Phenomenology comes from the academic disciplines of philosophy and psychology, and it is based upon the work of the 20th century philosopher Edmund Husserl, which was then later developed by Heidegger.



In its broadest sense, 'phenomenology' refers to a person's perception of the meaning of an event, as opposed to the event as it exists externally to (outside of) that person.

The focus of phenomenologic inquiry is what people experience in regard to some phenomenon or other and how they interpret those experiences.

A phenomenological research study is a study that attempts to understand people's perceptions, perspectives and understandings of a particular situation (or phenomenon).

In other words, a phenomenological research study tries to answer the question 'What is it like to experience such and such?'.

By looking at multiple perspectives of the same situation, a researcher can start to make some generalisations of what something is like as an experience from the 'insider's' perspective.


What is phenomenology?

The objective of phenomenology is the direct investigation and description of phenomena as consciously experienced, without theories about their causal explanations or their objective reality.

It therefore seeks to understand how people construct meaning.



Main characteristics of phenomenology

There are several main characteristics that help to define what exactly phenomenology is.


A phenomenological study often involves the four steps of:


Small samples (probably no more than 10 participants) are most suitable for this type of research.

Large samples can become unwieldy.

Data collection methods

Very open questions need to be asked.

The data collection tools that are most often used are:


As with all research methodologies, there are inbuilt advantages, and there are inbuilt disadvantages.


The aim of phenomenological research is to aspire to pure self-expression, with non-interference from the researcher.

This means there must be no 'leading questions', as well as the researcher completing the process of bracketing so that they can be aware of their own ideas and prejudices about the phenomenon of interest.

The phenomenologic approach is especially useful when a phenomenon of interest has been poorly defined or conceptualised - or you did not know that it existed!

According to Van Manen (1990), the four aspects of 'lived experience' that are of interest to phenomenologists are:

The topics appropriate to phenomenology are ones that are fundamental to the life experiences of humans, e.g.

Phenomenology can encompass narrative research.

Phenomenology is attractive to qualitative nurse researchers because caring (or  'Sorge') is fundamental to the research approach.

Phenomenology can be a vehicle to illuminate and clarify central and important issues in nursing.

Reference: Van Manen M. (1990) Researching Lived Experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. London, Ontario: Althouse

qualitative research design