In the social science fields of
The term was introduced by the 20th-century
Thick description was first introduced by British philosopher Gilbert Ryle in 1949 in "The Thinking of Thoughts: What is 'Le Penseur' Doing?" and "Thinking and Reflecting". Originally, Ryle introduced two types of descriptions: thin and thick. Thin description included surface-level observations of behavior while thick description added context. To explain this context required grasping individuals' motivations for their behaviors and how these behaviors were understood by other observers of the community as well. This method emerged at a time when the ethnographic school was pushing for an ethnographic approach that paid particular attention to everyday events. The school of ethnography thought seemingly arbitrary events could convey important notions of understanding that could be lost at a first glance. Similarly
Following Ryle's work, American anthropologist
Thick description emphasized a more analytical approach, whereas previously observation alone was the primary approach. To Geertz, analysis separated observation from interpretative methodologies. An analysis is meant to pick out the critical structures and established codes. This analysis begins with distinguishing all individuals present and coming to an integrative synthesis that accounts for the actions produced.
The ability of thick descriptions to showcase the totality of a situation to aid in the overall understanding of findings was called Mélange of descriptors. As Lincoln & Guba (1985) indicate, findings are not the result of thick description; rather they result analyzing the materials, concepts, or persons that are "thickly described".