Research Methods class -- need input

Specialties Research


Okay, I am currently doing another attempt at Research Methods (a 4 year Baccalaureate program class). I have a BAD history with this subject, but I am determined to nail it because I want to get into graduate studies.

Anyway, I am just into my 3rd week of the class and I keep getting hung up on the terminology. I'm talking about the various philosophical elements of qualitative research. I just have no understanding of abstract concepts such as empiricism, epistemology, phenomenology, positivism etc. I read their definitions, but they mean nothing to me. I have no background in philosophy and I have so much trouble wrapping my head around these damn concepts and how they relate to what I am studying. Am I over analysing? Do I need to take a course in philosophy to understand? Let me know.


656 Posts

Philosophy was a requirement for my degree. I took it last semester.

I am still confused.


603 Posts

I didn't like philosophy. It is too wordy even for me. The thoughts are so convoluted that they become tangled and trip over themselves.

Empiricism -- The view that experience, especially of the senses, is the only source of knowledge. (what you have experienced is what you know...if you haven't seen, smelled, tasted, touched or heard it, you don't KNOW it, and if it can't be verified by one of the senses, it is not real knowledge -- this especially applies to emotions/religion -- are they real? They cannot be verified with the senses).

Epistemiology -- philosophy that studies the nature, extent, and validity of knowledge, including foundations and presuppositions

(in other words, what exactly is knowledge? and how do we know that it is knowledge?)

Phenomenology -- reality consists of objects and events as they are perceived or understood in human consciousness and not of anything independent of human consciousness (if a tree falls in the forest and no human heard it, it didn't make a sound and may not even have happened unless someone actually comes across the tree).

Positivism -- sense perceptions are the only admissible basis of human knowledge and precise thought (see phenomenology and think about that tree again...). :D

Consider your philosophy class as stretching your brain in ways nurses usually do not. We nurses tend to think in straight lines, with a goal in mind (solution-oriented thinking). Philosophy is thinking for the joy of thinking, no particular place to go and you get to meander into all sorts of interesting areas...

OK, so I didn't find my philosophy class very joyful although it was an unusual little journey...

llg, PhD, RN

13,469 Posts

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development.

Personally, I love philosophy (even did "philosophical inquiry" as my methodology for my dissertation). The one piece of advice I can give you is this:

Talk to your instructor about your problem and make sure that you understand the way he/she uses those terms. Because philosophical discussions tend to be so abstract, they tend to rely heavily on subtle shades of meanings in the words. Sometimes, 2 philosophers will tend to use the same word but yet want to emphasize different aspects of their meaning. And sometimes, people use words loosely -- not paying as much attention to the subtle shades of meaning as they should.

Because it is so language-dependent, reading philosophy can be very difficult because you have to know exactly how the author meant for the individual terms to be interpreted. It's not uncommon for a serious student of philosophy to have to read addtitional texts to understand the one he/she is trying to interpret.

All that said ... what's most important is for you to understand how your instructor wants those terms interpreted and their implications for the material in your class. So .... go to your instructor, explain that you are struggling with those terms and ask for a little help.



88 Posts

I am like you, typing away at the reasons for my research design - its really frustrating, and difficult to understand..........we are all struggling with it ....millions of nurses

adrienurse, LPN

1,275 Posts

Just wrote my Final Exam. I suck!


859 Posts

RR--in your examples given above, what's the difference between empiricism, phenomenology and positivism? They all seem to mean essentially the same thing. Just curious. :)


2,259 Posts

Specializes in LDRP; Education.


Great questions, and, I should (note - should) be able to answer you having just completed Nursing Philosophy this semester.

Maybe I'm too simple, but the way I understood it was

Empiricism - as in, empirics - how we come to know something. Meaning - if we define nursing knowledge as providing care to the sick, how do we come to know of that knowledge? Empirics is then psychology, social science, biology, pharm, etc etc.

Phenomenology - uhhh...welll...I'll get back to you.

Positivism - this is simply a philosophical school of thought that probably sounds familiar to empirics, but is not a philosophical thought per se, as is Existentialism, Pragmatism, Postmodernism, etc.

Clear as mud?


859 Posts



2,259 Posts

Specializes in LDRP; Education.

Um okay. I re-read my post and it sucked. Especially the last sentence.

Positivism is grouped with Existentialism, Pragmatism, etc. Empirics is not, though they sound similar.

Oh whatever!! When I get home to my philo books I'll let you know! Ack!


581 Posts

LOLLOLOL..........I have nothing of value to add..........I'm just laughing because...........well.........its like the tree..... I'm laughing...well .... you THINK I MIGHT be laughing....because I SAID I'm laughing........but am I REALLY laughing???? Can you HEAR me laughing?


29 Posts

Phenomenology is a philosophical perspective as well as a qualitative research method that focuses on the lived experience. For example, if you wanted to answer the question, "What is nursing" from a phenomenological perspective you would be interested in finding out what the experience is like for the nurse instead of focusing on what nurses actually do in practice. Using this approach might help to define concepts such burnout or job stress. Hope this helps. I think they have a philosophy for dummies book that can be helpful for those who have difficulties understanding the different perspectives.

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