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❶Fieldwork involves more than data gathering. Direct systematic observation of behavior.

What is Observational Research?

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It is also the biggest drain on time and resources, and is often impossible to perform for some fields, because of ethical considerations. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study was a prime example of experimental research that was fixated on results, and failed to take into account moral considerations.

In other fields of study, which do not always have the luxury of definable and quantifiable variables - you need to use different research methods. These should attempt to fit all of the definitions of repeatability or falsifiability , although this is not always feasible. Opinion based research methods generally involve designing an experiment and collecting quantitative data. For this type of research, the measurements are usually arbitrary, following the ordinal or interval type.

Questionnaires are an effective way of quantifying data from a sample group, and testing emotions or preferences. This method is very cheap and easy, where budget is a problem, and gives an element of scale to opinion and emotion. These figures are arbitrary, but at least give a directional method of measuring intensity. By definition, this experiment method must be used where emotions or behaviors are measured, as there is no other way of defining the variables. Whilst not as robust as experimental research , the methods can be replicated and the results falsified.

Observational research is a group of different research methods where researchers try to observe a phenomenon without interfering too much. Observational research methods, such as the case study , are probably the furthest removed from the established scientific method. Observational research tends to use nominal or ordinal scales of measurement. Observational research often has no clearly defined research problem , and questions may arise during the course of the study.

Observation is heavily used in social sciences, behavioral studies and anthropology, as a way of studying a group without affecting their behavior. Click here to return to Common Methods. Decisions regarding how to record observational data depend largely on the focus of the research question and the analytical approach proposed.

If the researcher is trying to understand how people behave together and the people in question can see each other, then the use of video may be recommended. Without this visual information, the researcher may not fully understand what transpires e. Additionally, capturing the details of this behavior in fieldnotes will be difficult.

Audio-recording a telephone counseling session makes sense because the two interactants and the researcher only have access to verbal communication. Audio and video recordings afford the researcher the opportunity to transcribe what occurs in a setting and play it over and over. This can be very useful in the analysis process.

Templates or observational coding sheets should only be developed after observation in the field that is not inhibited by such a template. Cohen D, Crabtree B. Observation of a field setting involves: When might observation be used? Some of these reasons include: There are, however, a few things to keep in mind: Fieldnotes Participant observers may use multiple methods to gather data.

These include choosing a site, gaining permission, selecting key informants, and familiarizing oneself with the setting or culture BERNARD, In this process, one must choose a site that will facilitate easy access to the data. The objective is to collect data that will help answer the research questions.

To assist in gaining permission from the community to conduct the study, the researcher may bring letters of introduction or other information that will ease entry, such as information about one's affiliation, funding sources, and planned length of time in the field.

One may need to meet with the community leaders. For example, when one wishes to conduct research in a school, permission must be granted by the school principal and, possibly, by the district school superintendent. For research conducted in indigenous communities, it may be necessary to gain permission from the tribal leader or council. One should use personal contacts to ease entry; these would include key informants who serve as gatekeepers, but BERNARD cautions against choosing a gatekeeper who represents one side of warring factions, as the researcher may be seen as affiliated with that faction.

He also cautions that, when using highly placed individuals as gatekeepers, the researcher may be expected to serve as a spy. The "professional stranger handlers" are those people who take upon themselves the job of finding out what it is the researcher is after and how it may affect the members of the culture. These key informants must be people who are respected by other cultural members and who are viewed to be neutral, to enable the researcher to meet informants in all of the various factions found in the culture.

The researcher also should become familiar with the setting and social organization of the culture. This may involve mapping out the setting or developing social networks to help the researcher understand the situation. These activities also are useful for enabling the researcher to know what to observe and from whom to gather information.

DeMUNCK and SOBO state that, "only through hanging out do a majority of villagers get an opportunity to watch, meet, and get to know you outside your 'professional' role" p. This process of hanging out involves meeting and conversing with people to develop relationships over an extended period of time.

There is more to participant observation than just hanging out. It sometimes involves the researcher's working with and participating in everyday activities beside participants in their daily lives. It also involves taking field notes of observations and interpretations.

Included in this fieldwork is persistent observation and intermittent questioning to gain clarification of meaning of activities. Rapport is built over time; it involves establishing a trusting relationship with the community, so that the cultural members feel secure in sharing sensitive information with the researcher to the extent that they feel assured that the information gathered and reported will be presented accurately and dependably. Rapport-building involves active listening, showing respect and empathy, being truthful, and showing a commitment to the well-being of the community or individual.

Rapport is also related to the issue of reciprocity, the giving back of something in return for their sharing their lives with the researcher. The researcher has the responsibility for giving something back, whether it is monetary remuneration, gifts or material goods, physical labor, time, or research results. Confidentiality is also a part of the reciprocal trust established with the community under study. They must be assured that they can share personal information without their identity being exposed to others.

