Broadly defined, vignettes are “short stories about hypothetical characters in specific circumstances to whose situation the interviewee is invited to respond…moving from the abstract to context-specific” (Finch, 1987, p. 106). Vignettes consist of text, images, or other forms of stimuli, ranging from short written prompts to live events, to which research participants are asked to respond. Herman (1998) uses the term case vignette to describe a written description, photograph, or videotaped scene as a brief glimpse of an educational situation.
Campbell (n.d.) comes closest to an operational definition: A vignette is a short story without an ending. It is short, but not too short to present an issue. It is detailed, but not so detailed that the underlying issue gets lost. A vignette presents an issue, such as the under-representation of girls in advanced math courses, in a context with which individuals can identify. A good vignette has fewer complexities and personalities than real life, sets up a situation in which there is no one “right” answer, and is flexible enough that individuals from different groups (teacher/administrator, female/male, liberal/ conservative) can identify with the story and bring their perspective forward in discussions of solutions.