Chat with us, powered by LiveChat You have been asked to conduct a study of high school teachers to explore their sense of well-being during the transition to a virtual classroom in a global pandemic. You believ - Writeden

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Topic 7 DQ 1

You have been asked to conduct a study of high school teachers to explore their sense of well-being during the transition to a virtual classroom in a global pandemic. You believe a phenomenological inquiry to be a justifiable approach to this topic. What rationale would you give stakeholders for conducting a phenomenological inquiry? Explain. 

Topic 7 DQ 2

You have been asked to conduct a study of high school teachers to explore their sense of well-being during the transition to a virtual classroom in a global pandemic. You believe a phenomenological inquiry to be a justifiable approach to this topic. How would you make sure that your data source(s) are in alignment with your problem, purpose, and research questions? Explain.


Western Journal of Nursing Research 2016, Vol. 38(9) 1185 –1204

© The Author(s) 2016 Reprints and permissions: DOI: 10.1177/0193945916645499

Methodology Paper

Distinguishing Features and Similarities Between Descriptive Phenomenological and Qualitative Description Research

Danny G. Willis1, Susan Sullivan-Bolyai2, Kathleen Knafl3, and Marlene Z. Cohen4

Abstract Scholars who research phenomena of concern to the discipline of nursing are challenged with making wise choices about different qualitative research approaches. Ultimately, they want to choose an approach that is best suited to answer their research questions. Such choices are predicated on having made distinctions between qualitative methodology, methods, and analytic frames. In this article, we distinguish two qualitative research approaches widely used for descriptive studies: descriptive phenomenological and qualitative description. Providing a clear basis that highlights the distinguishing features and similarities between descriptive phenomenological and qualitative description research will help students and researchers make more informed choices in deciding upon the most appropriate methodology in qualitative research. We orient the reader to distinguishing features and similarities associated with each approach and the kinds of research questions descriptive phenomenological and qualitative description research address.

1Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA 2New York University, New York City, USA 3University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA 4University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, USA

Corresponding Author: Danny G. Willis, William F. Connell School of Nursing, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA. Email: [email protected]

645499WJNXXX10.1177/0193945916645499Western Journal of Nursing ResearchWillis et al. research-article2016

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Keywords phenomenology, qualitative methods

Choosing an appropriate qualitative research approach based on the research question is a critical point in launching a qualitative nursing research project. Descriptive phenomenological research and qualitative description offer nurse scientists two descriptive research approaches to describe lived experi- ences and aspects of experiences of health and illness. With a clear research question and specific aims related to an identified topic of interest, problem, or substantive knowledge gap in an area of inquiry, the nurse scientist is able to judge whether descriptive phenomenological or qualitative description approach is the best fit for the proposed study. Although both research approaches are well suited to answer nursing science questions, they are dif- ferent with regard to their underlying philosophical underpinnings, theory, aims, questions posed, design, data collection, and analytic strategies. However, as qualitative research approaches, they do share some similarities that we highlight. Of the many research approaches subsumed within the qualitative tradition under the overarching umbrella term qualitative research (e.g., descriptive phenomenology, hermeneutic phenomenology, qualitative description, ethnography, grounded theory, narrative, etc.), descriptive phe- nomenological research and qualitative description can be difficult to differ- entiate. Yet, these approaches are different.


Students and researchers need to be able to make informed decisions about research design based on a clear understanding of the distinguishing charac- teristics of these approaches. Given the absence of literature comparing these two approaches, the purpose of this article is to differentiate them by high- lighting their distinguishing features while noting their similarities. We have structured the article to address underlying philosophical tenets, sampling, data collection, and data analysis in descriptive phenomenological research and qualitative description. We use examples from our research with the two approaches to illustrate salient points about each.

Undergirding Tenets: Descriptive Phenomenological Research

The philosophies underlying phenomenological research methods were developed in the scholarship of the major philosophers Husserl, Heidegger,

