When preparing an evaluation report, one way of communicating vividly the experience of participants, or the situation in which the program has been implemented, is to present some of the findings in the form of a poem.

In addition to, or possibly instead of, developing poems as part of the reporting process, poetry can be a useful option for data collection, which is then analyzed and reported like any other data. It can be useful for participants to develop their own poems – as a form of participatory data collection. (see Writing poetry in the methods for Collecting/Retrieving Data).


Louisa May’s Story Of Her Life

Here is an extract from a poem - 'Louisa May’s Story Of Her Life' - that Laurel Richardson constructed from an interview (Richardson, 1997):

The most important thing
to say is that
I grew up in the South.
Being Southern shapes
aspirations shapes
what you think you are
and what you think you’re going to be.
(When I hear myself, my Ladybird
kind of accent on tape, I think, OH Lord,
You’re from Tennessee.)
No one ever suggested to me
that anything
might happen with my life.
I grew up poor in a rented house
in a very normal sort of way
on a very normal sort of street
with some nice middle-class friends
(Some still do to this day)
and so I thought I’d have a lot of children.
I lived outside.
Unhappy home. Stable family, till it fell apart.
The first divorce in Milfrount County.
So, that’s how that was worked out.

This example drew on 36 pages of interview transcripts, using only Louisa May’s words, syntax, and grammar, and took four weeks, nine drafts and four critiques by others

Advice for choosing this method

  • Check whether the intended users of your evaluation report will be open to this non-traditional form of reporting.In addition to, or possibly instead of, creating poems when writing the evaluation report, consider whether poems might be a useful method for data collection.
  • This can be done in a participatory way. (see Writing poetry in the methods for Collecting/Retrieving Data).


Damico, R. (2011, April 8). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://shakeoutblog.com/2011/04/06/ethnographic-poetry/ (archived link)

MacNeil, C. (2000). The prose and cons of poetic representation in evaluation reporting. American Journal of Evaluation, 21(3), 359–367. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/109821400002100307

Richardson, L. (1997) Fields of Play: Constructing Academic Life. Rutgers University Press.

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