Qualitative studies are of five types: ethnography, case study, grounded theory, narrative and phenomenological. According to Creswell and Creswell (2018), the phenomenological type of qualitative study is the most sought after in social and health sciences. Thus, to throw light on the importance of phenomenology in research, this article will provide all important information related to it. The content of this article is divided into four sections: 1) what is phenomenology in research? 2) steps to conduct phenomenological studies, 3) qualitative nature of phenomenological research, and 4) potential pros and cons of phenomenological research.
What is phenomenology in research?
Phenomenology is derived from the Greek word phanomenologie, meaning phenomenon or process. It was first used in 1797 for describing the study of the development of consciousness and self-awareness in humans as a preface to or a philosophical part. It is a typological classification of phenomena. Simultaneously, the investigation based on the phenomenological investigation is known as phenomenological research.
Stated in another way, phenomenology in research refers to the implication of the people’s lived experiences for a better understanding of a phenomenon. The strong foundation of phenomenology in philosophy suggests researchers explore the manuscripts of key thinkers like Sarte and Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, and Husseri before embracing phenomenology in research.
The purpose of phenomenology in research is to identify a phenomenon by focusing on how an actor perceives it in a specific situation. In current research practices, phenomenology in research is merely a process of gathering deep information or concepts by using an inductive, qualitative method such as interviews, discussion or participants’ observation and presenting it in the form of perspectives of the individuals who participated in the research. In short, phenomenological research aims to describe a lived experience instead of explaining it. Thus, the prime role of such researchers is to attempt to know the feelings and thoughts of study of the participant involved in a study.
Phenomenology in research is a universal method of making a decision based on personal experiences. It gives insights into motivation and individual actions by examining the long-nurtured assumptions; thus, new theories, responses and concepts are formulated based on these phenomenological approaches.
What are the steps in phenomenological research?
The data analysis in phenomenological research is more or less similar to methods used in other qualitative researches. The first step must be the data collection, which can be done by conducting interviews, focus groups, observations and text analysis. After data collection, you can analyse the pattern behind the collected data by using the following steps:
Once you have collected all the information for solving a health or social problem, the next step must be to transcribe this data. For a transcription of data, you should closely observe the collected data by carefully reading or listening to the responses.
Careful transcription suggests ways to organise the information in a more manageable form. Organised and managed data is easier to interpret and analyse. In this step, you must use analytical techniques to sort the data to make a storyline or observe the underlying pattern behind it. For data organisation, you can use both manual and automated approaches.
Moving a step forward, coding aims to more closely explore the relationship between the variables involved in a study. Codes label and organise data more systematically. Like data organisation, coding can also be done manually as well as by using the software. For manual coding, hard copies or printed forms are preferable as compared to spreadsheets. Coding in phenomenological research must highlight the emotional or cognitive content, if observed in a process. Coding is a technical process, so you must consult some detailed coding guides to complete this process.
The previous step of coding allows researchers to link ideas with the data. Once all the available data is properly coded, the next step must be to sort it under specific categories. The conversation between participants and interviewers, as well as the perception that you develop during the process of transcription, highly affect the categorising phase of applying phenomenology in research. In these categories, you only need to sort data based on similarities and differences among them.
Identifying common themes and interpreting them
Categorisation leads you towards the identification of themes which in turn make interpretation of data easier. Identifying themes in the categorical method is the most critical step in phenomenological research. This step is critical as, traditionally, researchers use the identified themes to deduce interpretation (or by linking to the bigger picture/aims of the study). Thus, the results and conclusion section of your research entirely rely on the success of this step.
Maintaining a reflective Journal:
Maintaining a reflective journal is the last but not the least step in phenomenological studies. Chenail- a researcher in 2011, recommended the researchers to maintain a reflective journal as it allows them to examine the decision-making process and re-examine the author’s choice for making themes, if someone wants to reconsider it.
Are phenomenological studies a qualitative research method?
Yes, phenomenological studies are qualitative in nature. The reason is that phenomenological research aims to describe and understand the universal essence of a phenomenon in the light of the experiences of individual that live through it. Moreover, it uses the scientific methods of recording responses, experiences and opinions to collect data through interviews, conversations, focused meetings, action research, and analysis of the personal text. All of these methods are qualitative in nature. Consequently, a phenomenology that is now known as descriptive phenomenology is a common qualitative research method used in health and social sciences.
Pros and cons of using phenomenology in research:
Phenomenology in research is deeply rooted in philosophy and surely has a number of benefits. The three most prominent advantages of using phenomenology in research include gathering unique perspectives, developing a better understanding and collecting large data. Moreover, it also has a number of disadvantages as well. Subjectivity, biasness and pure bracketing are among some of the cons of using phenomenology in research.
Consequently, phenomenology in research refers to the act of identifying how a person thinks and perceives the meaning of a certain event or process. It is a descriptive method of study. It has no concerns with the ”Why” aspect of the investigation. You can conduct such research in five simple steps: transcription, data organisation, coding, deducing strategy, identifying themes and maintaining reflective journals. It is fairly a qualitative method of investigation. Gathering unique perspectives, developing a better understanding and collecting large data are some of its advantages. While disadvantages include subjectivity, biasness and pure bracketing.
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