BERNARD states that "the most important thing you can do to stop being a freak is to speak the language of the people you're studying—and speak it well" , p. Fluency in the native language helps gain access to sensitive information and increases rapport with participants. Learn about local dialects, he suggests, but refrain from trying to mimic local pronunciations, which may be misinterpreted as ridicule.

Learning to speak the language shows that the researcher has a vested interest in the community, that the interest is not transient, and helps the researcher to understand the nuances of conversation, particularly what constitutes humor.

As mentioned in the discussion of the limitations of observation, BERNARD suggests that gender affects one's ability to access certain information and how one views others. What is appropriate action in some cultures is dependent upon one's gender.

Gender can limit what one can ask, what one can observe, and what one can report. For example, several years after completing my doctoral dissertation with Muscogee Creek women about their perceptions of work, I returned for additional interviews with the women to gather specific information about more intimate aspects of their lives that had been touched on briefly in our previous conversations, but which were not reported.

During these interviews, they shared with me their stories about how they learned about intimacy when they were growing up. Because the conversations dealt with sexual content, which, in their culture, was referred to more delicately as intimacy, I was unable to report my findings, as, to do so, would have been inappropriate.

One does not discuss such topics in mixed company, so my writing about this subject might have endangered my reputation in the community or possibly inhibited my continued relationship with community members.

I was forced to choose between publishing the findings, which would have benefited my academic career, and retaining my reputation within the Creek community. I chose to maintain a relationship with the Creek people, so I did not publish any of the findings from that study. I also was told by the funding source that I should not request additional funds for research, if the results would not be publishable.

Exactly how does one go about conducting observation? The second type, focused observation , emphasizes observation supported by interviews, in which the participants' insights guide the researcher's decisions about what to observe. Other researchers have taken a different approach to explaining how to conduct observations.

The first of these elements includes the physical environment. This involves observing the surroundings of the setting and providing a written description of the context. Next, she describes the participants in detail. Then she records the activities and interactions that occur in the setting.

In her book, MERRIAM adds such elements as observing the conversation in terms of content, who speaks to whom, who listens, silences, the researcher's own behavior and how that role affects those one is observing, and what one says or thinks.

To conduct participant observation, one must live in the context to facilitate prolonged engagement ; prolonged engagement is one of the activities listed by LINCOLN and GUBA to establish trustworthiness.

Living in the culture enables one to learn the language and participate in everyday activities. Through these activities, the researcher has access to community members who can explain the meaning that such activities hold for them as individuals and can use conversations to elicit data in lieu of more formal interviews. When I was preparing to conduct my ethnographic study with the Muscogee Creek women of Oklahoma, my professor, Valerie FENNELL, told me that I should take the attitude of "treat me like a little child who knows nothing," so that my informants would teach me what I needed to know about the culture.

I found this attitude to be very helpful in establishing rapport, in getting the community members to explain things they thought I should know, and in inviting me to observe activities that they felt were important for my understanding of their culture.

DeWALT and DeWALT support the view of the ethnographer as an apprentice, taking the stance of a child in need of teaching about the cultural mores as a means for enculturation. KOTTAK defines enculturation as "the social process by which culture is learned and transmitted across generations" p.

DeWALT and DeWALT extend this list of necessary skills, adding MEAD's suggested activities, which include developing tolerance to poor conditions and unpleasant situations, resisting impulsiveness, particularly interrupting others, and resisting attachment to particular factions or individuals. ANGROSINO and DePEREZ advocate using a structured observation process to maximize the efficiency of the field experience, minimize researcher bias, and facilitate replication or verification by others, all of which make the findings more objective.

This objectivity, they explain, occurs when there is agreement between the researcher and the participants as to what is going on. Sociologists, they note, typically use document analysis to check their results, while anthropologists tend to verify their findings through participant observation.

BERNARD states that most basic anthropological research is conducted over a period of about a year, but recently there have been participant observations that were conducted in a matter of weeks. In these instances, he notes the use of rapid assessment techniques that include. This means going into a field situation armed with a lot of questions that you want to answer and perhaps a checklist of data that you need to collect" p.

BERNARD notes that those anthropologists who are in the field for extended periods of time are better able to obtain information of a sensitive nature, such as information about witchcraft, sexuality, political feuds, etc. By staying involved with the culture over a period of years, data about social changes that occur over time are more readily perceived and understood.

BERNARD and his associates developed an outline of the stages of participant observation fieldwork that includes initial contact; shock; discovering the obvious; the break; focusing; exhaustion, the second break, and frantic activity; and leaving. In ethnographic research, it is common for the researcher to live in the culture under study for extended periods of time and to return home for short breaks, then return to the research setting for more data collection.

Researchers react differently to such shock. Some may sit in their motel room and play cards or read novels to escape. Others may work and rework data endlessly. Sometimes the researcher needs to take a break from the constant observation and note taking to recuperate. When I conducted my dissertation fieldwork, I stayed in a local motel, although I had been invited to stay at the home of some community members.