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and Merleau-Ponty (Heidegger, 1927/1962; Husserl, 1913/1962, 1900/1970; Merleau-Ponty, 1945/1962). Phenomenology as a whole is focused on the showing or disclosing of phenomenon in consciousness (Heidegger, 1927/1962; Husserl, 1913/1962, 1900/1970). Husserl focused his work on the world of lived experience, a notion in phenomenological research that has been examined within the nursing science literature (Munhall, 2007; Norlyk & Harder, 2010). Three major types or modalities of phenomenological research have dominated the nursing science literature. First, descriptive phe- nomenology, a focus of this article, based in the philosophy of Husserl (1913/1962), has as its aim the description of the essence or essential struc- ture of an experience focusing on what is essential and meaningful (Cohen & Omery, 1994; Husserl, 1913/1962; Lopez & Willis, 2004). The French phi- losopher Merleau-Ponty (1945/1962) emphasized the human being as a per- ceptual embodied being tied to the world through the body and sensory awareness, expanding a view of the human being as that type of being whose access to the world is through perceiving via the body. Second, interpretive or “Heideggerian hermeneutics,” based in the philosophy of Heidegger (1927/1962), who was concerned with human beings and the integral nature of being and time (temporality), aims to illuminate common meanings and practices of everyday experience (Benner, 1985; Diekelmann, 2001). Third, hermeneutic phenomenology or the Utrecht School stems from phenomeno- logical philosophy and includes aspects of both description and interpretation (Gadamer, 1962/1976; Heidegger, 1927/1962; Husserl, 1913/1962). Hermeneutics explores how people describe and interpret and make meaning of their life in relation to a phenomenon (Gadamer, 1962/1976). Scholars in the hermeneutic tradition approach phenomena with a sense of wonder, seek- ing to discern and interpret layers of possible meanings of texts and how these meanings are revelatory of one’s situated lived experience including a turn toward meaning and its social and historical contexts (Gadamer, 1962/1976; van Manen, 1984, 1990, 1997). The dialectical process of exam- ining data from the perspective of part-whole and whole-part constitutes a hermeneutic circle (Cohen, Kahn, & Steeves, 2000) of dwelling with data through the interpretation process, resulting in a synthesis to capture the meaning of the phenomenon.

The Concept “Phenomenon”: A Starting Point for Descriptive Phenomenological Research

Sokolowski (2000) aptly explained the concept “phenomenon.” He stated, “Things do appear to us; things truly are disclosed, and we, on our part, do display, both to ourselves and to others, the way things are” (p. 12). Thus,

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phenomenon refers to how things (objects) appear in human consciousness. Sokolowski pointed out this concept in contrast to the concept “noumena,” or the things themselves. From this distinction, one can glean that a defining attribute of phenomenological research is found in the philosophical notion of the melding of subject and object. Thus, in the end, descriptive phenome- nology turns to the description of the lifeworld—lived experience where con- sciousness is present. The findings from a descriptive phenomenological inquiry describe the essence of a phenomenon as lived (e.g., the experience of healing, etc.) by a person who has had the experience.

Lifeworld: A Central Organizing Concept Undergirding Phenomenological Perspective

The existential phenomenological concept “lifeworld” helps to disclose “lived experience,” a precise phenomenological term stemming from the philosophy of Husserl (1913/1962). Thus, lived experience is integral to descriptive phe- nomenological research and provides an orientation to aid the researcher in phenomenological reflection on the essence and meanings of lived experi- ence. The concept was proposed as useful for understanding how human beings live their lives by sociologists Schutz and Luckmann (1973). Building on the notion proposed by Husserl, Merleau-Ponty (1945/1962) offered a view of lifeworld as a structure of perceptual experience, or webs of relationships in lived experience composed of the themes of corporeality (embodiment), tem- porality (lived time), and relationality (lived others). Thus, a distinguishing attribute of phenomenological research, and its modality of descriptive phe- nomenology, is the researcher taking the view that the human being is that sort of being who lives through events or life situations that are necessarily shaped and held within one’s consciousness pre-reflectively; that is, the human being is the type of being who is able to reflect on his being. The focus is on experi- ence as lived. The researcher realizes that when human beings’ moments of consciousness are discovered and accessed, lived experience or one’s life- world is brought forward. The descriptive phenomenologist brings forth and bears witness to human being’s account of subjective experience. This view of human beings as the types of beings who are conscious of their being, or self- reflective, has epistemological and methodological ramifications. Namely, a dialogical epistemology and methodology are called upon that draw upon, for example, the individual face-to-face conversational interview as a primary method utilized to uncover lived experience or one’s lifeworld. While other material from the human world such as music, artwork, and so forth may be useful in discerning meaning in a phenomenological inquiry depending on the

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topic, the face-to-face interview provides access to human being’s conscious- ness of lived experience. Questions may be raised about whether every person is able to be self-reflective. Thus, it is important for the descriptive phenome- nologist to consider such a fundamental question from an epistemological standpoint, purposively selecting participants with the cognitive capacity and ability to be self-reflective and express oneself verbally in interviews.

