Looking Within: Introspective Essays as a Qualitative Research Technique

What is an Introspective Essay?

It is a reflective piece where one writes in detail about their relationship/experience with the subject/theme of the research.

There is no particular format of writing such an essay. It is more about the process of writing such an essay wherein one reflects and writes down their emotions, experiences, assumptions, opinions on a particular theme/topic. It allows one with an opportunity to contemplate upon their experiences. 

Here are a few benefits of doing this exercise:

1. Researchers are often working on multiple projects simultaneously. Thus, they could be exploring different categories, products etc. in a single day. Often the pace of work is so fast that one can become detached from the theme as the project management itself requires a lot of attention.

Thus, even when they are listening to their consumers they might not be able to emotionally engage with them. Writing an introspective essay, activates a conversation with the theme of the research itself. As the researcher starts to actively remember and reflect upon their memories, it will allow them to engage with more empathy. They will be able to actively listen to their participants rather than just passively learn about their experiences. 

2. A researcher needs to acknowledge their experiences, relationships and memories with products. By reflecting thoroughly upon their own experiences, a researcher can ask more informed questions.

3. The process of writing down one’s experiences with the theme, allows a researcher to appreciate its complexity. It will allow an opportunity to realize how entwined it is with many other experiences, objects, themes etc.

Often, when a researcher is designing a research, they allow their biases to define what they believe will be the important themes to explore. Writing such a reflective piece, will allow one to understand how one experience is often closely linked with many other experiences etc.

For instance, a research is exploring children’s consumption of milk in an Indian household.

While writing a reflective essay, you realize how the consumption of milk happened everyday in the same manner. You and your sibling always competed with each other to finish it first. There was a specific style in which your mom prepared it, she mixed two spoons of Horlicks and then added just a little sugar. This makes you realize how there is a ritual associated with milk consumption. Further, how it allowed you to bond with your sibling.

Further, you also remember that on special occasions, your mom treated you with a special milk! It always made you really excited and you looked forward to those few times in a year when your mom prepared it this way! This makes you realize how the preparation of milk had much larger symbolic meaning in your life as a child. 

4. Lastly, the process of reflecting upon your personal experiences will allow an opportunity to zoom out and understand the larger or the broader scenario within which this particular moment occurs. Often, we deep dive so much into a particular moment to understand a particular theme that we forget that it doesn’t exist in isolation but as a part of many other interactions, scenarios etc. While writing such an essay, one is able to understand how the theme of research fits into their life.

For a project at the Consumer Culture Lab, we are currently exploring people’s earliest memory with specific food categories. At the beginning of this project, we asked student-researchers to pen down their relationship with any one specific food category. We used this exercise as a means to prepare the student-researchers to conduct the qualitative interviews. 

Here are a few students sharing their experiences of writing an introspective essay:

“Writing the introspective essay made me realize how much Top Ramen was associated with my childhood. At my age, I am more acquainted with Maggi. One could even argue that I am a Maggi aficionado, having lived on a budget in a dorm room. Top-Ramen was almost like a repressed memory for me. Writing this essay made me realize how eating Top-Ramen was like a ritual and a rite of passage for me. Moreover, writing the essay was an emotional process for me. This made me realize how it might feel for an interviewee to talk about their childhood memories associated with a particular product. Or maybe what motivated them to develop a liking for the said product perhaps. If I hadn’t written the essay before, the interviews would probably have been very scripted and less conversational. Because qualitative interviews require knowing the interviewee’s story, I believe writing the introspective essay puts me in a mental space wherein I could efficiently gather their stories, or at the very least, ask them the right questions to know their stories.”Sayantani Paul, MBA 1, 2020-22

“My introspective essay was about the drink Milo. When I heard about this project and the interview I had to take, I was excited, but I could not understand how everyone would have a product they can remember and associate themselves with. And I felt it would be too difficult for anyone to recall the experiences. So, I wanted to put myself in their shoes and see if I can do it. When I started thinking, I realised that I have more than one such products and we as a human, connect emotionally with things unconsciously. As I chose to write about Milo, surprisingly, I remembered my first experience with the drink and all the details as I probed myself. I closed my eyes and visualised what happened, and it put a smile on my face. I wanted my respondents to experience the same. Writing this introspective essay helped to grasp relevant information and experiences more from the interviews.” D Vinitha , MBA batch 2019-21


Hartmann, B. J., & Brunk, K. H. (2019). Nostalgia marketing and (re-)enchantment. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 36(4), 669–686.

About the author

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Rupali Kapoor works as the Research Officer for the Consumer Culture Lab at IIM Udaipur. She is trained in social and cultural anthropology from UCL. She is interested in decoding our everyday interactions with spaces, objects and fellow beings.

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