vignette variations

I was recently asked for an example of the use of vignette. Here it is. 

There are many ways to write a journal article besides the standard Introduction followed by a Literature Review, Methods, Results and Discussion and Conclusion.

While there are not a lot of journals that appear to publish papers in alternative genres and styles, there are perhaps more than you might imagine. Editors are often quite keen to provide a variety of papers and approaches and this may be flagged in the journal’s mission statement, or via special issues intended to encourage new contributions to the journal community.

Once a writer decides to abandon the conventional social science journal genre and locates a journal willing to publish, they must decide on their alternative approach. Many writers turn to literary genres.

Here is one example of an approach to the paper introduction which is relatively common, the first person narrative. The example, the introduction to an auto-ethnographic paper, uses both a vignette and a personal narrative before going into an outline. The introduction is presented in the left hand column and some commentary provided in the right hand column.

The paper is Phalen, S (2015) Making Music as Embodied Dialogue Qualitative Inquiry, 21(9) pp. 787–797

Paragraph Commentary
I showed up to the Gathering Place today a little before 1:00 pm when Paul and I had agreed to meet so I could give him a guitar lesson. As usual, I took the access ramp alongside the house to the back porch where I found a few members of the organization sitting around the picnic table smoking cigarettes and engaged in conversation. I set my acoustic bass guitar down, and one of the members, Donald, asked what was in the case. After telling him it was a bass guitar, he asked if I played the six-string, to which I replied that I do and that I was, in fact, there to give Paul a lesson. With this revelation, he asked if I would be willing to give him guitar lessons as well. I replied that I could and we hammered out a time for us to sit down together and do this lesson. He concluded our interaction with a smile and this statement, “I’ve been looking for another way to express myself.” (May 18, 2012) This vignette is from a field note – the date being the signal that this is the case, and the use of the present tense (this is confirmed in the next paragraph). The ‘evidence’ in the vignette invites the reader to imagine the scene so that they bring this image to the reading of the paper. This field note scene setting strategy is often used in ethnographic papers.
For 3 years, I volunteered at a non-profit, drop-in center for persons living with mental illness known as The Gathering Place (GP). Most of my time with the organization was spent as a bass player making music with the members during the collaborative jam and music therapy programs. The above excerpt from my field notes recollects the moment in the field when I realized that the music I was making with the members was not just a means of passing time but a means for voicing deeply felt and difficult to articulate experiences (Dewey, 1934). Heeding music as an expression of personhood allowed me to bear corporeal witness to consequential moments in this setting and to create space for sharing meaningful experiences situated within the connected, emotional resonance of making music together. This paragraph locates the paper in the personal experience of the writer. This, together with the vignette, creates the warrant for the paper. The first sentence establishes the site for the study and the second the activities that the researcher was undertaking. The third and fourth sentence adds the paper’s focus – a realization of what was actually going on: this is to be explored and evidenced through the paper.
This essay unfolds in two vignettes. The first focuses on my initial meeting with Jordan, the facilitator of the GP Jams music group. In this vignette, I share with the reader my pragmatic and dialogic sensibilities serving as my interpretive framework for coming to understand music as a meaningful modality of expression. The second vignette details Jordan’s and my performance of the song “Sober” by Tool and the subsequent conversation about addiction that unfolded thereafter. To contextualize these vignettes, I will first provide for the reader a succinct background of the clubhouse model of psychosocial rehabilitation’s approach to helping persons living with the experience of severe and persistent mental illness. I conclude by speaking to music’s potential for fostering edifying dialogic relations across difference by evoking individuated experiences through the co-presencing of a shared, embodied present. The third paragraph provides an outline for the paper to come. The first sentence names the paper genre as an essay. The reader is given the order of the contents of the paper but not in the order they will appear in the paper. Two vignettes and their contents are outlined first of all (sentence two to four), and then the beginning of the paper proper is delineated (sentence five). The final sentence presents the conclusion of the paper and the argument that is to be made.

While at the level of genre this appears to be a very different kind of paper from those taking the conventional CARS approach, an analysis of the moves being made here suggests that much the same kind of introductory work is accomplished, just in a different way.

This introduction also flags up the structure of the paper – not the standard model – but nevertheless presents argument, evidence, discussion and concluding materials. Just not in the most common form.


Patter is on annual leave and this example is adapted from THOMSON, PAT, 2017. Writing about research. In: WYSE, DOMINIC, SMITH, EMMA, SUTER, LARRY and WELWYN, NEIL, eds., The BERA SAGE Handbook of Educational Research SAGE. 

This two volume handbook ought to be in every university library. 

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in introduction, journal article, vignette and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to vignette variations

  1. Danielle Bywaters says:

    Really helpful as I am working this way with my video Ethnography for my Phd thanks


  2. Haitham Al-Sheeshany says:

    Reblogged this on Observations of a tired sOul..


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