Phenomenological Reduction: A Defining Feature of Descriptive Phenomenology

The phenomenological reduction (Husserl, 1913/1962) is aided by the idea of epoche (suspending beliefs). Bracketing (discussed below) is a method to facilitate the epoche. Stemming from the philosophy of Husserl (1913/1962), epoche has been described as a process used by the researcher to suspend or lay aside what is known to apprehend lived experience with fresh eyes with- out predetermined judgments, biases, and answers setting the condition for attentive listening and openness (Munhall, 2007). Because the descriptive phenomenological researcher comes to any research project with knowledge, life experiences, and a horizon of language and understanding, the researcher needs to lay aside presuppositions, assumptions, and biases about the phe- nomenon under investigation to allow the phenomenon to be disclosed as lived uniquely and subjectively by the other (Colaizzi, 1978).

Bracketing: Interpretations of Bracketing

Bracketing, or holding one’s ideas in abeyance in phenomenological research, emanated from the mathematical notion of [bracketing] in Husserl’s (1913/1962) philosophy and is integral to descriptive phenomenology to describe the essence and meaning of phenomenon. Scholars have interpreted the performance of bracketing in various ways. The basic performance entails the researcher holding in brackets predetermined notions of the phenomenon being studied (Drew, 2004; Gearing, 2004; LaVasseur, 2003). For example, Gearing (2004) provided a useful bracketing typology, including “existential bracketing” (p. 1440), stating, “The foundational focus in existential bracket- ing does not disengage from the world but resolves to hold in abeyance sup- positions and theories to investigate the phenomenon’s lived experience” (pp. 1440-1441). Drew (2004) described bracketing techniques such as the use of a “bracketing facilitator” and a “synthesis of intentionality” (p. 215). Another way to initially approach bracketing is to have another person conduct an audiotaped interview with the researcher before initiating the research, which

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helps to uncover views of the phenomenon held by the researcher before data are collected and analyzed (Cohen, 1995; Cohen et al., 2000).

Illustrating Various Features of a Descriptive Phenomenological Research Project

Various methodologists have developed frameworks for conducting descrip- tive phenomenological research that is beyond the scope of this article. Illustrations from descriptive phenomenological research conducted by the first author guided by one of these methodologists (Giorgi, 1997; Giorgi & Giorgi, 2003) are provided. This approach was chosen as it explicitly called for imaginal variation (to be described later) linking phenomenological find- ings to disciplinary perspectives.

The various process features of descriptive phenomenological research with middle school children who were bullied will help to illuminate defining features of the approach. The purpose of the study was to discover the essence of the phenomenon as subjectively lived. The research question for the study was “What is the lived experience and meaning of being bullied for middle school children?” The research question was best answered using a descrip- tive phenomenological approach. The most appropriate sampling approach was purposive. Purposive sampling helped the researcher to identify and select individuals who had experienced being bullied and who were willing and able to engage in a phenomenological conversational-style interview about the lived experience. During individual face-to-face interviews (audio- taped) conducted with children who had been bullied, the researcher focused on (a) obtaining detailed descriptions of the children’s lived experience, (b) the phenomenological reduction facilitated by bracketing as described above to discover participants’ experiences pure from the researcher’s perspectives, and (c) dialogue/conversation to clarify participants’ statements and meanings (Giorgi, 1997). This focus on obtaining detailed descriptions from the per- spective of participants was central to maintain the phenomenological orienta- tion to lived experience, uncovering what was present to the participant. During the phenomenological interviewing process, participants were asked to describe their experiences. Performing the phenomenological reduction included the researcher bracketing or holding in abeyance theories related to anxiety, literature on fear response, psychosocial developmental frameworks, personal experiences with the phenomenon, and conceptual models that were a part of the researcher’s horizon (Giorgi, 1997; Giorgi & Giorgi, 2003). In the phenomenological mode of interviewing, the researcher reflected back to par- ticipants their experience in their own words, probed for detailed description and clarification when necessary, and verified the participant’s point of view.

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After the interviews were complete and transcribed verbatim, the researcher focused on describing the essence of the lived experience of being bullied as the participants had described it. Reading all of the transcripts to apprehend a holistic sense of the data was important. The phenomenological reduction had already facilitated the resesarcher to allow participants to describe their experiences, as they were present to them. Thus, describing the essence of the lived experience occurred through the identification of mean- ing units within the transcribed data. The researcher reflected on possible meanings of the phenomenon and how the identified meaning units reflected various aspects of the lifeworld of the participants. Giorgi (1997) explained meaning units as a “purely descriptive term that signifies that a certain mean- ing, relevant for the study, and to be clarified further, is contained within the segregated unit” (p. 246).

