Phenomenology: “A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated” by Thomas Groenewald

In “A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated,” Thomas Groenewald provides a step-by-step guide on how to conduct phenomenological research since he was unable to find “literature that provides guidelines for conducting phenomenological research.” In phenomenological research, there are no “clearly defined steps to avoid the limitation of creativity of the researcher.  He provides a caveat stating that the article is “not authoritative” but does provide some guidelines to save researchers, and graduate students, some “agony.” Unlike some of the articles that we have read on case study, discourse analysis, and grounded theory, Groenewald uses a conversational tone and personal pronouns in the Introduction of his article on phenomenology. (I have also seen this conversational tone in Alex Grant’s autoethnographic short story.) He says, “I want to do research regarding an aspect of teaching and learning practice, namely co-operative education…” 

Having been taught by teachers and professors in the positivist tradition where “Scientist was largely a mechanistic or mechanical affair” (Trochim, 2020); subsequently, the language of science was formal and objective, devoid of tropes and personal pronouns. On the one hand, I found Groenewald’s casual and honest tone quite refreshing. On the other hand, I felt that since Groenewald was not an expert of authority (since he “does not have authority”), he relied heavily on citations with limited commentary that I did not fully grasp the distinctions that he was trying to make. Take, for example, the section on “Bracketing and Phenomenological Reduction,” he stacks two quotations in one sentence without much explanation or commentary.

1. Bracketing and phenomenological reduction. The term reduction, coined by Husserl, is regarded by Hycner (1999) as unfortunate because it has nothing to do with the reductionist natural science methodology. It would do a great injustice to human phenomena through over-analysis, removal from the lived contexts of the phenomena and worse possibly reducing phenomena to cause and effect. HOW ARE PHENOMENA REDUCED TO CAUSE AND EFFECT? Phenomenological reduction “to pure subjectivity” (Lauer, 1958, p. 50), instead, is a deliberate and purposeful opening by the researcher to the phenomenon “in its own right with its own meaning” (Fouche, 1993; Hycner, 1999). It further points to a suspension or bracketing out‟ (or epoche), “in a sense that in its regard no position is taken either for or against” (Lauer, 1958, p. 49), the researcher’s own presuppositions and not allowing the researcher‟s meanings and interpretations or theoretical concepts to enter the unique world of the informant/participant (Creswell, 1998, pp. 54 & 113; Moustakas, 1994, p. 90; Sadala & Adorno, 2001). 

I read this paragraph several times and still do not fully grasp the point that Groenwald is trying to make here. I know that he is trying to make a distinction between Husserl’s and Hycner’s point on removing the researcher’s bias during the explication of data. But, what is the distinction between the two terms, and how does epoche (of suspension of judgment) fit in? In terms of explaining the nuances and differences in the philosophical framework of phenomenology, I felt that Groenewald could have co-written this article with a professor versed in Husserl, Heidegger, and Hycner.

Nonetheless, Groenewald provides a much needed, detailed, comprehensive guide to the stages of the phenomenological research method, which I explain at length in my slide presentation. Refer also to the Phenomenology Chart below.) Every novice researcher needs a starting point; therefore, Groenewald advises the novice researcher to decide if phenomenology is the best research method for her research interest. For his research study, Groenewald was looking for an “exploratory qualitative research design” where the focus was on the participants’ “lived experiences” void of preconceptions. An important distinction between autoethnography and phenomenology is that authoethnography focuses on the researcher’s perspective, interpretation, and insight; whereas, in phenomenology, the focus is on the participants’ description of their experiences. 

[Source: University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI), 2020)]


Purpose, goal – to describe experiences as they are lived
– Examines the uniqueness of an individual’s lived situations
– Each person has own reality; reality is subjective
Research question development– What does the existence of feeling or experience indicate concerning the phenomenon to be explored
– What are necessary & sufficient constituents of feeling or experience?
– What is the nature of the human being?
Method – No clearly defined steps to avoid limiting creativity of researcher
– Sampling & data collection
– Seek persons who understand study & are willing to express inner feelings & experiences
– Describe experiences of phenomenon
– Write experiences of phenomenon
– Direct observation
– Audio or videotape
Data Analysis – Classify & rank data
– Sense of wholeness
– Examine experiences beyond human awareness/ or cannot be communicated
Outcomes– Findings described from subject’s point-of-view
– Researcher identifies themes
– Structural explanation of findings is developed

An important theme in phenomenology is the emphasis on validity and truthfulness. Groenewald contends, “I bracketed myself consciously in order to understand, in terms of perspectives of the participants interviewed, the phenomenon that I was studying, that is “the focus [was] on an insider perspective.” Groenewald emphasizes the role of an ethical researcher in every stage of phenomenological research. It starts with informed consent and withholding the central research question to the participants so that the “data must emerge from the interviews, essays, and focus groups.” Phenomenologists stress, perhaps more so than the other research methods, that “researchers must bracket themselves personal views and preconceptions.” In addition, phenomenologists also listen to audio recordings of participants over and over again until (the gestalt) to derive meaning. Thus, the researcher is looking at the data holistically to derive some common themes (clustering of units of meaning to form themes), then writes a summary composite of all the common themes. At this point, data emerges, so this process is deductive in nature. 

