Differentiating between descriptive and interpretive phenomenological research approaches

Gerald Amandu Matua*, Dirk Mostert Van Der Wal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Aim: To provide insight into how descriptive and interpretive phenomenological research approaches can guide nurse researchers during the generation and application of knowledge. Background: Phenomenology is a discipline that investigates people's experiences to reveal what lies 'hidden' in them. It has become a major philosophy and research method in the humanities, human sciences and arts. Phenomenology has transitioned from descriptive phenomenology, which emphasises the 'pure' description of people's experiences, to the 'interpretation' of such experiences, as in hermeneutic phenomenology. However, nurse researchers are still challenged by the epistemological and methodological tenets of these two methods. Data sources: The data came from relevant online databases and research books. Review methods: A review of selected peer-reviewed research and discussion papers published between January 1990 and December 2013 was conducted using CINAHL, Science Direct, PubMed and Google Scholar databases. In addition, selected textbooks that addressed phenomenology as a philosophy and as a research methodology were used. Discussion: Evidence from the literature indicates that most studies following the 'descriptive approach' to research are used to illuminate poorly understood aspects of experiences. In contrast, the 'interpretive/ hermeneutic approach' is used to examine contextual features of an experience in relation to other influences such as culture, gender, employment or wellbeing of people or groups experiencing the phenomenon. This allows investigators to arrive at a deeper understanding of the experience, so that caregivers can derive requisite knowledge needed to address such clients' needs. Conclusion: Novice nurse researchers should endeavour to understand phenomenology both as a philosophy and research method. This is vitally important because in-depth understanding of phenomenology ensures that the most appropriate method is chosen to implement a study and to generate knowledge for nursing practice. Implications for research/practice: This paper adds to the current debate on why it is important for nurse researchers to clearly understand phenomenology as a philosophy and research method before embarking on a study. The paper guides novice researchers on key methodological decisions they need to make when using descriptive or interpretive phenomenological research approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-27
Number of pages6
JournalNurse researcher
Volume22
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords

  • Descriptive phenomenology
  • Interpretive phenomenology
  • Novice researchers
  • Nursing research
  • Qualitative research
  • Research methodology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Research and Theory
  • Medicine(all)

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