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Hermeneutic Phenomenological Interviewing: Going Beyond Semi- Structure

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Hermeneutic Phenomenological Interviewing: Going Beyond Semi- Structured Formats to Help Participants Revisit Experience

Lauterbach, Alexandra A.

The Qualitative Report. Nov, 2018, Vol. 23 Issue 11, p2883, 16 p.

Nova Southeastern University, Inc., 2018.


Phenomenological research traditionally involves multiple focused interviews that rely on the participants' memories and reflections to revisit experiences. There are many other interview formats that have the potential to support participants in this process by instead engaging with the phenomenon as it presents itself to their consciousness. In this paper, I present an example of how multiple interview formats, including think-aloud, stimulated recall, and semi-structured were used in a hermeneutic phenomenology study exploring expert teachers' perceptions of teaching literacy within their content area to secondary students with learning disabilities. I provide example protocols in which I used multiple interview formats (i.e., think-aloud, stimulated recall, and semi-structured) to help participants engage with the phenomenon in ways that did not rely on memory and reflection alone. I describe how the data collected during different interview formats were analyzed using hermeneutic phenomenological methods. Finally, I highlight one participant's findings, discussing how each interview contributed to the findings, and providing illustrative examples of how going beyond semi-structured formats helped this participant revisit experiences in ways that new meaning emerged and enhanced understanding of the phenomena. Keywords: Teachers, Hermeneutic Phenomenology, Interviewing Phenomenological research focuses on the meaning of lived experience, or "the world as we immediately experience it pre- reflectively rather than as we conceptualize, categorize, or reflect on it" (van Manen, […]




Copyright 2018 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved. COPYRIGHT 2018 Nova Southeastern University, Inc.


Gale Academic OneFile


Topic 6 DQ 1

Six months ago, large amounts of funds were allocated to temporary shelters for people who are homeless in your county. However, a recent county data report indicated that people who are homeless are still sleeping in their cars or in parks. You are the lead researcher in the county’s office and are aware that the question calls for qualitative research methodology. You are tasked with exploring and understanding the lived experiences of people who are homeless to develop more effective public policies. What are the most suitable sources of data to understand the lived experiences and needs of this population? Explain. How might you ensure richness of data? Explain.

Topic 6 DQ 2

Six months ago, large amounts of funds were allocated to temporary shelters for people who are homeless in your county. However, a recent county data report indicated that people who are homeless are still sleeping in their cars or in parks. You are the lead researcher in the county’s office and are aware that the question calls for qualitative research methodology. You are tasked with exploring and understanding the lived experiences of people who are homeless to develop more effective public policies. How do you as a researcher makes sense of the data from the perspective of the individual study participants? Explain. What data analysis methods are most suitable for this sense-making task? Why?






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Language and meaning: Data collection in qualitative research.

Polkinghorne, Donald E.. Department of Counseling Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, US, [email protected]

Polkinghorne, Donald E., Department of Counseling Psychology, University of Southern California, 2998 South Hoover Street, Los Angeles, CA, US, 90007, [email protected]

Journal of Counseling Psychology, Vol 52(2), Apr, 2005. Special Issue: Knowledge in Context: Qualitative Methods in Counseling Psychology Research. pp. 137-145.

J Couns Psychol


US : American Psychological Association

US : Wm. C. Brown Co.

0022-0167 (Print) 1939-2168 (Electronic)



qualitative research, language, meaning, data collection

Qualitative research is inquiry aimed at describing and clarifying human experience as it appears in people's lives. Researchers using qualitative methods gather data that serve as evidence for their distilled descriptions. Qualitative data are gathered primarily in the form of spoken or written language rather than in the form of numbers. Possible data sources are interviews with participants, observations, documents, and artifacts. The data are usually transformed into written text for analytic use. Selection of interview participants requires purposive and iterative strategies. Production of interview data requires awareness of the complexity of self-reports and the relation between experience and languaged expression. To generate interview data of sufficient breadth and depth requires practiced skill and time. Production of useful data from other sources is addressed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)

