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Phenomenological Research

Phenomenology is an approach to qualitative research that focuses on the commonality of a lived experience within a particular group. The fundamental goal of the approach is to arrive at a description of the nature of the particular phenomenon (Creswell, 2013).  Typically, interviews are conducted with a group of individuals who have first-hand knowledge of an event, situation or experience. The interview(s) attempts to answer two broad questions (Moustakas, 1994): What have you experienced in terms of the phenomenon? What contexts or situation have typically influenced your experiences of the phenomenon (Creswell, 2013)?  Other forms of data such as documents, observations and art may also be used. The data is then read and reread and culled for like phrases and themes that are then grouped to form clusters of meaning (Creswell, 2013). Through this process the researcher may construct the universal meaning of the event, situation or experience and arrive at a more profound understanding of the phenomenon.

With roots in philosophy, psychology and education, phenomenology attempts to extract the most pure, untainted data and in some interpretations of the approach, bracketing is used by the researcher to document personal experiences with the subject to help remove him or herself from the process. One method of bracketing is memoing (Maxwell, 2013).

In my study of the factors that drive employees to use compliance hotlines, I used the phenomenological approach and methods glean answers. Of the five approaches described by Creswell, the approach most closely aligned with the study’s objectives. While the question was not ultimately resolved, the richness of the mined data produced further opportunities for inquiry.


Creswell, J.W. (2013). Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among the Five Approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. (pp. 77-83)

Maxwell, J.A. (2013). Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. (pp. 135-136)

What is Disability Theory?

jimmyThe way that we perceive individuals with disabilities has come a long way, according to Mertens (2003). In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), Tiny Tim is understood to be ill. His disability is a medical challenge and the family longs for the funds that they can use to engage doctors or surgeons to help “cure” him.

Today, researchers use a disability interpretive lens to view disabilities as a dimensional difference, not a defect (Cresswell, 2012). Siebers (2008) claims that disability studies can change our basic assumptions about identity, ideology, language, politics, social oppression, and the body.images

Ideas about the capacity, limitations, experiences or needs of disabled people are socially constructed and will continue to change. As researchers, we are ethically bound not to exclude people with disabilities;  insight into their lives benefits us all. Disability studies don’t directly impact my study on volunteers, but it’s clear that this type of exploration and understanding strengthens a society that values human rights.


Cresswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry & research design (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Dickens, C. (1843). A Christmas carol. Retrieved from

Mertens (2003). Mixed methods and the politics of human research: The transformative-emancipatory perspective. In A. Tashakkori & C. Teddlie (Eds.), Handbook of mixed methods in behavioral social research (133-164) Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Siebers, T. (2008). Disability theory. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.



Anonymous Reporting of Fraud, Waste and Abuse by Healthcare Employees: A Phenomenological Study

In this mini-study, I am examining the issue of compliance participation in one healthcare company. Specifically, I want to determine the factors that drive internal employees to anonymously report instances of fraud, waste and abuse. To do this, I have used a phenomenonological approach and have completed interviews with five participants, the total number in the study.

During the interviews, some participants appeared to be more forthcoming than others, but all the meetings were enlightening. Among the more interesting revelations was that while employees who expressed a positive relationship to their work unit and the company stated a willingness to report wrongdoing (even without the protection of anonymity), information from this study indicated those employees with more ambivalence, who had a more negative impression of their departments, greater mistrust of management, low morale and feelings of “not being able to take it anymore” were more likely to actually use the anonymous hotline. This brings up questions of empowerment vs. powerlessness in how the hotline is used. The issue of power in the workplace is a recurring one.

I would like to triangulate this finding it with previous research. Studies that examine the behavior of employees who express low morale and job security will be useful to this end.

Qualitative Research Design: Chapter 2

In this chapter, Maxwell focuses on the importance of having a clear understanding of the goals of your research, as they are an important part of the research design and justification of your research. Maxwell refers to goals in the broadest sense including “motives, desires, and purposes” of your research. He states that goals serve two important purposes: 1) “They help guide your design decision to ensure that your study is worth doing, that you or those you write for, get something of value out of it. Second, they are essential to justifying your study, explaining why your results and conclusions matter” (p. 23).

Maxwell describes three different kinds of goals: personal goals, practical goals, and intellectual goals. He notes that it is neither necessary nor advisable for researchers to separate between “their research and the rest of their lives.” He says this separation results in loss opportunities to gain from one’s ”insights, questions, practical guidance” and motivation to get the research done. (p.24).

