A Design for A Phenomenological Research Design


In this article, Thomas Groenewald, shares knowledge as a mere form of assistance to other researchers about a type of qualitative methodology that may not be as familiar but is less stressful, and will help him conduct research in an area of personal experience and interest without his own biases interfering. This is called phenomenology. He later explains a brief history of phenomenology as it began with German philosopher, Edmund Husserl. 

The discipline of phenomenology may be defined initially as the study of structures of experience, or consciousness. Literally, phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience. Phenomenology studies conscious experience as experienced from the subjective or first person point of view (43-44). Groenewald conducted this study at an educational institute in Gauteng, South Africa where he interviewed program managers and representatives, who are responsible for educational programs associated with the commerce, industry and/or government (46).

In order to increase the population of interviewees, Groenewald used the snowballing technique, which allows a participant to recommend others to participate in the interviews. It’s basically spreading the word to those that qualify. After the interviews, he gathered and stored the data using recordings (in case of forgetfulness), field notes (4 types) and used explicitation to keep the context of the information whole (Hycner 49).

  1. Bracketing and phenomenological reduction. 
  2. Delineating units of meaning. 
  3. Clustering of units of meaning to form themes. 
  4. Summarizing each interview, validating it and where necessary modifying it. 
  5. Extracting general and unique themes from all the interviews and making a composite summary.

Beginning Thoughts:

In order for me to grasp the significance and the study Groenewald conducted, I began to research the history of phenomenology. I didn’t realize how intricate the information would be, nor did I realize how our social world has such an impact.

I read that René Descartes is generally and originally considered the father of modern philosophy. He was the first major figure in the philosophical movement known as rationalism, a method of understanding the world based on the use of reason as the means to attain knowledge. Descartes’ most famous statement is Cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I exist.” With this argument, Descartes proposes that the very act of thinking offers a proof of individual human existence. Because thoughts must have a source, there must be an “I” that exists to do the thinking. In arguments that follow from this premise, Descartes points out that although he can be sure of nothing else about his existence—he can’t prove beyond a doubt that he has hands or hair or a body—he is certain that he has thoughts and the ability to use reason. Descartes asserts that these facts come to him as “clear and distinct perceptions.”

Next, in 1889 Franz Brentano followed and used the term phenomenology to characterize what he called “descriptive psychology”. For Brentano, physical phenomena exist “intentionally” in acts of consciousness. This view revives a Medieval notion Brentano called “intentional in-existence”, but the ontology remains undeveloped (what is it to exist in the mind, and do physical objects exist only in the mind). I think that statement is somewhat bizarre. Brentano distinguished descriptive psychology from genetic psychology. Where genetic psychology seeks the causes of various types of mental phenomena, descriptive psychology defines and classifies the various types of mental phenomena, including perception, judgment, emotion. According to Brentano, every mental phenomenon, or act of consciousness, is directed toward some object, and only mental phenomena are so directed. This became the hallmark of Brentano’s descriptive psychology. His term paved the way for Husserl’s new science of consciousness, and the rest is history.

Phenomenology evolved with Edmund Husserl in 20 century Germany. Husserl suggested that only by suspending or bracketing away the “natural attitude” could philosophy become its own distinctive and rigorous science, and he insisted that phenomenology is a science of consciousness rather than of empirical things. Indeed, in Husserl’s hands phenomenology began as a critique of both psychologism and naturalism.  Husserl argued that the study of consciousness must actually be very different from the study of nature. For him, phenomenology does not proceed from the collection of large amounts of data and to a general theory beyond the data itself, as in the scientific method of induction.


After rereading this article, I understand his methods; however, I was confused with some of the explanations by the multiple researchers. I realize Groenewald’s methods and techniques are based on the research derived from Bailey, Hycner and etc.  I appreciate the way he broke down the four types of field notes he made.

  • Observational notes -ON
  • Theoretical notes -TN
  • Methodological notes- MN
  • Analytical notes- AN


I can easily consider using these types when documenting data for my autoethnography research. This study reminds me of the movie Transcendence with Johnny Depp. I know it isn’t exactly the same as phenomenology but it reminds me of the great lengths Johnny’s character went to understand the mind and compare it to technology. Though there is a lot more to this story, the methods of conducting the research are quite similar.

I’m sure phenomenology is a good research but I cannot imagine myself needing it, possibly because I’m still trying to grasp the purpose.

Phenomenological Research

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Phenomenology is an approach to qualitative research that focuses on the commonality of a lived experience within a particular group. The fundamental goal of the approach is to arrive at a description of the nature of the particular phenomenon. Typically, interviews are conducted with a group of individuals who have first-hand knowledge of an event, situation or experience. The interviews attempts to answer two broad questions: What have you experienced in terms of the phenomenon? What contexts or situation have typically influenced your experiences of the phenomenon? Other forms of data such as documents, observations and art may also be used. The data is then read and reread and culled for like phrases and themes that are then grouped to form clusters of meaning. Through this process the researcher may construct the universal meaning of the event, situation or experience and arrive at a more profound understanding of the phenomenon. With roots in philosophy, psychology and education, phenomenology attempts to extract the most pure, untainted data and in some interpretations of the approach. In its most basic form, phenomenology attempts to create conditions for the objective study of topics usually regarded as subjective: consciousness and the content of conscious experiences such as judgments, perceptions, and emotions. Although phenomenology seeks to be scientific, it does not attempt to study consciousness from the perspective of clinical psychology or neurology. Instead, it seeks through systematic reflection to determine the essential properties and structures of experience. There are several assumptions behind phenomenology that help explain its foundations:

  1. Phenomenologists reject the concept of objective research. They prefer grouping assumptions through a process called phenomenological epoche.
  2. They believe that analyzing daily human behavior can provide one with a greater understanding of nature.
  3. They assert that persons should be explored. This is because persons can be understood through the unique ways they reflect the society they live in.
  4. Phenomenologists prefer to gather “capta”, or conscious experience, rather than traditional data.
  5. They consider phenomenology to be oriented toward discovery, and therefore they research using methods that are far less restrictive than in other sciences.

Edmund Husserl was a German philosopher who established the school of phenomenology. He sought to develop a systematic foundational science based on the so-called phenomenological reduction. Arguing that transcendental consciousness sets the limits of all possible knowledge. Husserl redefined phenomenology as a transcendental-idealist philosophy. Husserl’s thought profoundly influenced the landscape of the 20th-century, and he remains a notable figure in contemporary philosophy and beyond. In  Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations), Husserl made some key conceptual elaborations which led him to assert that in order to study the structure of consciousness, one would have to distinguish between the act of consciousness and the phenomena at which it is directed. Husserl’s thought is revolutionary in several ways, most notably in the distinction between “natural” and “phenomenological” modes of understanding. In the former, sense-perception in correspondence with the material realm constitutes the known reality, and understanding is premised on the accuracy of the perception and the objective know-ability of what is called the “real world.” Whoa deep stuff! I’m trying my best to absorb it all. Slow but steady, I think I’m grasping some of the main concepts and ideas.

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Okay so now on to the article. The introduction gives us a brief background of WWI and the aftermath. It was a turbulent time and there was carnage left in the wake of the war. In response to the chaos and upheaval German philosopher Edmund Husserl: “sought to develop a new philosophical method which would lend absolute certainty to a disintegrating
civilization.” Husserl rejected the belief that objects in the external world exist independently and that the information about objects is reliable. He argued that people can be certain about how things appear in, or present
themselves to, their consciousness. To arrive at certainty, anything
outside immediate experience must be ignored, and in this way the external world is reduced to the contents of personal consciousness. I must admit this is a complex topic and even when defined and broken down significantly I’m not 100% sure I’m grasping this particular method. But I will continue to read on and try my best to dissect and analyze more about it until I fully grasp the concept. I guess I’ve never been the existential type of gal, I see things in a more objective way. So for me these ideologies and the people who believe in them sometimes fall under the category of “flighty.” That’s just my personal opinion. Continuing on with the article the author breaks it down in categories: The research paradigm/study, locating research participants/informants, data-gathering methods, data-storing methods, explication of the data, validity/truthfulness and lastly synopsis. In the opening the author goes on to say:

“Following seven years of study of research methodology (including periods of formal study, as well as the attendance of short courses and self study) I came to the conclusion that one needs a grasp of a vast range of research methodologies in order to select the most appropriate design, or combination of designs, most suitable for a particular study. One further needs to make a thorough study of the methodology(ies) chosen, to execute good research practice.”

I quoted this because it resonates with me. In particular after reading about phenomenology and the other methods I know now more then ever that I need to make sure I thoroughly understand the concepts and how they will work, or not work for my research. So if I gained anything from this article it was definitely that I need to hone in on my research skills and see what works for me going forward and let go of what doesn’t work. I found the breakdown of this particular research study very beneficial. The author was very concise in conveying for the reader how she conducted her research and was very detailed in the steps she undertook. I also found her topic interesting. To learn about both the educational and vocational systems that some students participate in simultaneously while in school and how it effects them was a worthwhile research topic in my opinion. It can benefit studies in education and also in the work force and see what impact it has on students and their future goals and successes. This explication process which includes five steps or phases was interesting to learn about. Also to see how it was used in her research was beneficial to us future researchers. The five steps included:

  1. Bracketing and phenomenological reduction.
  2. Delineating units of meaning.
  3. Clustering of units of meaning to form themes.
  4. Summarising each interview, validating it and where necessary modifying it.
    International Journal of Qualitative Methods 2004, 3(1)
  5. Extracting general and unique themes from all the interviews and making a composite summary.

It was fascinating to read each detailed step she took within her research. I found it very thorough and detailed, it gave me a stronger grasp on the methodology especially seeing how it was directly implemented within her own research process. Do I think I will use this method for my research? Probably not but I have a new found appreciation and respect for it. I might re think my “flighty” opinion of all the existentialists out there in the world. Because now thanks to this article I can see the benefits of this type of research and how people can apply it successfully to their own personal research endeavors. I hope to explore this topic more in depth during our online class, and I’m excited to see Dylan and Linda’s interpretations of both articles. I’m sure any of my confusion and unanswered questions will be cleared up in class. I embedded the video below to hopefully help you all break down this tough methodology! I found it very useful and helpful! Oh and a final quote to wrap up my blog post which I thought was funny, by the genius himself: Woody Allen! Enjoy! See ya’ll in class! Xo.

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