Conducting a phenomenological study can seem like an intimidating endeavor, especially if you are new to qualitative research methods.
This guide will help you through each step of the process, from crafting your research questions to analyzing your data, so that you can complete your study as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Tip 1: Choose your research question carefully
Choosing your research question is an important first step. When it comes to qualitative research, you’ll want to be as specific as possible with your question.
At its core, your research question should ask “What is it like?”
This will help you gather rich data about what participants go through and learn about their experiences.
Here are some examples of questions that could lead to great research topics:
- What is it like to have a social anxiety disorder?
- What is it like being on a diet?
- What is it like being in love with someone who has committed suicide?
- How does not having access to mental health care affect patients’ lives and mental health outcomes?
Tip 2: Decide on Your Research Methodology
Once you know what it is like, you need to choose a methodology that will allow you to explore the topic deeply.
If your research question asks What is it like? then a phenomenological approach would be most appropriate because this type of methodology lets people share their own perspectives of something without any preconceived notions or expectations from the researcher.
It’s important when choosing a methodology that there is no bias or expectations because this could lead to systematic errors. There are many different types of qualitative research methods, but they all generally follow these same principles: (1) define the problem clearly; (2) use an appropriate theoretical framework; (3) employ rigorous data collection strategies; and (4) use rigorous analysis strategies.
Tip 3: Make sure you know where to find good interviewees
Findings from qualitative studies depend heavily on the quality of your interviewees.
The best way to find interviewees is by word-of-mouth.
Ask friends, family members, classmates, coworkers—anyone that might have connections with people who might fit your profile—to refer them for interviews.
Word-of-mouth recruitment is a more natural way of recruiting participants than using newspaper ads or cold calling which tend to be impersonal and unreliable ways of getting interviews.
A better option is to contact local organizations that work with the population you are studying. These organizations often have large databases of potential participants they already have relationships with.
Another option is to put up flyers at schools, community centers, and places frequented by your target population. If you don’t get enough responses, try adjusting your flyer’s message and location until you find the right place to advertise.
Be aware that once you’ve started advertising, response rates may start dropping off due to demand exceeding supply.
You’ll also want to make sure your phone number is listed on your flyer so that interested parties can call you directly rather than responding via email.
Tip 4: Create an environment that is conducive to a deep, intimate interview
As a researcher, you will be asking participants very personal and emotional questions.
To avoid seeming insensitive and intruding on the participant’s privacy, it is important to create an environment that makes the participant feel comfortable and respected.
Some researchers like to have a third person present during the interview, called a co-interviewer. This person can take notes and be available to help clarify questions or offer clarification. Other researchers prefer to interview one-on-one with the interviewer sitting on the opposite side of the table with their arms crossed.
Tip 5: Have a list of open-ended questions prepared
You will want to have a list of open-ended questions that you can use throughout the interview. This is because your research question doesn’t always lend itself to straightforward answers.
Open-ended questions are those that require participants to elaborate on their thoughts and feelings rather than give yes or no answers.
They are very important because they give you the chance to hear a range of experiences and opinions.
If you have a group of participants, it is important to ask each individual the same questions because this will give you a sense of how things change from one perspective to another.
When constructing your questions, be sure to be as neutral as possible and avoid leading questions. Leading questions are questions that have a predetermined answer or assume the participant knows about a particular subject.
For example, if I were conducting a study about whether children understand their parents’ expectations when they leave the house in the morning, I would ask the following open-ended question: “What do you think your parents expect of you when they leave?”
Here, the researcher is inviting the interviewee to share their own opinion.
This contrasts with a leading question such as “Do you think your parents expect you to clean your room before they return?”
In the latter case, the researcher is telling the interviewee what their hypothesis is and that they are expecting a certain answer. This can have the effect of influencing their decision to respond in a certain way.
Tip 6: Take your time and be patient
The first interview can be nerve-wracking. It is important to relax and just let the conversation flow naturally.
It is easy to worry that you are asking the wrong questions or forgetting to ask something important, but these worries are usually unfounded.
One thing you can do is have a notepad with you for jotting down questions as they come up. This will allow you to stay on track without having to constantly stop and figure out what you need to say next.
Lastly, keep in mind that interviewing takes time.
There is no rush to cover every single detail all at once. Be patient with yourself and your participant–this process takes some getting used to!6) Will you get support?