Maxwell, however, cautions researchers to be aware of their personal goals and biases and how they may be shaping your research such as the selection of your questions, settings, participants, data collection, and the resulting potential impact on your conclusion (p 26). He recommends, “to think about how best to achieve these and to deal with the possible negative consequences of their influence” (p. 27).

Maxwell explains practical goals are focused on “accomplishing something—meeting some need, changing some situation, or achieving some objective.” He describes intellectual goals as focused on “understanding something.” They help researches help determine why and what is happening, and answer questions that previous research has not satisfactorily addressed (p. 28).

Maxwell further notes, “research questions need to be questions that your study can potentially answer.” He cautions against using questions which use terms such as “can” or “should” since they are open-ended in nature and no amount of “data or analysis can fully address (p. 29). Consequently, Maxwell recommends that researchers ensure that they frame their research questions “in ways that help you achieve your study goals.” For further information on designing your research questions see chapter 4.

Maxwell begins discussion on “goals qualitative research can help you achieve” by distinguishing between qualitative research and quantitative research. The most important difference, he states, is that quantitative research employs “variance theory” that is, seeing “the world in terms of variables” (page 29) while qualitative research uses “process theory” which looks at data from the perspective of people, situations and events, the interactions therein forming the basis of analysis. Which is best to use? It depends on the kinds of questions being addressed and intellectual goals (page 29).

Maxwell contends qualitative research is well suited to accomplishing five goals (page 30):

  1. Understanding the meaning to study participants of events, actions, situations or experiences that affect them. Here, the author notes disagreement among researchers on how study participants interpretation of reality vs. reality is handled (page 30). However, he emphasizes that it is the focus on participant’s interpretation of experiences and how this influences their behavior that is a major distinction from quantitative methods.
  2. Recognizing how the study participant’s behavior or actions was shaped by context or unique circumstances
  3. Discerning how process leads to outcomes, actions and events
  4. Identifying unexpected phenomena and generating new theory
  5. Developing causal explanations

Maxwell notes that recent research indicates field research is superior to solely quantified approaches in developing explanations of how actual events resulted in specific outcomes.

When tackling credible threats to validity in research methods, the author asserts that qualitative research, with its use of inductive, open-ended strategy has three further advantages:

  1. It produces readily understood, plausible results and theories. Here Maxwell claries with an example from Patton (1990, pp. 19-24) (page 31)
  2. Its design is oriented to improving “practices, programs or policies” rather than remaining neutral
  3. Its process is participatory and collaborative

Maxwell ends this section by highlighting the need for ongoing assessment of “personal, practical and intellectual goals” by the researcher. The examples he provides throughout this chapter illustrates how reassessment can benefit him or her. In particular, Maxwell encourages the use of a “the researcher identity memo,” a writing exercise which may help us clarify the personal identity we bring to the mini study.

Maxwell provides several examples to help illustrate the chapter’s main concepts.

In 2.1 (p 25), Using Personal Experience to Choose a Dissertation Topic, researcher Carol Kaffenberger found her doctoral work suspended by a significant family illness: her daughter’s hospitalization and long term treatment for leukemia.

The crisis caused a significant upheaval in the family, yet Carol believed her other teen children to be coping well. She was then surprised by the amount of lingering anger and distress they exhibited and, even though counseling was her area of expertise, she came to understand that her prior assumptions about their needs had been totally incorrect. Motivated by this rift, Carol switched her dissertation topic to study the long term impact and meaning of adolescent cancer for survivors and siblings.

Message: you might be the best person to study a topic that’s significantly impacted your life.

In 2.2 (p 26), The Importance of Personal Values and Identity, researcher Alan Peshkin experiences widely differing emotions about two of his study subjects: devout rural communities. One community he liked and admitted that he felt “protective” toward its members. In the second, he felt “alienated” and “annoyed.”

Alan’s realization of these biases led him to a preemptive self-examination before embarking on new research. He explored his feelings and goals, then created a tool to avoid perceiving his own “untamed sentiments” as data.

Message: Negative as well as positive biases can effect your research if you don’t recognize them.

In 2.3 (p 32), Deciding on a Dissertation Topic, doctoral student Isabel Londono feels a conflict between her personal, professional and academic interests. She weighs many factors before finally deciding to “do my thesis about something that moves me.”

Message: your research should be on learning about the topic itself, not on how you believe you might profit from the study’s outcome.

In 2.4 (p 35), Researcher Identity Memo, Barbara Noel shares the reasons for her interest in bilingual culture, with a deep exploration of her own developmental experience as a bicultural American. She is candid about the emotions that the topic generates (anger, affinity) and cautions herself that “putting myself in their shoes” might mean making incorrect assumptions about her participants’ meanings.

