Strengths & Limitations of Phenomenology

Strengths & Limitations of Phenomenology

This module provides a discussion of the strengths and limitations of using phenomenology.

Learning Objectives

  • List and describe the strengths of phenomenology.
  • List and describe the limitations of phenomenology.
  • Discuss ways in which the limitations can be overcome.


As with any research method, phenomenology has strengths and limitations.  Overall, it can provide a rich and detailed view of a human experience.  However, it does depend upon the articulateness of the participant and it requires that the researcher be objective and free of bias when interpreting the data. Following is a more detailed list of specific strengths and limitations of phenomenology.

Strengths of Phenomenology:

  • Seeks to find the universal nature of an experience and can provide a deeper understanding.
  • The themes and meanings of an experience emerge from the data.  The qualitative nature of  phenomenology allows the researcher to notice trends and look at the big picture.  The data is not fit into a statistical test that confines or restricts the interpretation.
  • Helps to understand a lived experience and brings meaning to it.  This may contribute to the development of new theories, changes in policies or changes in responses.
  • Results may help expose misconceptions about an experience.  It may be a means to have the voices of the participants heard which may prompt action or at least challenge pre-conceived notions and complacency.

Limitations of Phenomenology:

  • The research participants must be able to articulate their thoughts and feelings about the experience being studied.  It may be difficult for them to express themselves due to language barriers, age, cognition, embarrassment and other factors.
  • Phenomenology requires researcher interpretation, making phenomenological reduction an important component to reduce biases, assumptions, and pre-conceived ideas about an experience or phenomenon.  Researcher bias is difficult to determine or detect.
  • Results are not statistically reliable, even with a larger sample size.  It does not produce generalizable data.
  • It may be difficult to gain access to participants.
  • Presentation of findings may be difficult.  The subjectivity of the data may lead to difficulty in establishing reliability and validity.
  • Policy makers may give less credibility to phenomenological study.
  • Gathering data and data analysis may be time consuming and laborious.


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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