Using Giorgi’s (1997) approach, describing lived experience included the researcher identifying what was individually meaningful to a participant and essential to all the participants in making sense of the web of relationships among the meanings revealed. The written product of the research provided a phenomenological description of the essence of the lived experience with identified lifeworld themes and subthemes (Giorgi, 1997; Giorgi & Giorgi, 2003). Following suggestions by Giorgi (1997) and Giorgi and Giorgi (2003), imaginal variation was conducted to intuit and situate findings within a disci- plinary perspective (i.e., nursing, psychology, sociology), whereby the find- ings of the descriptive phenomenological research were linked back to the literature and the perspective of the discipline, utilizing extant concepts and theories from the discipline.

Descriptive Phenomenological Data Analysis

According to the descriptive phenomenology of Giorgi and Giorgi (2003), beginning with the first interview question, the entire interview contains data for discriminating meaning units that reflect the lifeworld of participants. Data analysis began with close examination of the interview data. From an epistemological standpoint, analysis was focused on discovering the essence of the lived experience as described by participants. Analysis advanced itera- tively through identification-reflection on meaning units (described earlier) inherent in the transcribed interviews. Keywords, phrases, and continued lines of thought in sentences or paragraphs were identified and coded with a descriptive phrase (Giorgi & Giorgi, 2003). These descriptive phrases reflected lifeworld corporeal, temporal, spatial, and relational pre-reflective themes. Van Manen (1990) recommended that these four lifeworld features be used to guide phenomenological reflection to discern what stands out as

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central to the phenomenon in terms of lived body, lived time, lived space, and lived relations.

The first and fourth authors have conducted both descriptive and herme- neutic research based within the phenomenological tradition. Both have found that descriptive components of phenomenological research are inher- ent within the process known as the “hermeneutic circle” of analysis, whereby the researcher goes back-and-forth between smaller units of inter- view texts and larger units within and across interviews to discern possible meanings of lived experience (Cohen et al., 2000). In addition, writing the phenomenological description in a style and language that calls forth a deeper reflection and understanding of the phenomenon results in a final product that should be recognizable to readers as descriptive phenomeno- logical research. In developing phenomenological descriptions, some researchers may prefer to use qualitative data management software to help index, organize, and sort data; however, the authors have not found this to be absolutely necessary. The signature analytic approach of phenomeno- logical analysis is deep reflection on the data of lived experience to disclose the essence of a phenomenon that does not require qualitative software programs.

Phenomenological Analysis: A Brief Description

Steeped in the phenomenological foundations of research discussed above, the researcher noticed participants spontaneously described a corporeal sense of the body when they discussed their lived experience of being bullied, espe- cially when they referenced how they became aware of their embodied thoughts and range of emotions (Willis & Griffith, 2010). The relational life- world was discovered in their descriptions as being centered on non-violent ways of responding in the face of a bully and ways of being close to or con- nected to others (Willis & Griffith, 2010). Furthermore, the phenomenon revealed itself as participants described specific moments and times of the day when bullying occurred, the school environment and physical spatial lay- out that occasioned bullying, as well as the consequential emotional effects and lingering aftereffects of being bullied (Willis & Griffith, 2010). Participants, unprompted, described the physical environment and the social relational climate in which bullying was a reality. Participants spontaneously communicated descriptions of spaces within the school environment where they had experienced bullying and what occurred in the experience of being bullied as well as how they resisted. For example, a participant quote illus- trates the following point:

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As soon as I go to walk around a corner in the hallway, they’d put their foot out to trip me, so I’d . . . stick my foot out around the corner to make sure no one was . . . out there.

In conducting this descriptive phenomenological research, the researcher was able to utilize the phenomenological reduction described earlier to ascertain what the participants were present to, as reflected in their detailed descriptions.