I chose to remain in the motel, because this enabled me to have the down time in the evenings that I needed to write up field notes and code and analyze data.

Had I stayed with friends, they may have felt that they had to entertain me, and I would have felt obligated to spend my evenings conversing or participating in whatever activities they had planned, when I needed some time to myself to be alone, think, and "veg" out.

The aspects of conducting observations are discussed above, but these are not the only ways to conduct observations. Through freelisting, they build a dictionary of coded responses to explain various categories.

They also suggest the use of pile sorting, which involves the use of cards that participants sort into piles according to similar topics. The process involves making decisions about what topics to include.

A different approach to observation, consensus analysis , is a method DeMUNCK and SOBO describe to design sampling frames for ethnographic research, enabling the researcher to establish the viewpoints of the participants from the inside out.

This involves aspects of ethnographic fieldwork, such as getting to know participants intimately to understand their way of thinking and experiencing the world. It further involves verifying information gathered to determine if the researcher correctly understood the information collected. The question of whether one has understood correctly lends itself to the internal validity question of whether the researcher has correctly understood the participants.

Whether the information can be generalized addresses the external validity in terms of whether the interpretation is transferable from the sample to the population from which it was selected. They suggest using a nested sampling frame to determine differences in knowledge about a topic. To help determine the differences, the researcher should ask the participants if they know people who have a different experience or opinion of the topic.

Seeking out participants with different points of view enables the researcher to fully flesh out understanding of the topic in that culture. They suggest that the researcher should:. Look at the interactions occurring in the setting, including who talks to whom, whose opinions are respected, how decisions are made. Also observe where participants stand or sit, particularly those with power versus those with less power or men versus women.

Counting persons or incidents of observed activity is useful in helping one recollect the situation, especially when viewing complex events or events in which there are many participants. Listen carefully to conversations, trying to remember as many verbatim conversations, nonverbal expressions, and gestures as possible.

To assist in seeing events with "new eyes," turn detailed jottings into extensive field notes, including spatial maps and interaction maps. Look carefully to seek out new insights. Keep a running observation record. He suggests that, to move around gracefully within the culture, one should:.

He further shares some tips for doing better participant observation pp. It may be necessary to refocus one's attention to what is actually going on. This process involves looking for recurring patterns or underlying themes in behavior, action or inaction. Being attentive for any length of time is difficult to do. One tends to do it off and on. One should reflect on the note taking process and subsequent writing-up practices as a critical part of fieldwork, making it part of the daily routine, keeping the entries up to date.

One should also consider beginning to do some writing as fieldwork proceeds. One should take time frequently to draft expanded pieces written using "thick description," as described by GEERTZ , so that such details might later be incorporated into the final write up.

One should take seriously the challenge of participating and focus, when appropriate, on one's role as participant over one's role as observer.

Fieldwork involves more than data gathering. It may also involve informal interviews, conversations, or more structured interviews, such as questionnaires or surveys. It is natural to impose on a situation what is culturally correct, in the absence of real memories, but building memory capacity can be enhanced by practicing reliable observation. If the data one collects is not reliable, the conclusions will not be valid. Sometimes, he points out, one's expertise is what helps to establish rapport.

Having good writing skills, that is, writing concisely and compellingly, is also necessary to good participant observation. Maintaining one's objectivity means realizing and acknowledging one's biases, assumptions, prejudices, opinions, and values.

The process of mapping, as he describes it, involves describing the relationship between the sociocultural behavior one observes and the physical environment. The researcher should draw a physical map of the setting, using as much detail as possible.

This mapping process uses only one of the five senses—vision. If you are intrigued, you will be pleased to know that what you are doing is a subdiscipline of anthropology called cultural ecology" p. It involves looking at the interaction of the participants with the environment. All cultures, no matter how simple or sophisticated, are also rhythms, music, architecture, the dances of living.

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Observation, as the name implies, is a way of collecting data through observing. Observation data collection method is classified as a participatory study, because the researcher has to immerse herself in the setting where her respondents are, while taking notes and/or recording.

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Observational Research. What is Observational Research? Observational research (or field research) is a type of correlational (i.e., non-experimental) research in which a researcher observes ongoing behavior. There are a variety of types of observational research, each of .

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In addition to the above categories observations can also be either overt/disclosed (the participants know they are being studied) or covert/undisclosed (the research keeps their real identity a secret from the research subjects, acting as a genuine member of the group).Author: Saul Mcleod. Observational research is a method of data collection that has become associated with qualitative research. [1] Compared with quantitative research and experimental research, observational research tends to be less reliable but often more valid [ citation needed ].

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In the current research environment, its status seems to have changed, leading Adler and Adler to question whether observation is a research method “in . For a more developed discussion of the distinction between observation and participant observation see Savage () and for a discussion of participant observation as a methodology .