Literature Review: Importance of Personal Narrative

Article: Personal Narrative Writing: A Method of Values Reflection for BSW Students

I love to write. However, it is sometimes confronting seeing my own words and values after reading them back. It is a way in which I myself vent emotions and feelings from experiences in day to day life and is extremely therapeutic. The idea of putting a price or grade against my own experiences and thoughts is an issue that I have faced this semester and will continue to struggle with in the future.

The research Personal Narrative Writing: A Method of Values Reflection for BSW Students encapsulates how stories convey the values of the individual and the impending ethics of writing emotionally. The authors investigate and research into students writing Personal Narrative stories and how this has affected their journey into the professional field. It suggests an environment much like the BCM311’s classroom which Kate Bowles has constructed for her own students to learn and share in.

Christopher Walmsley & Jane Birkbeck contemplate the relationship between Social Work values and a student’s own values. The two types of values are experienced completely inharmoniously. An individual’s personal values are gained through life experience, the other is taught through models, formula and structure. In this way it can be said that  values education does not recognise ‘values that are presently implicit in the many voices that constitute today’s student social work population’ (Walmsley & Birkbeck 2006) and that personal narrative allows students’ voices to be heard. The values of an individual, when conceived through personal narrative, are then extremely valuable.

‘Personal narrative is a process of conscious self-construction that encourages students to locate values in life experience and to define particular episodes, experiences, or moments as key to self-understanding.’ -(Walmsley & Birkbeck 2006)

Notions explored in this article relate to the idea that the values in an individual’s story relate to their own personal identity and values. These values therefore construct their personal identity through past experiences and upheld values. In this way, personal narrative, as stated by Miller in 1992, can “provide an informative means by which to investigate the social construction of self and mind” (cited in Walmsley & Birkbeck 2006, p. 114).

The construction of Brooke Eager’s story about her struggle with acceptance and forgiveness allowed for self-reflection, catalysing transformative implications towards the comprehension of herself.

‘Forgiving myself for my actions, both in Year 12 and in this incident, have taken many months.  Now I am far less likely to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I am less likely to forgive.  But I am more likely to treasure and appreciate those who love me; a double-edged sword of sorts.’ -(Eager 2017)

Her post Double-Edged Sword deals with an experience from Brooke’s past which is extremely confronting, causing devastating ramifications to Brooke’s physical and mental health. Therefore, we can identify that through narrative writing we can break through past experiences, analyse them and understand ourselves better.

‘Student discussion about preparing a personal reflection on self for feedback and evaluation by faculty demanded that the assignment’s goals and the learning outcomes be further clarified.’ -(Walmsley & Birkbeck 2006).

The problem with personal narrative writing in university is the grading and feedback that comes along with assessments.

Claire Farquhar’s writing About Value, Words and Desire exemplifies why an individual’s experience should not be given a number. She played with the complexities of adding a numerical value to an experience or story and described her own comprehension and understanding of the decision making process. Claire decided that even though the thought of adding a percentage to her experiences was appealing, that her truths could not be measured.

In no way is this technique of writing easy, it is quite the contrary. It is extremely difficult to recall the emotion in the darkest recess of your mind and call on these words to craft a story. This then creates another issue, being the worth of a story. Who wants to attribute a mark or percentage to ‘a child of poverty, a daughter of an alcoholic father, a witness to family violence, mental illness and disability, or a victim of economic depression.’ (Walmsley & Birkbeck 2006). Stories are to be treated with care. Why? Because these are experiences which are beyond valuable.

From experience, writing creates ‘a broad range of feelings’ which are ‘remembered during the writing process: discomfort, exposure, vulnerability, anger, resentment, relaxation, sadness, excitement and closure.’ (Walmsley & Birkbeck 2006). To say that my vulnerability received a 71% and Brooke’s sadness received a 92% would be trivial. This is because a story that I write, comes from my heart and my experiences, they do not have a numerical value. That is why personal narrative is so powerful, not for others, but for the writer.

‘understanding of the origin of personal values, an awareness about the influence of religious upbringing and/or the influence of significant others, and clarification about the impact of the past on current value choices.’ -(Walmsley & Birkbeck 2006)

The most informative and impactful part of personal narrative is the self reflection which takes place after a narrative has been written. The whole point of writing in this style is to understand the values which are attributed to the author’s own personal identity.

In class we identified a value which we uphold in our life through our decisions that we make. This was the start of my own journey in writing personal narrative styles. The importance of self-reflection in any writing is imperative to understanding yourself as I found that individuality was a value which I upheld in my life.

It is a relief to know that others feel the same way about personal narrative writing and the confronting nature of facing such challenging themes.

This article however has a small sample size and is not diverse. It would be interesting to dive into this as a research topic with authors around the world, highlighting their thoughts on the value of experiences through personal narrative. It would be interesting to get their perspectives on personal narrative in a different context.


Walmsley, C & Birkbeck, J 2006 ‘Personal Narrative Writing: A Method of Values Reflection for BSW Students’, Journal of Teaching in Social Work, vol. 26, no. 1-2, pp. 111-126, viewed 20 August 2017. Available from: