The Phenomenological Method – Very User Friendly

When you start thinking about your dissertation design, one of the first considerations will be the method of data collection. So I advise doctoral students to consider their knowledge of advanced statistics. Only those who are comfortable with statistics should adopt the quantitative method, since the data will be scores/numbers. This data will need to be applied to advanced and somewhat complex statistical concepts in order to answer the research questions and hypotheses. For all others, I always suggest one of the common qualitative methods such as case study, grounded theory, or phenomenology.

I usually recommend phenomenology.

In the words of Clark Moustakas, one of the eminent experts and early originator of it in the United States, “The empirical phenomenological approach involves a return to experience in order to obtain comprehensive descriptions…” (p. 13).

Therefore as people talk about and describe their actual experiences, an understanding of the phenomenon being studied unfolds.

John Creswell claimed that “a phenomenological study describes the meaning for several individuals of their lived experiences of a concept or a phenomenon…. The basic purpose of phenomenology is to reduce individual experiences with a phenomenon to a description of the universal essence” (p. 57-58).

Why is the phenomenological method so appropriate when studying people and their problems?

There are a variety of advantages.

First, phenomenology requires only a few number of participants. Ten is the common and accepted number. Of course more participants are better. Second, the only statistics needed are basic frequencies and percentages. Third, since participants tell the researcher what they perceive and experience, the findings are theoretically unlimited. There are no predetermined tests or forced choice answers. Fourth, depending on the quality of the findings, the phenomenon of study has a good chance of being understood and readers can empathize with it. And fifth, the primary data collection procedure is the interview. This approach brings the researcher face-to-face with the participants and this allows the emotions and affects to easily become apparent.

Therefore, when you are considering your dissertation design, look very closely at phenomenology as your methodology of choice. It is the most fun of all the designs I have experienced with doctoral students.


Creswell, John W. Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA : Sage. (2007)
Moustakas, Clark. Phenomenological Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA : Sage Publications. (1994)

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