Gestalt: Is the Whole Greater Than the Sum? (Google Images)

In terms of the final part of the research process, Greonewald provides a synopsis of his research findings and draws the following conclusion: “It is evident that the logical organization coordination of joint ventures, between educational institutions and enterprises, are very important factors in growing talent.” Did he thoroughly address his central research question: “What is the contribution that co-operative education can make in the growing talent of South African people?” He does not provide his expertise or insight, which is frustrating, especially since I wanted a response to the question. So, I am left to draw my own conclusions, leaving me with a sense of incompleteness. 

Will I use phenomenology in my Research Proposal? No, however, I can see the potential of phenomenology since it gave rise to Reader-Response Theory where there is more focus on the reader’s response to the text rather than to the text itself.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the benefits and limitations of phenomenology? (Audience)
  2. Would you use phenomenology as a research method for your Research Proposal? Why or why not? (Audience)
  3. What is the difference between phenomenological reduction and bracketing? What about epoche? (Dr. Nelson)
  4. Elaborate on gestalt. (Dr. Nelson)


Groenewald, Thomas. (2004). “A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated.” Creative Commons. Retrieved from

Trochim , W. M. (2020). “Positivism and Post-Positivism”. Knowledge Base. Retrieved from

A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated

Overview of Article

This article first starts off by giving a brief history of the origin of Phenomenology; originating with German philosophizer, Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). In the most simplistic way, phenomenology is defined be the following: “…based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events (“phenomena”) as they are perceived or understood in the human consciousness, and not of anything independent of human consciousness.” The article also goes on to give the essential break down to understand how to approach this research methodology. For more “visual learners”, here is a YouTube that was very helpful to me when understanding this methodology:

Turning Theory into Practice: Applying Phenomenology to Art!

Like many of my post about these different methodologies, I try to make sense of them by applying it to my own research question. In the case of this methodology, I aim to take a different approach; in stead of applying this theory to my own research question, I will apply it to my original love… Art! Since phenomenology is the methodology associated with the phenomenon of how humans experience reality, I believe the studying of my own art goes well wit it! If you have time, please take a glimpse through this article… it is what gave me the idea to use phenomenology in this way. For clarification, this is not a full on research, but more so a test drive of the methodology in a simplistic form. I will be using the format used in the above article I summarized.

The research paradigm of a study undertaken

The selection of topic I will be going with is the following: How does my experience and understanding within me reading different novels showcase through my art? I am pretty sure this question can defined way better, but we will go with this for now. I think this research method is good for my question because like the article said, “Phrenologists, in contrast to positivists, believe that the researcher cannot be detached from his/her own presupposition and the researcher should not pretend otherwise.” In short, I am to put my already prejudged ideas about my own art and how I experience them.

Locating the research participants/informants

In the case of my “research question”, I am my own research participant.

Data-gathering methods

The way the data would be gather for my research question is by collecting and keep track of each painting/art design I do for each book that I read in the span of time that I will do the research.

Data-storing methods

I would keep digitized version of each art piece alongside the books.

Explicitation of the data

Validity and truthfulness

Since this is my sample mini version of the research methodology, I stopped at Explicitaion due to me not completely understanding! With that, it was interesting to put this theory to the text.

Phenomenology in Freewriting

With every new method, there comes my confusion and turning to YouTube for just a basic introduction to the method in question. Please enjoy the following video introducing Phenomenology.

I must admit to myself and to others that freewriting may be what I care about most in writing and teaching writing. I learn the most from it. I get my best ideas and writing from it.”

Peter Elbow, Toward a Phemenology of Freewriting

Freewriting is something that most teachers should practice with their own students, it helps exercise the creative juices and allows the student to explore creatively by giving them the chance to express themselves in any formal and informal situation. 

At the beginning of the article, Peter Elbow explains how freewriting has helped him overcome serious personal situations that would “help [him] diminish the pain” (43). Like myself, Elbow kept a diary and/or type at the keyboard to get everything and anything out that would be weighing on our shoulders. 

I remember sometimes sitting on the floor-I’m not sure why, but probably as a kind of bodily acting out of my sense of desperation. I could type fast and I learned that I could just let myself flow into words with a kind of intensity. When I felt myself shouting I used all caps. This process seemed to help more than anything else, and in this way I drifted into what I now take as the experiential germ of freewriting.”

Peter Elbow, Toward a Phemenology of Freewriting

Elbow didn’t understand at the time he was into his freewriting was any kind of conscious methodology. He continues to explore and express himself within his own freewriting and,

Often finds it easier to freewrite productively when I’m alone or in someone else’s class or workshop and can concentrate on my own work and not worry about people I’m responsible for. When I’m feeling nervous about being in charge, I sometimes cannot enter into my words or even very much into my mind.”

Peter Elbow, Toward a Phemenology of Freewriting

Elbow touches on a subject that many can relate too; the idea of liking our own
writing and/or our students’ writing. He expresses how students should do a lot of private writing and share their work with each other. By doing so, they will be opening their creative minds to their own peers and they will be introduced to an idea or thought they never thought possible.

Also, they can receive the praise they need to increase their confidence in their own writing.
Likewise, Elbow points out that if we can like our writing as well, this will benefit us as
educators with our students’ writing.