Guided Autobiography and Analysis Using Coding Systems

What I want you to do:

Write your Guided Autobiography by answering all 10 questions (see attached document) and code it using the coding systems developed by researchers.

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Why I want you to do it:

The purpose of this assignment is to learn about a method of studying adult personality development by conducting a self-study using a research method called narrative inquiry. Narrative inquiry is a type of qualitative research that (typically) uses written or spoken responses to open-ended prompts. Narrative inquiry seeks to understand the many ways that people create meaning in their lives. Many students say this is one of the most insightful assignments they have ever done while at Bentley. If you are a senior, this may be especially helpful as a way of reflecting on your life up to now.

Pioneering work on the study of personality using narrative data has been carried out by the Foley Center for the Study of Lives, under the direction of Dan P. McAdams. This NYT article provides an approachable introduction to the topic of narrative research and the ways in which it has contributed to personality psychology as a broader field. More academic introductions can be found in articles on the life story model of identity and McAdam’s work on integrative personality theory.

How I want you to do it:

For this assignment, you will conduct a self-study in the form of a narrative inquiry of your autobiography. You will write your autobiography using the questions developed by a longitudinal study conducted by Dan McAdams and colleagues through the Foley Center for the Study of Lives (see attached document for the questions). After answering these questions you will analyze your responses using at least one of the three coding systems developed by researchers at the Foley Center.

You will not be judged on what you choose to write about yourself, or on how much, or how little, you choose to share. Your autobiography is for my eyes only and will be kept in the strictest confidence.

Part 1 – Writing Your Autobiography

To begin, download the attached document to write your answers to the Guided Autobiography. It will take some time to answer all the questions, so I recommend that you write your autobiography over several days instead of all at once.

Part 2 – Coding Your Autobiography

Once you have written your answers to the questions, you are ready to code! There are three coding systems researchers use and I’d like you to tryusing them The three coding systems are:

Agency and Communion:
Redemption Sequences (when something bad turns into something good):
Contamination Sequences (when something good turns into something bad):

2. To code, read through your answers to the autobiography questions to see where you have written about something that seems to be an example of that code (or codes, if you choose more than one). Some answers might fall under more than one coding system. For instance, an example of Agency could also be an example of Redemption. The time you flunked a test, then studied really hard for the next one and aced it.

TIP: A simple way to code your autobiography is to use the “comments” feature in MS Word of Google Docs to highlight the section of text that relates to the code you are using and write the name of the code in the comment [ for example, AGENCY] for this example:

“I was so proud when I won the music competition in high school…” [Agency]

TIP: You might need to read through your autobiography several times to find all the places where that code applies.

TIP: Count the number of times this code appears in your answers to all the questions. This is called a “mentions analysis” and state the specific questions where this code shows up, for example:

“The theme of Agency appeared in my autobiography 7 times, in answer to the questions Peak Experience, Morality, Goal.”

TIP: It helps to create a simple table or spread sheet to summarize the number of times the code appears in your answers to different autobiography questions, and any insights you have after applying the code:



My Reactions/Insights

Agency winning music competition in high school I never realized before how important this event was in helping me overcome my difficulty focusing on a goal and achieving it.

Part 3 – Writing Up Your Analysis of Your Autobiography

Your Guided Autobiography paper will include two sections:

1) Your Guided Autobiography, with your answers to the autobiography questions.

2) Your analysis of your Guided Autobiography using the coding systems. If you have tables or charts, they can be embedded in your Analysis section, or put into an Appendix.

Include in your analysis:

Details of your analysis and what it revealed (see below).
Overall reflection, what was the most powerful learning for you with this assignment?

Details to include in your analysis:

1. Themes and short quotes from your autobiography to illustrate your analysis:

“The theme of Agency showed up 7 times in my autobiography in answer to the questions Peak Experience, Morality, and Goal. For example, in my answer to the Peak Experience question I described the time I won a music competition and my reactions to it:

I was so proud when I won the music competition in high school. It took me months of practice, usually 2 hours a day, to get the rhythms and melody just right.”

2. Any tables or charts you created to summarize your analysis:



My Reactions/Insights


Winning a music competition in high school

I never realized before how important this event was in helping me overcome my difficulty focusing on a goal and achieving it.


Making a best friend at Bentley

I never had a best friend before. Now I know how much this friend means to me.

3. Did this method of analysis help you to see your autobiography from a different perspective? If so, how?

“Now that I’ve coded my autobiography, I realize that most of what I wrote about is examples of Agency, but very little about instances in my left that represent Communion. Yet relationships are very important to me. So, this assignment has helped me think about whether I am spending as much energy in my relationships as I could.”

4. Overall reflection, what was the most powerful learning for you with this assignment?

“It never hit me before how some of the most difficult challenges of my life, have also given me some powerful lessons, and new strengths….”

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