Journal Article

*Data Collection; *Empirical Methods; *Language; *Meaning; *Qualitative Methods

Research Methods & Experimental Design (2260)


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Accepted: Oct 15, 2004; Revised: Oct 13, 2004; First Submitted: Aug 18, 2004



American Psychological Association. 2005



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Language and Meaning: Data Collection in Qualitative Research

By: Donald E. Polkinghorne Department of Counseling Psychology, University of Southern California; Acknowledgement:

Qualitative research is an umbrella term under which a variety of research methods that use languaged data are clustered. Current textbooks and handbooks (e.g., Denzin & Lincoln, 1998; Merriam, 2002; Seale, Gobo, Gubrium, & Silverman, 2004; Smith, 2003; Weinberg, 2001) typically describe a variety of research methods that make use of languaged data. Creswell (1998) proposed that the multiple approaches could be organized under five different traditions: biography, phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and case study. The diverse qualitative approaches ask to answer different kinds of research questions and make use of different analytic tools. The kind of languaged data they collect and the manner in which it is collected varies according to their disciplines and positions regarding the philosophy of science.

The reemergence of social science research methods based on qualitative data can be identified with the publication of The Discovery of Grounded Theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Although sociological studies that used the symbolic interaction approach (Meltzer, Petras, & Reynolds, 1975) and anthropological studies based on field studies appeared in the early decades of the 20th century, by the middle of the century, mainstream social sciences reverted to the almost exclusive use of statistically based research. In the 40 years since their reemergence, qualitative methods have had a significant impact in the disciplines of sociology, education, and nursing. This impact is just beginning in psychology.

During the last 40 years, there has been considerable expansion in the variety of qualitative methods. The youthfulness of the resurgence permitted creativity and experimentation by qualitative researchers. However, as their use has become more acceptable in the social sciences, a consolidation, rule setting, and “the right way to do it” seems to be underway through the process of “textbookification.” Also during these 40 years of expansion, the philosophy of social science has undergone major developments.

Many qualitative researchers have been influenced by such developments and have adopted their methods to reflect these changes. Denzin and Lincoln (2000) have held that different qualitative methods reflect the stage of development in the philosophy of social science in which the method was developed. They noted that there

were five stages in which methods were developed: the traditional period (1900s–1940s), the modernist phase (1950s–1970s), the period of blurred genres (1970–mid-1980s), the time of the crisis of representation (mid- 1980s–mid-1990s), and the postmodern and postexperimental stages (mid-1990s–present). As qualitative research moved through each phase, new methods were developed; however, methods developed in earlier periods were not discarded. Thus, the current repertoire of qualitative methods is a matrix of methods developed in different disciplines, different traditions, and on the basis of different ideas of science. In this article, I do not try to accommodate all the diverse and important differences within the full range of approaches included under the umbrella of qualitative methods. I limit myself to a generic discussion of the most used approach to qualitative data gathering—participant interviews. The use of other sources of qualitative data (e.g., observational and visual data, documents, and artifacts) is addressed by various other articles in this special issue. However, I do briefly consider observational data and documentary evidence as they relate to the production of participant interview data.

The use of languaged data is not new to psychology. In the early decades of psychology, James's (1902) study of religious experience used documents, Brentano's (1874/1995) studies of consciousness were based on languaged reflections of experience, and Wundt's (1874/1904) experiments on correlations between changes in stimuli and changes in experience relied on languaged reports from participants. Early psychology was focused on the study of people's experiences. With the advent of behaviorism, inquiry shifted to the study of observable behavior. Experience was held to be unavailable to public observation, and, thus, it was something that could not be studied by what were then considered acceptable methods. According to behaviorism, because experience occurred within the “black box” of a participant's awareness, it could not be subject to investigation.

Beginning in the 1960s, coincident with the reemergence of the use of qualitative methods in other social sciences, psychology moved to reopen investigations of the black box of people's awareness (see Gardner, 1985). Under the label of cognitive psychology, the discipline has turned its attention back to the subjective dimension of the human being. Much of this attention has been focused on the neurological or computer-like substructure of this dimension rather than on its contents. Qualitative methods, with their use of languaged data, are particularly helpful for counseling psychology research, which inquires about the experiential life of the people it serves.

