You are here

Heuristic Inquiry

Heuristic Inquiry
Researching Human Experience Holistically

May 2018 | 320 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

Focused on exploring human experience from an integrative perspective, Heuristic Inquiry: Researching Human Experience Holistically presents heuristic inquiry as a unique phenomenologically aligned, experiential, and relational approach to qualitative research that is also rigorous and evidence based. The author describes a distinguishing perspective of this research that treats participants not as subjects of research but rather as co-researchers in an exploratory process marked by genuineness and intersubjectivity. Through the use of real-life examples illustrating the various processes of heuristic research, the book offers an understanding of heuristic inquiry that is straightforward and informal yet honors its creative, intuitive, and polydimensional nature.

“A must-read for anyone interested in qualitative research.” 

Graham Bright, York St John University, UK

“This text provides a valuable service to novice and experienced researchers through its straightforward, yet complex and nuanced approach to heuristic inquiry.”

–Joseph McNabb, Northeastern University


Available with Perusall—an eBook that makes it easier to prepare for class
Perusall is an award-winning eBook platform featuring social annotation tools that allow students and instructors to collaboratively mark up and discuss their SAGE textbook. Backed by research and supported by technological innovations developed at Harvard University, this process of learning through collaborative annotation keeps your students engaged and makes teaching easier and more effective. Learn more


About the Author
Chapter 1: What Is Heuristic Inquiry, Anyway?
A Brief Recent History

The Purpose of Heuristic Inquiry

Essential Feature

• Exercise 1.1. Sensing Into and Expressing a Rough Understanding of Heuristic Inquiry

Processes and Phases

Limitations of Heuristic Inquiry

Closing Reflections

Chapter 2: Locating Heuristic Inquiry Within Contemporary Qualitative Research
Relationship to Phenomenology

Bricolaging with Similar Qualitative Approaches

Grounded Theory

Essential and Distinguishing Features

Bricolaging Grounded Theory With Heuristic Inquiry

Narrative Research

Essential and Distinguishing Features

Bricolaging Narrative Research With Heuristic Inquiry

Feminist Research

Essential and Distinguishing Features

Bricolaging Feminist Research With Heuristic Inquiry

Closing Reflections

• Exercise 2.1. Exploring the Labyrinth

Chapter 3: Philosophical and Theoretical Foundations of Heuristic Inquiry
Why Do We Learn About Theory?

Heuristic Inquiry as an Empirical Process

• Exercise 3.1. Exploring the Subjectivity8Objectivity Continuum

Heuristic Inquiry as Qualitative Research

Heuristic Inquiry as Social Constructivism

Ontological Assumptions

Epistemological Assumptions

Axiological Assumptions

Methodological Assumptions

Rhetorical Assumptions

Heuristic Inquiry as “Phenomenologically Aligned”

Philosophers Whose Work Inspired Heuristic Inquiry

Edmund Husserl

Martin Buber

Carl Rogers

Abraham Maslow

Michael Polanyi

Eugene Gendlin

Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Closing Reflections

• Exercise 3.2. Exploring Other Ways of Being and of Knowing

Chapter 4: Heuristic Processes and Phases
The Seven Processes of Heuristic Inquiry

Identifying With the Focus of Inquiry

• Exercise 4.1. An Empty Chair Experiment to Facilitate Identifying With the Focus of Inquiry


Tacit Knowing




The Internal Frame of Reference

• Exercise 4.2. Six-Step Focusing Exercise to Clear an Inner Space

The Six Phases of Heuristic Inquiry

Initial Engagement





Creative Synthesis

The Heuristic Phases in Action

Maintaining a Heuristic Attitude During the Research Journey

• Exercise 4.3. Needs Self-Assessment Exercise

Closing Reflections

Chapter 5: Heuristic Research Design
Becoming Aware of a Topic and Formulating the Research Question(s)

Conducting the Literature Review

Timing Your Literature Review

Reviewing the Literature

Preparing for the Study

Writing a Heuristic-Friendly IRB Proposal

Creating a Set of Guidelines for the Study

Creating Generic Content and Forms

Selecting, Inviting, and Securing Co-Researchers

General Sampling Considerations

Sample Size

Building Rapport and Trust

Closing Reflections

Chapter 6: Heuristic Data Collection, Organization, and Analysis
Data Collection


Preparing for the Interviews

Embodied Relational Interviewing

Disruptions in Flow

Time and Structure Considerations

Where and How

Researcher and Co-Researcher Artifacts

Researcher Journals

Winding Down Data Collection

Data Organization and Management


Creating Verbatim Transcripts

Data Analysis: Theme Illumination and Identification

Following Clear Procedures

Honoring Content and Context

Deciphering Potential Themes

Organizing Themes According to Research Questions

Maintaining Discipline

Data Analysis: Theme Explication

Individual Depictions

Composite Depictions

Exemplary Portraits

Creative Synthesis

Closing Reflections

Chapter 7: Relationality, Reflexivity, and Meaning-Making

Shared Experiential Learning

Connecting, Disconnecting, and Reconnecting

Empathy, Resonance, and Intersubjectivity

Honoring Difference and Conflict

Negotiating Power and Privilege

Advancing Empowerment, Agency, and Social Justice


Approaching Reflexivity Holistically

Evaluating Values, Beliefs, Biases, and Attitudes

• Exercise 7.1. Exploring Our Own and Others’ Values

Locating Oneself Within the Research Process

Demystifying the Role of the Researcher

Using the Journal as a Reflexive Tool


• Exercise 7.2. Exploring a Personal Dilemma Using the Reflexive Journal

Closing Reflections

Chapter 8: Evaluating the Research: A Collaborative Process
A Primer on Heuristic Evaluation

