Falko Sniehotta – Professor of Behaviour Medicine & Health Psychology

Katie Aitken-McDermott – PhD researcher


Butler, C., Finniear, J., Doherty, A.M., Hill, S., (2014) Exploring identity: a figurative character image-elicitation approach. Qualitative Research in Organisations and Management: An International Journal, 9 (2), 151-168, https://doi.org/10.1108/qrom-10-2012-1103

Kwasnicka, D., Dombrowski, S. U., White, M., & Sniehotta, F. F. (2015). Data-prompted interviews: Using individual ecological data to stimulate narratives and explore meanings. Health psychology: official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 34(12), 1191–1194. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000234

Leavy, P. (2020) Arts-based research: definition, procedures & application. Accessible at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rFa-wH6Gkc

Mazzetti, A.S., & Blenkinsopp, J., (2012) Evaluating a visual timeline methodology for appraisal and coping research. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 85(4), 649-665. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8325.2012.02060.x

Woolner P, Thomas U, Todd L, Cummings C (2009) How do visually mediated encounters differ from traditional interviews? 1st International Visual Methods Conference. Accessible at: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/media/wwwnclacuk/cflat/files/WoolnerThomasetal2009.pdf

Training and Development

HASS ‘Visual Methodologies workshop’ offered by Pamela Woolner