Metaphors in qualitative research: Shedding light or casting shadows?


  • Jacque Carpenter

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Kansas School of Nursing, 3901 Rainbow Blvd., Kansas City, KS 66160
    • 25118 Shiloh Trail, Cleveland, MO 64734.
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    • Clinical Assistant Professor.

  • Appreciation is extended to Veronica F. Rempusheski, RN, PhD, FAAN, Jeanne K. Buxbaum Chair of Nursing Science, University of Delaware, for her thoughtful critique and suggestions to this manuscript.


The use of metaphors in qualitative research provides an opportunity to examine phenomena from a unique and creative perspective. Metaphors can be used to provide structure to the data; to understand a familiar process in a new light; to identify situation-specific interventions; and to evoke emotion. Misuse of metaphors may detract from the intended research message. Mixing metaphors, failing to follow through with metaphors, and using metaphors that do not fit the data can misrepresent the data. The choice to use metaphors should not become a self-serving attempt at creativity that supersedes subject and substance. At their best, metaphors illuminate the meanings of experiences; at their worst, metaphors distort or obscure the essences of them. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Res Nurs Health 31:274–282, 2008