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DEPARTMENT Research

Understanding
Phenomenological
Approaches to Data Analysis
Lois Phillips-Pula, MS, RN, Julie Strunk, MS, RN, &
Rita H. Pickler, PhD, RN, PNP-BC, FAAN

KEY WORDS Phenomenological methods are often chosen be-


Phenomenology, qualitative research, data analysis, method- cause of a researcherÕs philosophical or methodological
ology congruence with the nuances of the approach. The dif-
fering phenomenological designs and approaches to
data analysis, however,
In pediatric nursing, where care often includes not may perplex readers
only the child but also the family, qualitative research
Phenomenological
and lead to confusion
has enabled nurses to better understand patient- when researchers fail methods are often
family experiences from the perspective of those living to elucidate the ratio- chosen because of
them. One method of qualitative research validated in nale for their choices
current pediatric literature is phenomenology.
a researcherÕs
or the analytic steps
taken. Thus readers philosophical or
should have an under- methodological
standing of various congruence with
Section Editor phenomenological ap-
Rita H. Pickler, PhD, RN, PNP, FAAN proaches. This article the nuances of the
Virginia Commonwealth University will compare four phe- approach.
School of Nursing nomenological ap-
Richmond, Virginia proaches by Moustakas, Colaizzi, Giorgi, and van
Kaam to data analysis commonly found in research re-
Lois Phillips-Pula is PhD Student, School of Nursing, Virginia ports.
Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA.
Julie Strunk is PhD Student, School of Nursing, Virginia
Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. PHENOMENOLOGY AS A RESEARCH METHOD
Rita H. Pickler is Nursing Alumni Endowed Professor, Acting
Phenomenology is rooted in the philosophical traditions
Associate Dean for Research and Scholarship, and Professor, of Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). He is considered the
Department of Family and Community Health Nursing, School of father of modern phenomenology and is one of the
Nursing, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA. most influential philosophers of the 20th century.
Conflicts of interest: None to report. Husserl believed that by achieving a transcendental
Correspondence: Lois Phillips-Pula, MS, RN, 1100 E Leigh St, Box
state, a researcher could move beyond normal bounds
980567, Richmond, VA 23225; e-mail: phillipspull@vcu.edu. and identify both conscious and unconscious a priori
beliefs and biases (Husserl, 1970). The identification
J Pediatr Health Care. (2011) 25, 67-71.
and acknowledgement of these beliefs is referred to as
0891-5245/$36.00 the ‘‘epoche process.’’ Husserl believed that imaginative
Copyright Q 2011 by the National Association of Pediatric variation, the acceptance of descriptions of the experi-
Nurse Practitioners. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights ence exactly as related by study participants, assisted re-
reserved.
searchersÕ efforts to grasp the essence of an experience.
doi:10.1016/j.pedhc.2010.09.004 He also taught that intentionality, that is, the act of being

www.jpedhc.org January/February 2011 67


present in a situation, contains both a noema (percep- 1994). For Moustakas, the phenomenological approach
tion) and a noesis (meaning), and that establishing involves returning to the experience to obtain compre-
inter-subjectivity with participants prepared a researcher hensive descriptions that become the basis for accu-
to step into their experiential shoes (Husserl, 1970; rately portraying the essence of the experience. The
Moustakas, 1994). HusserlÕs focus was on meanings researcher refrains from making suppositions and in-
and identifying the essence or central theme of an stead focuses on the topic freshly and naively with the
experience as a way of furthering knowledge. results providing the basis for further reflection and re-
Three general types of phenomenology have search (Moustakas, 1994). The epoche process is used
emerged: transcendental, existential, and hermeneutic. to identify and acknowledge a priori thoughts on the
Transcendental phenomenology focuses on the essential topic and helps to ensure that the researcherÕs precon-
meanings of the individual experience. For example, ceived biases are not allowed to overshadow the essen-
a qualitative question that could be asked if using tial descriptions. A review of current literature follows,
transcendental phenomenology would be, ‘‘What is the noting design, methods, and findings of previous stud-
essence of the experi- ies. From this review, a plan is developed to find and
ence of being the parent Moustakas contact suitable study participants. In the next step,
of a child who has Au- recommended that known as transcendental phenomenological reduc-
tistic Spectrum Disorder tion, each experience is considered as a distinct unit
(ASD)?’’ On the other phenomenologists particular to a study participant. Overlapping or redun-
hand, existential phe- ask the following dant statements are identified. The product of this re-
nomenology focuses questions: What duction is the formation of textural and structural
on the nature of the re- descriptions. Imaginative variation follows and is con-
ality that holds the con- are the individualsÕ cerned with using the imagination, the senses, and
cept or phenomenon experiences, and in memory to unite what is known with what is being stud-
together. An existential what context did ied. The final step involves constructing meanings and
question would be, essences by differentiating the multiple realities ex-
‘‘How do parents of they experience pressed by study participants and integrating textural
children with ASD un- them? and structural descriptions from the essence of what is
derstand and perceive known individually to the essence of what is known
the nature of their realities?’’ Finally, hermeneutic phe- by all (Moerer-Urdahl & Creswell, 2004). MoustakasÕs
nomenology examines the structure and interpretation method has been found to be systematic, easily used,
of texts and focuses on language and communication and easily understood (Moerer-Urdahl & Creswell,
(Douglas & Moustakas, 1985). A question that could be 2004; Omery, 1983).
asked from a hermeneutic position would be, ‘‘What Paul Colaizzi (1938-) believed that his goal as a phe-
does it mean to interpret experience through creating nomenologist was to accurately describe phenomena
and reading blogs about having a child with ASD?’’ as seen through the eyes of study participants
Regardless of the approach, the first research step is (Colaizzi, 1978). He asserted that all research occurred
to develop a question concerning the phenomenon of through dialogue and that asking the right question
interest. The second step involves identifying a sample was tantamount to eliciting an accurate description of
of appropriate and willing study participants. Data are the experience from study participants. Colaizzi identi-
then generated by observing or interviewing partici- fied seven procedural steps to data analysis. The first
pants or through their written descriptions of the consists of reading and re-reading descriptions of the
phenomenon. Finally, the data are analyzed using data to acquire a general feeling for the experience. In
a process of coding and categorizing, and findings are step two, the researcher extracts the significant state-
presented as a description or interpretation as de- ments pertaining to the phenomenon. The third step
scribed below and outlined in the Table. consists of formulating meanings to make clear that
which is hidden. The themes are clustered and vali-
DATA ANALYSIS APPROACHES dated with the original text to identify experiences com-
Clark Moustakas (1923-), a transcendentalist and fol- mon to all participants. The fourth step involves
lower of Husserl, identified analytic steps that generating overarching themes or meanings. At this
structured and balanced both the objective and subjec- point, steps one through three are repeated for each
tive approaches to knowledge (Moerer-Urdahl & participantÕs data. Contradictory themes are not ig-
Creswell, 2004; Moustakas, 1994; Sela-Smith, 2002). nored but rather are studied for their relevance to the
Moustakas recommended that phenomenologists ask topic (Knaack, 1984). Step five involves integrating
the following questions: What are the individualsÕ the themes into an exhaustive description including
experiences, and in what context did they experience bridging gaps in the data through the use of intuitive un-
them? His approach focuses on the wholeness of the derstanding and coding segments of text according to
experience and its essence, or truth (Moustakas, topic (Wojnar & Swanson, 2007). Step six involves

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TABLE. Comparison of phenomenological methods


Phenomenologist (reference) Philosophy Research method for data analysis
Colaizzi (1978) Follower of Merleau-Ponty: the primacy of perception 1. Read and reread participantÕs descriptions of the phenomenon
 What we see should teach us to comprehend the seen rather than 2. Return to original transcripts and extract significant statements
allowing the seen to determine our seeing 3. Seek meanings of significant statements and cluster themes using
 Perception should be critically interrogated because we have all original text to validate
been taught how to see, hear, and feel 4. Using themes, generate overarching meanings
 Phenomenological reflection aims at a descriptive understanding 5. Code segments according to topic and develop an exhaustive description
of psychological phenomena by reflectively disclosing meaning 6. Construct a statement from the exhaustive description and solicit input
 The phenomenologist is satisfied with his descriptive method which from participants to validate
provides him with identification of psychological phenomena because, 7. If new data are revealed during the validation, incorporate changes
at the core of his approach towards himself, the world and others, and reproduce the statement
he is content to understandingly dwell
Giorgi (1985) Follower of Husserl: phenomenological reduction to make research 1. Read and reread descriptions of experience to get a sense of the whole
findings more precise 2. Divide descriptions into meaning units by identifying significant terms
 During reduction, the researcher brackets personal knowledge about the 3. Describe the meaning of each unit and relate each to the topic of study
phenomenon and accepts precisely what is stated by each participant 4. Synthesize units into a consistent description of the phenomenon
 The use of description allows the researcher to use language to articulate 5. Analyze the transformed units focusing on intentionality of co-researchers
the experience by including explanation, construction and interpretation 6. Develop a description of the common experience
 The search for the essence, according to Husserl, allows the
researcher to present findings to others
 The essence is that which holds the parts or aspects of the
phenomenon together
Moustakas (1994) Follower of Husserl: subjective openness 1. Discover a topic and question rooted in an experience or phenomenon
 Transcendental phenomenology relying on intentionality 2. Conduct a comprehensive review of the professional and research literature
(the internal experience of being conscious of something) 3. Construct a set of criteria to locate appropriate co-researchers
 Noema: ‘‘perceived as such’’ 4. Provide co-researchers with instructions on the nature and purpose
 Noesis: ‘‘the intentional processes’’ of the investigation
 Intuition: the beginning place in deriving knowledge of human 5. Develop a set of questions or topics to guide the interview process
experiences, free of everyday sense impressions and the natural attitude 6. Conduct and report a lengthy person-to-person interview that
 Identified a priori knowledge with the intuition of pure essences focuses on a bracketed topic and question
 Two central questions that Moustakas asks: (1) What are their 7. Organize and analyze the data to facilitate development of
experiences? (2) In what context or situations did they experience it? structural meanings and essences
January/February 2011

van Kaam (1966) Follower of Husserl: actual reality is the reality in which one lives, 1. Explore the experience and identify a research question
moves and ‘‘is’’ 2. Identify component parts of experience and randomly sample various
 Relevant research is that which explores, describes, and empirically participants explanations
tests human behavior while preserving a ‘‘lived’’ relationship with 3. Reduce data, eliminating overlap begin to cluster or classify
it in the reality of life responses according to theme
 The empirical phenomenological approach involves a return to experience 4. Continue process until saturation occurs
in order to obtain descriptions that provide the basis for a reflective 5. Construct an explanation of the experience from the data
structural analysis that can then portray the essences of the experience which answers the research question
 This approach seeks to disclose and elucidate the phenomena of
behavior as it manifests itself in its perceived immediacy
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paring down the exhaustive description into a statement the transformed units into a consistent description of
of the phenomenon, which is then validated by study the phenomenon. This step enables the researcher to
participants in step seven. This final step allows the proceed to step five, a final analysis of the transformed
researcher to incorporate changes based on partici- units that is true to the intentionality of the co-
pantsÕ feedback and to present themes representing researchers. This step culminates in a description of
the universal features of the phenomenon (Colaizzi, the common experience that becomes the essence of
1978; Knaack, 1984; Wojnar & Swanson, 2007). The the phenomenon. GiorgiÕs approach to data analysis in-
outcome of this approach is a description of the volves gathering data over several sessions through
experience, developed through the essential themes lengthy interviews. Because of the length of his inter-
(Colaizzi, 1978). Although ColaizziÕs data analysis view process, the sample is often quite small (Omery,
approach is helpful and informative, it has several 1983; Giorgi, 1997).
limitations, including data analysis based on broad Adrian van Kaam (1920-2007) was a transcendentalist
comparisons of data and a requirement for results to and a follower of Husserl. He believed that actual reality
be validated by study participants (Omery, 1983). was the reality in which individuals live, move, and are
Amadeo Giorgi (1931-) is a humanistic research phi- (van Kaam, 1966). van Kaam believed that relevant
losopher who maintained that research methodology research explored, described, and empirically tested
should be adapted to the phenomenon under study human behavior while preserving a ‘‘lived’’ relation-
(Elkins, 2009). Giorgi asserted that conventional re- ship. In van KaamÕs
search methods were not helpful in the search for empirical phenomeno- van Kaam believed
authenticity and that studies attempting to capture the logical approach, the
human experience should begin with phenomenology, first step involves
that relevant
allowing the phenomena to speak for themselves obtaining comprehen- research explored,
(Moustakas, 1994). Giorgi aligned himself with and sive descriptions from described, and
adopted the French philosopher Merleau-PontyÕs participants that pro-
position concerning phenomenological research, in- vide a basis for reflec-
empirically tested
cluding its descriptive nature; the need to adopt the tive structural analysis human behavior
co-researchersÕ (study participantsÕ) descriptions rather (van Kaam, 1966) and while preserving
than the researcherÕs philosophical stance; the accep- from which the re-
tance of the experience exactly as stated, without inter- search question is eli-
a ‘‘lived’’
pretation; the search for essences, the unchangeable cited (Omery, 1983; relationship.
characteristics of the experience; and the focus on the van Kaam, 1966). The
intentionality of the co-researcher (DeCastro, 2003; next step then uses scientific explanation to
Giorgo, 2006). In this approach, co-researchersÕ de- randomize sample explanations gathered from the
scriptions need to be as precise and comprehensive participants (Omery, 1983; van Kaam, 1966). The data
as possible. Additionally, the use of reduction or brack- are then reduced by removing vague or overlapping
eting provides a way for the researcher to set aside a pri- explanations. At this point, inter-subjective agreement
ori biases, theories, beliefs, thoughts, or judgments. from experts in the field of phenomenology is sought
GiorgiÕs approach to data analysis involves four steps. and themes are classified into categories. Data analysis
Step one, the familiarization step, emphasizes the continues until saturation occurs, that is, no new cate-
necessity of reading the ‘‘protocol,’’ or interview tran- gories of explanation can be identified (Omery, 1983;
script, until the meanings expressed by the co- van Kaam, 1966). The final step consists of describing
researchers become evident. This step helps ensure the experience and answering the research question.
that any a priori thoughts of the researcher do not over- van KaamÕs approach provides both specificity for
ride the co-researcherÕs description (DeCastro, 2003). analyzing verbal descriptions and feasibility for
Step two involves dividing the descriptions into mean- analyzing large amounts of data (Anderson & Eppard,
ing units by identifying the significant terms used by co- 1998). Interestingly, the approach also has a quantita-
researchers. This step enables the researcher to view tive nature in that the data are separated and counted
the data in a more manageable form. Step three calls (Anderson & Eppard, 1998).
for the researcher to describe the meaning of each
unit while protecting the context and to relate those CONCLUSION
meanings to the topic of study. This step introduces Phenomenology is grounded in a variety of philosophic
HusserlÕs concept of imaginative variation, which positions and procedural interpretations. Knowledge
allows the researcher to consider all descriptions of of the data analysis approaches described here will as-
the experience that are germane to the topic and on sist readers of phenomenological research to make
which there is co-researcher agreement. The units sense of what has been accomplished in a research
found to be unrelated to the current topic are discarded project. While researchers should ideally provide
during this step. In step four, the researcher synthesizes a full description of their methods, readers also have

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a responsibility, especially before applying research re- Giorgi, A. (1997). The theory, practice, and evaluation of the phenom-
sults, to understand the methods by which the findings enological method as a qualitative research procedure. Journal
of Phenomenological Psychology, 28(2), 235-260.
were obtained. Giorgi, A. (2006). Concerning variations in the application of the phe-
nomenological method. The Humanistic Psychologist, 34(4),
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