Gyde Hansen, April 26,
2005 - Copenhagen
Description of an observed phenomenon in empirical
research is a kind of communication process. There is always an object of description
and an activity consisting in describing it for a receiver. What is needed
in order to get closer to objectivity is an unambiguous exchange of
experience. Other researchers need the opportunity to take a stand on the
validity of the described observations and to decide if they want to
replicate the experiment. That is why descriptions in research have to be
reflective, precise, careful, consequent, honest and sincere.
process of description is a sequence of impressive and expressive subprocesses:
observation, perception, identification and classification, as well as
verbalization and reception. An important goal of description in research
is cognitive clarification, which entails finding the most precise
expressions in order to facilitate optimal perception of the phenomenon
under study. In this connection, it is of crucial importance that the
sender's impressions are expressed in a manner such that the receiver
understands exactly what is meant. This means that description processes
are not static, but constantly influenced by pragmatic conditions.
Description processes can consist of two
complementary modes of description: an analytic mode and a synthetic mode.
The analytic mode is a series of discriminating procedures
and choices which aim at isolating the object of description systematically
and at identifying and categorizing the phenomenon, so that there is no
doubt as to the issue under focus. This dividing and categorizing procedure
has its price, however, because the result of the description of an
isolated object may be in contradiction to the way the object is
experienced in its natural surroundings. As soon as we isolate, we risk
losing the object, because it is taken out of its real mental connections.
This explains why it is an advantage to complement the analytic mode with
the synthetic mode of description.
The synthetic mode of description regards the
phenomenon as one among others in larger units and investigates it in
connection to other phenomena or processes from its surroundings.
Through a series of analytic and synthetic processes,
the description becomes clearer and closer to adequately portraying the
phenomenon. It is important to note that the process of description is dynamic and that both modes of
description can be used complementarily through different kinds of
classification and categorizations into new patterns, in an attempt to
constantly improve clarity. As soon as one mode of description proves
insufficient to characterize a phenomenon, the other mode can take over.
Moustgaard, I.K. 1990.
Psychological Observation and Description. Bergen: Sigma.