Date of Award

Summer 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Kevin E. DePew

Committee Member

Louise W. Phelps

Committee Member

Julia E. Romberger

Committee Member

Katrina M. Powell


This project examines the experiences of freshman women students as they compose their first papers for first-year college composition. This study uses an interpretative phenomenological method to explore the lived experiences freshmen women undergo before they arrive at college and how those experiences inform these women’s practices in first-year composition. This dissertation has three main goals: to recover and clarify Heidegger’s interpretative phenomenology, to use that clarified method to explore freshman women’s experiences in first-year composition, and to suggest ways in which phenomenology might be used in the daily practices of writing instructors and administrators in higher education.

To address each of these three goals, I first differentiate Heidegger’s interpretative phenomenology from Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology as well as from other phenomenologies. I also put interpretative phenomenology in conversation with both feminist and composition scholars to address some of the criticisms of interpretative phenomenology. The study itself consists of the interactions with seven volunteer participants in first-year composition, as well as my classroom observations and reflection journals. Keeping in line with phenomenological practice during the interviews, I outline a set of questions for the participants, but I allow the participants to lead the conversation, sometimes to places outside of my prepared outline; my classroom observations and reflection journals coincide chronologically with the interviews though they are performed at different times and locations. Then, using five broad research questions as a loose structure, I highlight conversations from the three data sources (interviews, reflection journals, classroom observations) to demonstrate what interpretative phenomenology confirms or reveals about our assumptions of freshmen in first-year composition. Finally, I use both the method as well as the data to describe “phenomenological thinking” and how that practice might be used to teach and assess student writing in higher education.