The Study of Experience

The area to be studied should determine the inquiry methods. The experiential life of people is the area qualitative methods are designed to study. “Qualitative inquiry deals with human lived experience. It is the life- world as it is lived, felt, undergone, made sense of, and accomplished by human beings that is the object of study” (Schwandt, 2001, p. 84). A primary purpose of qualitative research is to describe and clarify experience as it is lived and constituted in awareness. Human experience is a difficult area to study. It is multilayered and complex; it is an ongoing flow (see James's, 1890, “stream” of experiences [p. 229]) that cannot be halted for the benefit of researchers. Unlike the objects of nature, the layers of experience are not rigidly ordered, nor are its moving contents related according to mathematical patterns. Methods designed to study physical objects are not a good fit for the study of experience. Qualitative methods are specifically constructed to take account of the particular characteristics of human experience and to facilitate the investigation of experience.

Experience has a vertical depth, and methods of data gathering, such as short-answer questionnaires with Likert scales that only gather surface information, are inadequate to capture the richness and fullness of an experience. People have access to much of their own experiences, but their experiences are not directly available to public view. Thus, the data gathered for study of experience need to consist of first-person or self- reports of participants' own experiences.

Qualitative Data

The data required to study experience require that they are derived from an intensive exploration with a participant. Such an exploration results in languaged data. The languaged data are not simply single words but interrelated words combined into sentences and sentences combined into discourses. The interconnections and complex relations of which discourse data are composed make it difficult to transform them into numbers for analysis. Producing findings from these data require analytic tools specifically designed to work with languaged data.

The form of qualitative data as discourse has significant differences from the form of quantitative data as numbers. Current qualitative research was developed in a context in which mainstream social science research valued and used statistical designs. Statistical designs have given specific, technical meanings to the terms it uses to describe its processes (e.g., significance, validity, sampling). Because the use of these terms has connotations drawn from their specialized use, their adoption to describe similar but different qualitative processes can lead to misunderstandings.

Data is one of these terms. In the context of quantitative research, the meaning of data is linked to the “sense data” of observations. “In contemporary usage, data has come to mean an array of information, as in data set or data bank” (McLeod, 2001, p. 137). It connotes “bits” of information. In addition, in the quantitative context, data implies that its information is a direct reflection of the thing it is about and is independent of those who gathered it. However, qualitative data, whether in oral or in written discourse, are not identical to the experience they are describing. Also, qualitative data in their oral form are a product of the interaction between participant and researcher. Some qualitative researchers (e.g., McLeod, 2001; Van Manen, 1990) have suggested the use of alternative terms such as accounts. Nevertheless, it has become customary to use the term data to describe the accounts gathered by qualitative researchers. I use the term data in this article, with the understanding that it does not have the same connotation here as it does in quantitative research.

Data as Evidence

The purpose of data gathering in qualitative research is to provide evidence for the experience it is investigating. The evidence is in the form of accounts people have given of the experience. The researcher analyzes the evidence to produce a core description of the experience. The data serve as the ground on which the findings are based. In constructing the research report, the researcher draws excerpts from the data to illustrate the findings and to show the reader how the findings were derived from the evidential data.

Most often the evidence takes the form of written texts. Written evidence is gathered from documents, and data originally generated in oral form (e.g., through interviews) are transformed into written texts through transcription. However, the evidence itself is not the marks on the paper but the meanings represented in these texts. It is not the printed words themselves that can be analyzed by counting how many times a particular

word appears in the text. Rather, the evidence is the ideas and thoughts that have been expressed by the participants. In this sense, the textual evidence is indirect evidence.

