Phenomenological Design: Definition, Advantages & Limitations

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  • 0:05 Qualitative Research
  • 1:17 Phenomenological Design
  • 2:57 Strengths & Limitations
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Some researchers are interested in how humans experience certain phenomena. In this lesson, we'll look at one way to study the universal experience of phenomena through phenomenological research and its strengths and limitations.

Qualitative Research

Ethan is a psychologist who is interested in studying how families of autistic children cope with the difficult news that their child has autism. Do they feel angry? Scared? Do they turn to family for support or to medical professionals? Do they seek out parents of other autistic children to help them through it?

Obviously, Ethan has a lot of good questions about how parents cope when they find out that their child has autism. In order to answer those questions, he has to decide what research method he's going to use. There are a couple of different research methods. One common type of research is qualitative research, which looks in-depth at non-numerical data.

For example, if Ethan interviews parents of autistic children, he'll have notes and transcripts of his interviews. How does he run statistical analysis on those? The answer is that he can't because it is non-numerical data. He's chosen to do qualitative research. Let's look closer at one type of qualitative research- phenomenological research - and its strengths and limitations.

Phenomenological Design

Ethan knows that he wants to do qualitative research. He thinks that interviewing is the best way to go as far as his research study is concerned. So he decides to interview a bunch of parents of autistic kids. He's interested in how they coped with the news that their child had autism.

Ethan is doing phenomenological research, which involves trying to understand the essence of a phenomenon by examining the views of people who have experienced that phenomenon. Think of the word 'phenomenon' and you'll be able to remember 'phenomenological.' In Ethan's case, the phenomenon that he's interested in studying is that of learning that a child has autism. Of course, the phenomenon could be something else, like living through war or getting on the dean's list. A phenomenon could be almost anything.

Phenomenology is interested in the individual experiences of people. It usually involves long, in-depth interviews with subjects, and sometimes researchers will interview the same subject several times to get a full picture of their experience with the phenomenon. In Ethan's case, he's interviewing the parents to see how they dealt with learning that their child was autistic.

After the interviews are done, a phenomenological researcher like Ethan will look back through them, searching for patterns. Maybe several of the parents talk about how meeting other parents of autistic children helped them cope. That's a pattern, and it can tell Ethan something about how parents deal. Essentially, phenomenological research is looking for the universal nature of an experience.

Strengths and Limitations

There are several strengths of phenomenological research. For one thing, it provides a very rich and detailed description of the human experience. By examining the interviews he held with the parents, Ethan is able to get a very good look at what it's like to deal with the news that your child is autistic. He wouldn't get as detailed a view if he just handed out a quick survey and asked parents to check off what they did to cope.

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