How to Conduct Observational Research

Observation Research: Definition

  • A combination of a first-person and a second-person account, which takes place in a naturalistic setting, of the actions and behaviours of a specific group of people
  • Most common in communications/cultural studies à is a participant observation (qualitative research)

Observation Research: Uses

  • Examine structure and functions of social formation
  • Learn components and operations from inside (functionalist)
  • Example
    • Actual operations of news rooms, how do they assemble the news? How are they affected by budget cuts?
  • Examine culture of social formation
    • Learn cultural or ideological aspects (aka ethnography) à interpretive
    • Example
      • The culture of news rooms
      • All have same tastes, why are they different?
  • Examine how structures affect outcomes
    • Watch how product is created, from start to finish
  • If using any specific social information as case study of larger social phenomenon
  • Major assumption
    • Social formation is representative of all similar formations
    • Intangible qualities of social formation are representative of all similar formations
    • Knowing something about this social formation tells us something about all similar social formations

Observation Research: Advantages

  • working with specific social formation you wish to study (reliability – primary data)
  • Extraordinarily source of data, more than any other method everything you observe, hear, smell is data (reliability – difficult to fake, highly detailed)

Observation Research: Disadvantages

  • fewer sources / less data collected than surveys (reliability – data may be idiosyncratic to social formation)
  • Best conducted by lead researcher, bring expertise to the field (cost/time – cannot be done quickly)
  • Cannot be used with unwilling/at risk populations (access/ethics – cannot force people to participate

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