I have searched several definitions of phenomenology from the literature:

  1. Patton (1990):

    "…a phenomenological study…is one that focused on descriptions of what people experience and how it is that they experience what they experience. One can employ a general phenomenological perspective to elucidate the importance of using methods that capture people's experience of the world without conducting a phenomenological study that focuses on the essence of shared experience." (p.71)

  2. Creswell (1998):

    "Researchers search for essentials, invariant structure (or essence) or the central underlying meaning of the experience and emphasize the intentionality of consciousness where experiences contain both the outward appearance and inward consciousness based on memory, image and meaning." (p.52)

  3. Rossman and Rallis (1998):

    "Phenomenology is a tradition in German philosophy with a focus on the essence of lived experience. Those engaged in phenomenological research focus in-depth on the meaning of a particular aspect of experience, assuming that through dialogue and reflection the quintessential meaning of the experience will be reviewed. Language is viewed as the primary symbol system through which meaning is both constructed and conveyed (Holstein & Gubrium, 1994). The purposes of phenomenological inquiry are description, interpretation, and critical self-reflection into the "world as world" (Van Manen, 1990) Central are the notions of intentionality and caring: the researcher inquires about the essence of lived experience." (p. 72)

The phenomenological inquiry is particularly appropriate to address meanings and perspectives of research participants. The major concern of phenomenological analysis is to understand "how the everyday, inter-subjective world is constituted" (Schwandt, 2000) from the participants' perspective. The basic philosophical assumption underlying this inquiry has most often been illustrated by Husserl's (1962) statements - "we can only know what we experience." Thus, any inquiry cannot engage in 'sciences of facts' because there are not absolutely facts; we only can establish 'knowledge of essences'. The essence is the central underlying meaning of the experience shared within the different lived experiences.

The researcher should first look into the individual point of view, i.e. the realization of subject consciousness perceived in the objects, to get to understand human phenomena as lived and experienced, which Giorgi (1985) pointed out as the major characteristics of a phenomenological psychological method. The major data source for this inner perspective is interviewing. Patton (1990) stated the purpose of interviewing specifically as "to find out what is in and on someone else's mind", and that is exactly what the target of the phenomenological study focuses on, i.e. the perception of lived experience.

There should be two perspectives of phenomenological analysis of the perception of lived experience: from the people who are living through the phenomenon, and from the researcher, whose has great interest in the phenomenon. In order to 'return to the things themselves' (Husserl, 1970), the researcher cannot impose the meanings for the learners, for example, because they are the absolute sources of their own existence living through the learning environment. However, it seems to be impossible to detach personal interpretations from the things that are personally interesting. Thus, the researcher has to be aware of his or her own experience being infused into both his or engagement in the interviews and the analysis of data.

The Procedures of Phenomenological Inquiry (Creswell, 1998)
Creswell (1998) proposed the following process:

  1. The researcher needs to understand the philosophical perspectives behind the approach, especially the concept of studying how people experience a phenomenon
  2. The investigator writes research questions that explore the meaning of that experience for individuals and asks individuals to describe their everyday lived experience.
  3. The investigator collects data from individuals who have experienced the phenomenon under investigation. Typically, this information is collected through long interviews.
  4. The phenomenological data analysis: the protocols are divided into statements or horizonalization, the units are transformed into clusters of meaning, tie the transformation together to make a general description of the experience, including textural description, what is experienced and structural description, i.e how it is experienced.
  5. The phenomenological report ends with the reader underlying better the essential, invariant structure of the experience.

Data Analysis
Creswell (1998) stated that phenomenological data analysis proceeds through the methodology of reduction, the analysis of specific statements and themes, and a search for all possible meanings. The researcher needs to set aside all prejudgments, bracketing his or her experiences.

Moustakas' (1994) ideas in Creswell's Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design are good recommendations for the researcher to keep balanced between subjectivity and objectivity. He said that "establishing the truth of things" begins with the researcher's perception. One must reflect, first, on the meaning of the experience of oneself; then one must turn outward, to those being interviewed, and establish "intersubejctive validity," the testing out of this understanding with other persons through a back-and-forth social interaction. But the investigator need not stop at this point.