Of note: Barbara re-evaluated her feelings after research had begun and made additional notes to her memo.

Chapter 5: Five Different Qualitative Studies

Chapter five expands on the five different qualitative studies by giving example to each method—narrative, phenomenological, grounded theory, ethnographic, and a case study. We will discuss each study by elaborating on the key highlights of the discussion.

A Narrative Study: “Living in the Space between Participant and Researcher as a Narrative Inquirer: Examining Ethnic Identity of Chinese Canadian Students as Conflicting Studies to Live By” – Appendix B

Elaine Chan, who is an assistant professor of Diversity and Curriculum Studies at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, conducted a two-year long study at a Toronto middle school following the experiences of Ai Mei Zhang, an immigrant student from China in a close-examination setting. Chan used school-based narrative inquiry to research the ways in which expectations of academic performance and social behavior by teachers, peers at school, and parents at home played out in the life of an immigrant student. Ai Mei immigrated ot Canada five years prior to the start of the study and she did not speak a single word of English when she moved. In the discussion of the study in Appendix B, Chan reveals that Ai Mei experienced bullying and pressures from her peers, along with experiencing conflicting sentiments from her family, and acquaintances.

Chan has used narrative inquiry to explore the “interaction of student, teacher, and parent narratives, a story of interwoven lives” (page 304, Appendix B) in a Canadian context where she and her family are first generation immigrants. The researcher has also partaken in the family life of Ai Mei, and particularly notes the influence- for better or worse, Ai Mei’s mother had on her self-esteem and participation in the Toronto cultural platform. Chan states: “The interaction between Ai Mei and her mother highlighted the potential for tensions to develop when expressing differences in perspective about the value of certain kinds of behaviors over others” (Page 314) Ai Mei’s mother has criticized her for being too short, or not for helping her with household chores and Chan argues that this effected her self-esteem and could hinder her immersion into the multicultural English-speaking Toronto cultural landscape during her school-formation years. Chan also researched Ai Mei’s positionality within the classroom as she observed Chan during every homeroom classes for two-years straight. Chan also participated in school field trips, class activities, and other collective experiences that Ai Mei was a part of.

The method and approach of narrative inquiry, as Chan states: “facilitated the identification of the many nuances of living as an immigrant student in a North American school contest, and provided a framework in which to ponder these complexities.” (page 318) The narrative approach, as we see, close-examined a singular experience of one immigrant student, yet offers an indicative example to the experiences of immigrant students anywhere. In the conclusion part of her study (page 322), Chan puts forward that this study can offer tremendous value of insight to educators and policy makers who need to be well-versed and informed about students who come from immigrant backgrounds and to best accommodate their needs to succeed in both academic, and social life.

A Phenomenological Study—Cognitive Representations of Aids (Appendix C)

This study, conducted on a sample of 58 people- of which 41 were men and 17 were women, aimed to unpack the ways in which people who live with AIDS imagine their disease, and how these can be useful in understanding the medication adherence and other health behaviors of the individuals. The researchers E. Anderson and Margaret Spencer, studies 58 individuals and surveyed them to get statements regarding their experiences living with AIDS. Out of 175 statements, they concluded 11 themes, which were evaluated through the phenomenological point of research. In phenomenology, the researchers transcends the precedent knowledge and research in order to understand the phenomenon at a deeper level: they attempt to approach the issues with a sense of “newness” in order to pull out data that is more indicative and significant. (Page 331)

In this study, Anderson and Spencer used the Self-Regulation Model of Illness Representation, meaning that the patients are the “active problem solvers whose behavior is a product of their cognitive and emotional responses to a health threat” (Page 328). After surveying and interviewing the patients about their conception of their condition, they specified the attributes to illness representation under five categories: 1)identity, 2) time line, 3) perceived cause, 4)consequences, 5)controllability. By looking at the attributes, researchers were able to hypothesize how these findings could indicate an adherence to therapeutic regiments, engaging in high-risk sexual and safety behaviors, and an overall enhanced quality of life.

Amongst the participants, some focused on the final outcome of death by AIDS, while others treated AIDS as a chronic illness such as cancer or diabetes. The difference in attitudes and approach indicate a relationship with their condition. Participants who expressed pessimism and hopelessness has a different relationship to coping with their condition than participants who were more optimistic and hopeful of their condition. Examples of such approaches include someone describing their experience as a “skeleton crying” (page 335), or “death, just death” (page 333), while others chose to forget or push aside their condition. Another group of participants were able to recoup with their condition with time, or chose to turn to a higher power. The study concluded that the ways in which a person imagines AIDS might “influence medication adherence, high-risk behavior, and quality of life” (page 344)

Grounded theory approach consists of face to face interviews and uses the Strauss & Corbin approach (117).  This approach consists of “coding, concept development, constant comparisons between data and the emerging concepts, and the formulation of a theoretical model.”  According to the researcher, the grounded theory is the phase in which you develop your theory.  This is where a behavior process is understood and analyzed in order to develop the theoretical model which advances phases (117).