Undergirding Tenets: Qualitative Description Approach

Qualitative description is a research approach based in the philosophical tenets of naturalistic inquiry (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). This approach was appropriate to the second author’s aims of exploring the complex diabetes management issues related to parents raising young children with chronic conditions. The tenets of qualitative description include recognition of varied shared experiences and the interactive-inseparable nature of human interac- tion (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Various scholars have described aspects of qualitative description including sampling (Miles, Huberman, & Saldana, 2014), data collection (Patton, 2002), and qualitative content and thematic analytic strategies (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Hsieh & Shannon, 2005; Miles et al., 2014). Sandelowski’s (2000) seminal publication described this approach as a distinct, eclectic, and acceptable type of design. In 2010, Sandelowski revisited her earlier position. She indicated that researchers using qualitative description use various sampling, data collection, and data analysis strategies, but the overarching goal, achieved by analyzing the data with qualitative content analysis, is to describe at a surface or manifest level an individual’s experiences in his or her own words (Sandelowski, 2000, 2010). Braun and Clarke (2006) provided an especially insightful, practical discussion of the nature of thematic analysis and strategies for undertaking such an analysis. Surface level thematic analysis still demands interpretation (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Sandelowski, 2010). As an example, descriptive qualitative studies might report as findings a comprehensive thematic sum- mary. Thus, one interprets common themes, moving beyond what individual participants reported, clustering together common ideas from multiple indi- viduals to re-present the data.

Qualitative description research does not require the researcher to become involved in the phenomenological reduction/bracketing and phenomenologi- cal reflection on the lifeworld (Gearing, 2004). However, reflexivity and

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transparency of one’s presuppositions are addressed by having other qualita- tive researchers review the data to ensure the findings are valid and credible.

Illustrating Various Features of a Qualitative Descriptive Research Project

The investigator must generate a rich descriptive database, commonly through qualitative interviewing. Other sources of data are also used, such as participant observation to generate data on activities, behaviors of individu- als, and interactions of dyads, families, groups, and so forth (Sullivan-Bolyai, Knafl, Tamborlane, & Grey, 2004). These additional data sources enrich the completeness of the qualitative description. For instance, in the second author’s research, mother–child interactions were observed during feeding and teaching sessions to explore a dyad’s reciprocity and mothers’ ability to manage the child’s care.

Documents, photos, and journals can be used as additional data sources (Creswell, 2013). For instance, several mothers interviewed about their child being diagnosed with diabetes showed photos taken at the time of the child’s diagnosis. These data underscored the time-focused event. Another parent referred multiple times to the insulin pump, repeatedly touching the pump while discussing the positive change it had made in her own life. Her han- dling of the pump reflected its importance in her life.

Detailed planning is needed for a qualitative descriptive study. A beginning conceptual or theoretical framework is used to guide and focus the initial interview questions (Sullivan-Bolyai, Bova, & Harper, 2005). Depending on the specificity of the framework, it may provide a general direction about the topical areas to be addressed in the interview or it may provide more precise specification about the variables and relationships to be studied. Miles et al. (2014) suggested that in the absence of an appropriate framework, an organiz- ing scheme of concepts developed from the literature can be helpful in guiding data collection and analysis. It is common in qualitative description to conduct either individual interviews to explore experiences, or focus groups when seeking consensus to assist in the development of an educational program or intervention, or to explore beliefs, attitudes, and values. Initial questions may be changed depending on responses and probes based on respondents’ answers to enrich the depth of the description. Interviews are initially framed by open- ended questions that reflect concepts from an organizing framework. Depending on the participant’s responses, questions may be altered, omitted (if they become unimportant to the experience), or new questions may emerge. Observational data are also collected either simultaneously documenting what was done, what was observed including non-verbal responses, and interviewer

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responses to the interview process (Graneheim & Lundman, 2004), or they can be more formalized by using formal interaction instruments.

All data are documented through maintaining an audit trail of decisions that are preserved in memos throughout the course of the study. For example, in-depth interviews are conducted, adding or eliminating questions as experi- ences are shared. At the same time, the researcher begins to look for com- monalities and differences in participants’ experiences within and across the data (Sullivan-Bolyai, Knafl, Deatrick, & Grey, 2003). If interviews are the primary data, analysis begins with the first interview. A detailed summary of the first interview is developed, and this development continues for each sub- sequent interview. Observational data are included in the summaries for data analysis.

For illustrative purposes, the second author highlights additional research conducted with fathers of young children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes to explain the strategies used that informed the subsequent analysis (Sullivan- Bolyai, Rosenberg, & Bayard, 2006). Using the same framework that guided development of an interview guide for mothers of young children with type 1 diabetes, the author began asking fathers similar broad open-ended ques- tions focused on day-to-day management, concerns, fears, and resources. Occasionally, fathers shared information not previously identified as an issue, resource, or problem in the research conducted with mothers. For example, only fathers expressed fear that the child with diabetes would be bullied. When a father in an early interview shared this fear, the researcher asked subsequent fathers if they had experienced similar fears in an effort to see if there were common fears or differences across