Limitations of Self-Reports as Evidence

Evidence about human experience has inherent limitations compared with data about human behavior. Because experience is not directly observable, data about it depend on the participants' ability to reflectively discern aspects of their own experience and to effectively communicate what they discern through the symbols of language. These limitations on evidence of experience hold for both qualitative and quantitative methods of inquiry. Quantitative data about experience are often produced by self-reports of participants to a series of questions that make up a psychological instrument. In addition to the issues about participants' partial access to their own thoughts and the numeric or languaged translation of these thoughts to an instrument's questions, there is the additional concern about the construct validity of a quantitative instrument. That is, does the instrument's series of questions actually capture the fullness of and variations within the experience? Although these limitations also hold for qualitative evidence production, they are recognized, and methods of data collection are used to lessen their effect.

Evidence in the form of reports from participants' self-reflection has a long history in psychology. In the first decades of academic psychology (1880–1890s), terms such as introspection, self-observation, and inner perception were used to denote this type of data (Danziger, 1980). The behaviorist revolt rejected any form of “introspectionism” as lacking the objectivity of publicly observable events. Despite the current use of self-report data in psychological statistically based studies, there is still antipathy toward these data. In clinical and counseling psychology, client self-reports have been, since Freud, the primary manner for gaining an understanding of human experience. Data in the form of client self-reflection reports remain the basic source for diagnostic and treatment decisions in psychotherapeutic work.

Although self-report evidence is necessary and valuable for inquiry about human experience, it is not to be misconstrued as mirrored reflections of experience. People do not have complete access to their experiences. The capacity to be aware of or to recollect one's experiences is intrinsically limited. People do not have a clear window into their inner life.

Any gaze is always filtered through the lens of language, gender, social class, race, and ethnicity…. Subjects or individuals are seldom able to give full explanations of their actions or intentions; all they can offer are accounts, or stories, about what they did and why. (Denzin & Lincoln, 1998, p. 12) In addition, reflection on an experience serves to change the experience. For example, reflection by a person who is in a state of anxiety serves somewhat to distance and lessen the anxious feeling.

Self-Report Data and Language

Although people's experiences are not perfectly transparent to them, they do have at least partial access to them. However, the translation of a reflective awareness of an experience into a languaged expression might further distance the evidence of an experience from the experience itself. The kind of interaction that holds between experience and its description in language remains a contested philosophical issue (Devitt & Sterelny, 1987). Positions on this issue lie along a continuum from Husserl's phenomenological idea that experiences precede language to Derrida's postmodern notion that experience itself is a construction of the language one speaks. Gendlin (1962) understood that experience is more complex than language and that it informs and

corrects the words people use to express it. He cited as an example a writer's struggle to find the right word to accurately express a feeling or thought. Arnheim (1969) recognized that recollections and thinking often occur in visual images and that language is often an inadequate presentation of a visual experience. Wierzbicka (1999), however, in her cross-cultural study of words used to express emotional feelings, held that “the way people interpret their own emotions depends, to some extent at least, on the lexical grid provided by their native language” (p. 26). Ricoeur (1977, 1984) presented a middle position in which he holds that experience is more complex and nuanced than can be expressed in literal language. To capture the richness of experience in language often requires the use of figurative expressions such as metaphors and narratives. These expressions expand the meanings contained in literal language to those that more closely indicate experienced meanings. Ricoeur maintained that languaged expressions themselves add to experience and serve to congeal and give differentiation to experiences.

Despite the problems involved in transforming human life experiences into language, language is our primary access to people's experiences. Brain scans can only indicate neurological activity, not the experienced content of that activity. However, the production of these data requires an awareness of the issues involved in languaged expressions of experience. Thus, researchers need to be sensitive to the significance of participants' use of metaphors and stories in their expressions. They should be attentive to the possibility that the meaning of expressions given by participants whose first language differs from that of the researchers may need to be clarified. Researchers are required to understand that translations of gathered data from one language to another may distort meaning. They are also obliged to be aware that participants vary in their facility to explore experience and to express the exploration in language. In addition, it is necessary that qualitative data collectors are aware that information and nuance is lost when oral data are transcribed into written text.

Selection of Participants

Because the focus of qualitative research differs from the focus of statistical research, it requires a set of principles for the selection of data sources. The focus of statistical research is to make claims about a population on the basis of the study of a sample of that population. Thus, it requires a random or representative selection of data sources from a population. The focus of qualitative inquiries is on describing, understanding, and clarifying a human experience. It requires collecting a series of intense, full, and saturated descriptions of the experience under investigation.

