Phenomenology Research Overview

Phenomenology Research Overview

This module provides an introduction to phenomenology research and an overview of its main characteristics and uses.

Learning Objectives

  • Define phenomenology.
  • Describe how phenomenology is used.
  • List the main characteristics of phenomenology research.
  • Give examples of phenomenological research studies.


Begin this module by viewing the following YouTube video that provides a short introduction to phenomenology, types of phenomenology research, methods, and limitations.

Phenomenology has its roots in a 20th century philosophical movement based on the work of the philosopher Edmund Husserl. As research tool, phenomenology is based on the academic disciplines of philosophy and psychology and has become a widely accepted method for describing human experiences. Phenomenology is a qualitative research method that is used to describe how human beings experience a certain phenomenon. A phenomenological study attempts to set aside biases and preconceived assumptions about human experiences, feelings, and responses to a particular situation. It allows the researcher to delve into the perceptions, perspectives, understandings, and feelings of those people who have experienced or lived the phenomenon or situation of interest. Therefore, phenomenology can be defined as the direct investigation and description of phenomena as consciously experienced by people living those experiences. Phenomenological research is typically conducted using in-depth interviews of small samples of participants.  By studying the perspectives of multiple participants, a researcher can begin to make generalizations regarding what it is like to experience a certain phenomenon from the perspective of those that have lived the experience.


Following is a list of the main characteristics of phenomenology research:

  • It seeks to understand how people experience a particular situation or phenomenon.
  • It is conducted primarily through in-depth conversations and interviews; however, some studies may collect data from diaries, drawings, or observation.
  • Small samples sizes, often 10 or less participants, are common in phenomenological studies.
  • Interview questions are open-ended to allow the participants to fully describe the experience from their own viewpoint.
  • Phenomenology is centered on the participants’ experiences with no regard to social or cultural norms, traditions, or preconceived ideas about the experience.
  • It focuses on these four aspects of a lived experience: lived spaced, lived body, lived time, and lived human relations.
  • Data collected is qualitative and analysis includes an attempt to identify themes or make generalizations regarding how a particular phenomenon is actually perceived or experienced.


Researchers conducting phenomenological studies are interested in the life experiences of humans. This type of research can be applied to wide variety of situations and phenomena. Below are just a few examples of topics that would lend themselves to phenomenological study:


  • How do parents of an autistic child cope with the news that their child has autism?
  • What is it like to experience being trapped in a natural disaster, such as a flood or hurricane?
  • How does it feel to live with a life-threatening aneurism?
  • What is it like to be a minority in a predominantly white community?
  • What is like to survive an airplane crash?
  • How do cancer patients cope with a terminal diagnosis?
  • What is it like to be a victim of sexual assault?


The next modules in this series will explore phenomenology research methods, data analysis and the strengths and limitations of this type of research.


Suggested Readings

  • Giorgi, A. (2012). The descriptive phenomenological psychological method. Journal of Phenomenological psychology, 43(1), 3-12.
  • Giorgi, A. (1997). The theory, practice, and evaluation of the phenomenological method as a qualitative research procedure. Journal of phenomenological psychology, 28(2), 235-260.
  • Hycner, R. H. (1985). Some guidelines for the phenomenological analysis of interview data. Human studies, 8(3), 279-303.
  • Measor, L. (1985). "Interviewing: a Strategy in Qualitative Research" in R Burgess (ed) Strategies of Educational Research: Qualitative Methods. Lewes, Falmer Press.
  • Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. London, Sage.
  • Polkinghorne, D. E. (1989). Phenomenological research methods. Existential-phenomenological perspectives in psychology: Exploring the breadth of human experience, 41-60.
  • Starks, H., & Brown Trinidad, S. (2007). Choose your method: A comparison of phenomenology, discourse analysis, and grounded theory. Qualitative health research, 17(10), 1372-1380.


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