A storyboard is a visual sketch of how to organize a story. When utilized as a research method storyboarding involves arranging a series of images and/or text in separate frames that can be used to outline, brainstorm, synthesize or present ideas. Through the creative process storyboarding provides an avenue to sequentially arrange and rearrange elements of an overall narrative, helping researchers develop a better understanding of phenomena. The storyboard can also be a vehicle for conveying research and ideas to people by becoming the visual representation of the research and idea narrative. [1] [2] Storyboarding can be an innovative and creative way to gather and interpret data, making the research experience interesting and stimulating.
storyboard ex.jpg

Relevant Characteristics

The origin of storyboarding is in the film and animation industry where they are used to visualize scenes and help to guide production. [3] Today, this same approach to visualization and organization can be utilized in a variety of fields. Storyboards assist in imagination and creativity through the use of visual input and narrative. The focus is on visual description as a basis for either further discourse or for analysis of phenomena. [4] Storyboarding may consist of textual data and the construction of corresponding images, or it may consist of a series of images and the production of a narrative. Researchers may use storyboarding with informants through images and narratives. Similar to photo elicitation and photovoice, storyboarding allows informants to collect images to document their lives and then asks for accompanying narratives.

Ethnographic research seeks to reveal the complexity of a phenomenon or process, and “ethnographic methods and data interpretation offer a deeply –rooted understanding of the pulls, pushes, disconnects and other forces at play within and between complex systems”.[5] When storyboarding is applied to ethnographic research analysis it can provide a creative way to represent the “story” based on the participant’s interpretation of the data. As themes emerge they tell a story that can be applied to the storyboard layout as a visual representation.

Storyboarding can become part of data downloading and analysis, which is the period soon after researchers interact with participants when they engage in summarizing observations, paying attention to descriptive detail, different perspectives, and project relevance. Notes are written on post-its and arranged as sets of themes that will later reveal patterns. Storyboarding helps aggregate from the downloading stage by highlighting key findings from field experiences and producing meaning from them. It can incorporate written descriptions and/or visuals that will assist in helping create the story. Patterns and themes can be arranged and re-arranged into categories, revealing relationships.[6]

Storyboarding may be used to craft the narrative for ethnography similar to the film and animation industry, particularly ethnography that engages in a more literary approach. Storyboarding is the way a story gets told to a broader public through the use of images and narratives.

“Method Made Easy”

  1. Use visualization and arrangement/re-arrangement until the story makes sense
  2. Pieces that do not fit with the story will need to be cut
  3. Construct an outline of emerging themes
  4. Choose images or text for storyboard loosely based on emergent themes
  5. Brainstorm core ideas, key results and emerging themes for analysis
  6. Synthesize storyboard data using narration
  7. Write down the visual description as a script


  • Storyboarding is a creative method for assembling and analyzing images and textual data.
  • Visual description is an effective tool for the creation of a story.
  • Highlights recurrences, issues or anomalies with a unique lens
  • Assists in determining relationships among data
  • Use of frames encourages focus on individual components
  • Interactive data presentation and analysis
  • Aids in conceptualization process as data moves from abstract to concrete form


  • As with other analysis methods, ensure the pieces of the storyboard are not being forced into the story
  • Although creativity is not required, it is extremely helpful!
  • The use of storyboarding in cross cultural contexts requires being cognizant of cultural differences in perception, explanation and narrative
  • A larger audience may mean wider interpretation and varied meanings
  • Storyboarding is a process of data collection and analysis and is not the final outcome
  • Be sure to check copyright and ownership issues for any images which are reproduced, and obtain written permission from anyone who is recognizable in photos


As outlined above, storyboarding is a form of data analysis and presentation. The elements incorporated into the storyboard and the sequence crafted to tell a story allow for rich analytical opportunities. The data consist of images and the resulting narrative provides a rich analysis. During data collection and analysis, researchers look for patterns and themes that help to answer their research question. Editing pieces that do not fit with the story may be difficult at this juncture. Researchers need to be cognizant that not all pieces fit into every story. A storyboard may demonstrate a temporal sequence, a spatial arrangement or act as a vehicle for a community to tell its own story.

Method in Context

The use of a template for storyboarding assists in the creation of a coherent story.
This template is designed for both images and text, which are both important components of an effective storyboard.
storyboard template.jpg

Toy Story Storyboarding example which demonstrates the use of images and narrative.
The data is images with a narrative analysis.

Online Resources


What Are Storyboards?

Overview of Storyboarding

Further Reading

Bird, S. Elizabeth
2007 Applying Visual Methods in Ethnographic Research. In Doing Cultural Anthropology. 2nd edition. Michael Angrosino, ed. Pp. 129-138.

Lovejoy, Tracey, and Nelle Steele.
2004 Engaging Our Audience through Photo Stories. Visual Anthropology Review 20(1): 70-81.

Wood, Brian M.
2006 Prestige or Provisioning? A Test of Foraging Goals among the Hadza. Current Anthropology 47(2): 383-387


  1. ^ Larkin, Greg 1996 Storyboarding: A Concrete Way to Generate Effective Visuals. Journal of Technical
    Writing and Communication 26:273-289.
  2. ^ McCready, Kate, and Cecily Marcus 2009 Assessment to Innovation: Creating a Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing Online. Proceedings from Association of Colleges and Research Libraries 14th National Conference. Pp. 127-134.
  3. ^ Walsh, Tanja, Piia Nurkka, Tiina Koponen, Jari Varsaluoma, Sari Kujala, and Sara Belt. 2011 Collecting Cross-Cultural User Data with Internationalized Storyboard Survey." In Proceedings of the 23rd Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference, 301-10. Canberra, Australia: ACM.
  4. ^ Stone, Gregory P. 1962 Appearance and the Self. In Human Behavior and Social Processes. Arnold M. Rose, ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Pp. 86-118
  5. ^ Future of Fish 2013 Future of Fish Full Report: A brief introduction to our research approach. Electronic Document
  6. ^ Future of Fish 2013 Future of Fish Full Report: A brief introduction to our research approach. Electronic Document