Defining Rigor and Trustworthiness/Goodness

Evaluation Criteria





Evaluation Strategies

Evaluating the Integrity of Your Heuristic Study

Heuristic Evaluation as a Shared Experience

The Importance of Reflexive Leadership in Evaluation

Closing Reflections

Chapter 9: Writing a Living Manuscript: An Embodied Relational Approach
Components of a Heuristic Manuscript




Introduction and Clear Articulation of Topic and Research Questions

Theoretical Framework

Rationale for the Study

Comprehensive but Concise Literature Review



Materials and Procedure

Data Collection and Analysis




Conclusions and Future Directions

Embodied Relational Writing: Balancing Rigor With Intriguing Writing Style

• Exercise 9.1. Experimenting With Embodied Relational Writing

Promoting Social Justice, Action, and Transformation

Writing a Publishable Heuristic Manuscript

Closing Reflections

Chapter 10: Ethics of Heuristic Research
Understanding Ethics

Core Ethical Principles and Codes

Facets of a Heuristic Study That May Prompt Ethical Concerns

Informed Consent

Research Methodology and Design

Relational Boundaries With Co-Researchers


Researcher Competence

Addressing Emergent Ethical Dilemmas

Consulting Discipline-Related Ethical Codes

Using an Ethical Decision-Making Model

Engaging Researcher Reflexivity

• Exercise 10.1. Exploring and Addressing Emergent Ethical Dilemmas in Heuristic Research

The Perils of Researching Sensitive Topics: Maintaining Researcher Well-Being

Closing Reflections

Chapter 11: Universal Applications of Heuristic Inquiry: Bridging Research and Living Experience
Using Heuristic Inquiry Formally in Various Disciplines


Political Science and Government

Health Care

Conflict Transformation

Counseling and Psychotherapy

Engaging Heuristic Inquiry Informally

Closing Reflections

Chapter 12: An Ending8Beginning
Appendix A: Sample Cover/Invitation Letter

Appendix B: Sample Demographic Information Form

Appendix C: Sample Informed Consent Form

Appendix D: Sample Instructions for Interview Meeting

Appendix E: Sample Semi-Structured Interview Protocol

Appendix F: Sample Semi-Structured Interview Protocol With Examples

Appendix G: Preparing for and Recording Interviews (Sample)

Appendix H: Open-Ended Relational Probing and Prompting


Heuristic Inquiry presents a valuable introduction to heuristic inquiry that is at the same time sophisticated and accessible. This is a valuable resource for those seeking to explore lived experience in a rigorous and reflexive way. It addresses a significant gap by presenting a refreshing, easy to follow introduction to this methodological approach, without compromising in rigor and sophistication.”

Gerardo Blanco Ramirez
University of Massachusetts, Boston

“This text creatively integrates research methods, therapeutic processes and the arts all in an insightful exploration of the human condition. It invites readers to reflect, meditate and think deeply about how to internalize the heuristic research process in order to uncover the truth of people's living experiences. Consequently, heuristic research opens our minds to new realms and possibilities for human inquiry.”

Claire Michele Rice
Nova Southeastern University

“This text provides a valuable service to novice and experienced researchers through its straightforward, yet complex and nuanced approach to heuristic inquiry.”

Joseph McNabb
Northeastern University

“This book offers a comprehensive overview of heuristic inquiry and provides an engaging, focused discussion of the methodological issues involved throughout all phases of the research process. Sultan provides an accessible and comprehensive guide for those designing and conducting heuristic inquiries.”

Angela Eckhoff
Old Dominion University

“Nevine Sultan has produced a work of remarkable depth, richness and vitality. Drawing on her own research, Sultan speaks with authenticity, clarity and rigor regarding the challenges and rewards of getting to grips with phenomena through co-creative processes. This text fills the long methodological void that has haunted the field since Moustakas’ Heuristic Research. A must-read for anyone interested in qualitative research.” 

Graham Bright
York St John University, UK

Nevine Sultan

Nevine Sultan is assistant professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. She is also a licensed professional counselor in private practice, specializing in complex trauma, dissociative disorders, and grief. Nevine embraces an embodied phenomenological approach to research, education, and counseling/psychotherapy to enhance awareness and intersubjectivity and to support the integration of living experience and the creation of meaning. She is especially passionate about the relationally shared experience between researcher and co-researchers, instructor and student, and therapist and client... More About Author

Purchasing options

Please select a format:

ISBN: 9781506355481

SAGE Research Methods is a research methods tool created to help researchers, faculty and students with their research projects. SAGE Research Methods links over 175,000 pages of SAGE’s renowned book, journal and reference content with truly advanced search and discovery tools. Researchers can explore methods concepts to help them design research projects, understand particular methods or identify a new method, conduct their research, and write up their findings. Since SAGE Research Methods focuses on methodology rather than disciplines, it can be used across the social sciences, health sciences, and more.