3 Theoretical phases in the behavioral process of integrating activity into a lifestyle:
An initiation phase
A transition phase
Integration phase

Defining features of a grounded theory approach include: understanding a behavior process, and then watching a theory emerge.  This theory helps develop the framework for the study.  The collection of data includes conducting a plethora of face to face interviews.  Data is analyzed using the Strauss and Corbin approach.

Ethnographic study is useful for studying culture sharing groups. This is where you can take data sources, analyze the data and identify themes.  Themes are developed in order to understand how subcultures work. (pg. 118)

For example, in (Haefnler, 2004; see Appendix E), the researcher used the Ethnographic method for researching the lifestyle of the “straight edge movement”.  The researcher’s ethnographic data included interviews with members of the group, researcher participated in movement, gathered music lyrics from popular culture music, and analyzed behaviors and beliefs in order to understand the culture.

Core elements of ethnography include (119): identifying your study (finding your culture sharing group), describing the group in terms of its members and then using this knowledge to create a theme about the behavior of the group.  You will want to find the appropriate theory that applies to your ethnographic study, and figure out the critical approach to take.

During an ethnography study, the researcher must position oneself in the study: observer or participant? This researcher participated in the movement of his study. The researcher also engaged in fieldwork by engaging in in-depth interviews with members of the movement.  Here you also analyze emic & etic data. Emic data is how people “think”, how they perceive and categorize the world, and etic data focuses from the local observations, categories, etc to those of the anthropologist.

In a case study, you analyze data for a specific theme. This data is aggregated into large clusters of ideas, and providing specific details that supports the theme (p.293).  Case studies use one specific case that could be applicable to other similar cases.
The intent of the case study is not to just be completely intrinsic/ it could be used to look at other similar cases involving a similar subculture. (pg. 120)
(ex: a case of gun violence in one school which can be looked at in a larger picture).
A case analysis can be ended by presenting assertions using collected data responses.  Assertions can also be grounded in literature support.  The literature can be “a larger explanation for our descriptive and thematic analyses.” (pg. 121).

Differences Among the Approaches

This section of Chapter 5 helps differentiate the 5 approaches to conducting a qualitative study by highlighting the central purpose of each one.  Table 5.1 (p. 122) illustrates the focus of each approach by breaking them down to their basic principles.  A narrative study will focus on an individual who illustrates a particular experience by gathering data though observations and conversations (See p. 112 for the narrative study on Ai Mei Zhang). Phenomenological studies are rooted in the lived experience, or essence, of the individuals studied through interviews like in Anderson and Spencer’s study on AIDS patients (p. 114).  Grounded Theory involves the creation of a theory through data collected and organized relative to a theoretical model. Ethnographic studies focus on culture-sharing groups and their behaviors, like sXe movement (p. 118). A case study focuses on an issue and the surrounding details that contributed to or led up to the issue.

The main way to effectively understand and employ each of the five approaches is to think about what your study intends to accomplish. The context of your idea for a study would help point you in the right direction as to which approach to take.  Other factors to consider when choosing an approach to your  study are outlined on page 124.   These factors include audience opinion, your qualifications and comfort as a researcher, and scholarly contribution to the specific field you are studying.

The importance of understanding each of these approaches is critical to the work  we’ll be doing because the data collection is different for each approach and the work the researcher does with  the data  varies also. As discussed in class, the approaches are employed as a means to show what exactly we are trying to research.   Fittingly, it is important to find the smaller, more refined research question out of the bigger ideas we initially have.

Dhanya – About Me

research_zoneI am pursuing my Masters in Corporate Communication at Baruch College in New York. I am   interesting in brand strategy and I am currently interning at Weber Shandwick for the summer.

      I love research and I am looking forward to rest of the Qualitative Research summer class!!

Qualitative inquiry cultivates the most useful of all human capacities – the capacity to learn from others. P. Sargent

This course is designed to engage students in the theory and practice of qualitative social research. You will explore various philosophical assumptions and theories of qualitative research. As a group we will learn about qualitative research methods commonly employed in corporate communication research, with special attention paid to question construction, interviewing, focus groups and develop skills in writing up research findings.