Although the term sampling is generally used in qualitative research to refer to the selection of participants and documents, the term must be used with care. It is another term, like data, that has been adopted from quantitative practices but whose meaning has been altered. Sampling carries the connotation that those chosen are a sample of a population and the purpose of their selection is to enable findings to be applied to a population. Sampling implies that the people selected are representative of a population. I think that the term selection more closely describes the method for choosing qualitative data.

van Kaam (1969) produced an early qualitative study on a topic of relevance for counseling psychology, the experience of being understood. In his write-up, he describes the purpose of qualitative research:

To determine what kind of experience is called ‘feeling understood’ and how it is experienced is precisely the problem of our research…. Therefore, … we must start from the various data of experience in order to formulate a valid description. (p. 314)

Participants and documents for a qualitative study are not selected because they fulfill the representative requirements of statistical inference but because they can provide substantial contributions to filling out the structure and character of the experience under investigation.

The unit of analysis in qualitative research is experience, not individuals or groups. Qualitative studies vary in the kinds of experience they investigate; yet, their interest is about the experience itself not about its distribution in a population. Some studies focus on displaying the constituent and relational aspects that make up an experience, and other studies focus on exhibiting an experiential process. An example of a study of an experiential structure is the Giorgi and Giorgi (2003) phenomenological study of the experience of learning. An example of an inquiry into an experiential process is Brott and Myers's (1999) grounded theory study of the experience of the development of counselor identity. Findings from these qualitative studies provide an enriched understanding of an experience itself rather than how different individuals or groups vary in their learning or how counselors vary in the number of years it takes to experience the achievement of professional identity. In both cases, the selection process involved a purposive selection of participants and documents that could serve as providers of significant accounts of the experience under investigation.

Selection of sources of qualitative data is analogous to the selection of sentences in a study of grammar. If the question is about the essential aspects or properties of a sentence, then one initially selects a variety of sentences. The first group of sentences is analyzed and found to consist of two different types—declarative and interrogative sentences. The search is continued not to find more of the types one has already gathered but for those that display other types of organization, such as imperative and exclamatory sentences. From these data examples, further analysis is carried out, leading to a finding that the essential aspect of a sentence is a subject-verb relation. Other aspects, such as phrases and connectives, can be attached to the subject- verb relation. In addition, the researcher notices that the order in which words are placed alters the sentence's meaning—for example, “dog bites man” versus “man bites dog.”

Determining the essential aspects of sentences involves the selection of notable exemplars. Selection of exemplars differs from random selection in that exemplars are chosen for what they promise to contribute to the clarification of the topic being examined. If the question had been what the ratio of declarative sentences to interrogative sentences is in a particular book, then a different approach would be necessary. In this case, a statistical approach would be used to collect a representative sample from the book's text. Qualitative findings are not directed to determining the most likely or mean experience within a group but to describing the aspects that make up an experience.

Purposive Selection

Because the goal of qualitative research is enriching the understanding of an experience, it needs to select fertile exemplars of the experience for study. Such selections are purposeful and sought out; the selection should not be random or left to chance. The concern is not how much data were gathered or from how many sources but whether the data that were collected are sufficiently rich to bring refinement and clarity to understanding an experience.

The purposive selection of data sources involves choosing people or documents from which the researcher can substantially learn about the experience. Patton (1990) has said that it is important to select “information- rich cases for study in depth. Information-rich cases are those from which one can learn a great deal about

issues of central importance to the purpose of the research, thus the term purposive sampling” (p. 169). Merriam (2002) gives the following advice to qualitative researchers:

To begin with, since you are not interested in ‘how much’ or ‘how often,’ random sampling makes little sense. Instead, since qualitative inquiry seeks to understand the meaning of a phenomenon from the perspectives of the participants, it is important to select a sample from which most can be learned. This is called a purposive or purposeful sample. (p. 12) Individuals who can provide relevant descriptions of an experience are primarily those who have had or are having the experience. For example, a study of the experience of being depressed would include participants who have

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