Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Describing Experiences

Personal experience is often a good starting point for phenomenological inquiry. To be aware of the structure of one’s own experience of a phenomenon may provide the researcher with clues for orienting to the phenomenon and thus to all the other stages of phenomenological research.


Our personal life experiences are immediately accessible to us in a way that no one else’s are. However, the phenomenologist does not want to trouble the reader with purely private, autobiographical facticities of one’s life. In drawing up personal descriptions of lived experiences, the phenomenologist knows that the patterns of meaning of one’s own experiences are also the possible experiences of others, and therefore may be recognizable by others. To conduct a personal description of a lived experience, I try to describe my experience as much as possible in experiential terms, focusing on a particular situation or event. I try, as Merleau-Ponty says, to give a direct description of my experience as it is, without offering causal explanations or interpretive generalizations of my experience. It is to the extent that my experiences could be our experiences that the phenomenologist wants to be reflectively aware of certain experiential meanings. In actual phenomenological descriptions one often notices that the author uses the “I” form or the “we” form. This is done not only to enhance the evocative value of a truth experience expressed in this way, but also to show that the author recognizes both that one’s own experiences are the possible experiences of others and also that the experiences of others are the possible experiences of oneself.