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Recording Observations in Field Research


There is a close relation between field research and qualitative research. However, the observations made while conducting field studies may either be presented as quantitative or qualitative data or both. The data recorded by field investigators are highly dependent on whether it is qualitative or quantitative.

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Qualitative observation

This is detailed data recorded in a field study at a particular time. Qualitative observations may also be referred to as field notes. The precision and nature of these notes vary considerably depending on the type of studies conducted. There are six important elements that must be incorporated into field notes (Monette, Sullivan, & Jong, 2010). These include:

  1. Running description: – this is merely recorded information concerning the variables that form the basis of a study. It does not include analyzed information.
  2. Accounts of episodes that came prior: – these are sets of information that might have been forgotten before by the investigators in previous investigations. I remembered while in the field, researchers are compelled to note them down.
  3. Analytical ideas: – these are unprecedented occurrences experienced during a study. They may include speculations and important observations. Investigators have to note them down as a reminder during data analysis.
  4. Personal feelings: – these are investigators’ own sentiments concerning their study. This information has to be noted down as a measure to shun bias-instigated results. The impressions are important because they are presented according to the perspective of researchers.
  5. Notes intended to provide more information: – since the recorded data may not be comprehensive, researchers are normally compelled to write down their own details concerning specific things like forecasted observations or those that need more attention.
  6. Methodological notes: – this is information that concerns the techniques, procedures, and methods applied in the actual data collection and observation. It is important that these procedures are noted down as a way of reminding the researchers on the actual methods and techniques used to obtain specific information.

Researchers have to carry with them note pads whenever they leave for the fields with the aim of obtaining data. It is only through this that the investigators are able to make note of certain observations when they come across them in the fields. That notwithstanding, researchers have to know what to record as data too (Monette, Sullivan, & Jong, 2010).

Quantitative observation

This is always specified and clarified information obtained during field researches. The data in quantitative observation is coded or characterized into a specific number of classes or groups. This is normally done on coding sheets. The coding sheets are merely forms that are used to assist in the categorization and grouping of variables as a way of facilitating analysis. Since the coding sheets are used to categorize variables of a given study as it occurs, different studies are bound to use completely different coding sheets (Monette, Sullivan, & Jong, 2010).

It is important to note that coding groups are derived from hypotheses under investigation. Some hypotheses may have variables that seem quantifiable. However, a substantial level of subjective interpretation is incorporated such observations in a bid to come up with the most viable observations. For instance, however, many hypotheses may seem quantifiable, coders are bound to make rational decisions of whether a given reaction is negative or positive. Additionally, the investigators must verify whether the reactions obtained during a study are a sign of antagonism or solidarity. In conclusion, therefore, quantitative observations are difficult to obtain but give comprehensive scrutiny of a given study (Monette, Sullivan, & Jong, 2010).


Monette, D. R., Sullivan, T.J., & De Jong, C.R. (2010). Applied Social Research: A Tool for the Human Services (8th Edition). Boston, Mass: Thompson Publishing.

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