The focus of a phenomenological study according to Patton (1990) lies in the "descriptions of what people experience and how it is that they experience." The goal is to identify essence of the shared experience that underlies all the variations in this particular learning experience. Essence is viewed as commonalties in the human experiences. According to Patton (1990), the steps include:

  1. Epoche: a phase in which the researcher eliminate, or clarify about preconception. Researchers need to be aware of "prejudices, viewpoints or assumptions regarding the phenomenon under investigation" (Katz, 1987).
  2. Phenomenological reduction: the researcher brackets out the world and presuppositions to identify the data in pure form, uncontaminated by extraneous intrusions.
  3. Bracketing involves the following steps (Denzin, 1989):
    • Locate within the personal experience or self-story, key phrases and statements that speak directly to the phenomenon in question.
    • Interpret the meanings of these phrases, as an informed reader
    • Obtain the subject's interpretations of these phrases, if possible.
    • Inspect these meanings for what they reveal about the essential recurring features of the phenomenon being studies
    • Offer a tentative statement, or definition, of the phenomenon in terms of the essential recurring features identified.
  4. Textural portrayal of each theme: a description of an experience
  5. Development of structural synthesis: containing the bones of the experience: the true meanings of the experience of deeper meanings for the individual.

The entire analysis process aims to examine the lived experience from the ones who produced the experience rather than imposition of other people's interpretations. It should be the interpretations of the participants in the phenomenon under study that define the commonalties of the lived experience in the phenomenon. It is not the researcher's own thinking of the phenomenon, the other researchers' experience of the phenomenon, or the theoretical descriptions of the phenomenon that are under analysis.

One analysis principle was suggested in the field book (Rossman and Raliis, 1998): "phenomenological analysis requires that the researcher approach the texts with an open mind, seeking what meaning and structures emerge." (p. 184) In their suggestions, they encourage the analysts to choose what they will like to focus on. Is that the way? It seems to contradict the concept of " Epochè" and "bracketing", in which the researcher has to recognize personal bias, and take a fresh look at the stated experience. How does a research resolve the dilemma between" subjectivity" and "objectivity"? Interpretations are always subjective. Phenomenological studies pursue "essences", which could be created in the moments of the analysis (although the creation seems to be grounded in the data, the interpretations of the data can be beyond the data themselves.) Essences are abstract, but the phenomenon is not. What is closer to the truth? Ideas of the objects, or objects themselves?

Heuristic process of phenomenological analysis described by Moustakas inlcudes:

  • Immersion: the researcher is involved in the world of the experience
  • Incubation: a space for awareness, intuitive or tacit insights, and understanding
  • Illumination: active knowing process to expand the understanding of the experience
  • Explication: reflective actions
  • Creative synthesis: bring together to show the patterns and relationships.

Creswell (1998) described the general structure of phenomenological study as follows:

  1. Introduction: problem and questions
  2. Research procedures: phenomenological and philosophical assumptions, data collection, analysis, outcomes
  3. Significant statements
  4. Meanings of statements
  5. Themes of meanings
  6. Exhaustive descriptions of phenomenon


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Fetterman, D. M. (1998). Ethnography: Step by step. 2nd edition. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Giorgi, A. (1985). (Ed). Phenomenology and psychological research. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.

Holstein, J. A., & Gubrium, J. F. (1994). Phenomenology, ethnomethodology, and interpretive practice. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 262-272). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Husserl, E. (1970). Logical investigation. New York: Humanities Press.

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic Inquiry. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E., G. (2000). Paradigmatic controversies, contradictions and emerging confluences. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research (2nd ed., pp. 163-188). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

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Rossman, R. B., & Ralllis, S. F. (1998). Learning in the field: An introduction to qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Stack, C. (1974). All our kin: Strategies for survival in a black community. New York, NY: Haper & Row, Publishers.

Schwandt, T. A. (2000). Three epistemological stances for qualitative inquiry: Interpretivism, hermenutics, and social construction. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln, (Eds). Handbook of qualitative research, p. 189- 213. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Van Manen, J. (1990). Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Albany: State University of New York Press.