Social science is usually concerned with studying the patterns of human behavior, analyzing the findings of these studies, reporting and explaining such analyses, and sometimes applying the results of the analysis in concrete situations. There are many avenues by which to approach these tasks. Those used in a particular instance may stem from conditions within the research area, the specific objectives for which the research is being done, or the personal preferences of the investigator. Whatever the reasons behind these choices, they usually present a kind of research "profile" which helps identify what is being done, as well as reveal something about the orientation and background of those who are professionally involved.
Much material is being published concerning problems of methodology in the social sciences. Relatively little of it is directed at the field situation, the actual point of contact of the research worker (hereafter abbreviated to the improbable word, "researcher") and the subject society he is studying. Where there has been treatment, it has usually been as an adjunct to the use of some specific approach, such as survey research or public opinion polling.
Field work, as it is here defined, does not include the methodological areas of statistics, sample design, or the processing of data, but rather concerns the kinds of activities undertaken by the field worker when he deals with the people who are the subject of his study. In addition to this, the focus of interest is not on the employed interviewer who is trained as a nonprofessional, but the researcher himself and the activities in which he becomes involved.
Field work has traditionally been the special interest of anthropologists and of a segment of the sociological profession. Among other social scientists, it is only in recent years that political scientists and economists have felt the necessity of personally collecting first-hand data, rather than relying principally upon documentary sources. This concern with the variety of first-hand experiences available, if one wishes to learn about human life, has been generally gone over rapidly or even omitted from most formal treatments of methodology for the simple reason that the people who have done most of the work have failed to report on these experiences. Why this failure? One answer, illustrated by some of the candid reports herein, is that the field worker, particularly early in his field career, makes many mistakes. The field situation is one in which the student, "prepared" by his graduate training, goes forth to find himself unprepared.