The Good Research Guide for Small-Scale Social Research Projects

By Martyn Denscombe | Go to book overview

11

Observation
Observation offers the social researcher a distinct way of collecting data. It does not rely on what people say they do, or what they say they think. It is more direct than that. Instead, it draws on the direct evidence of the eye to witness events first hand. It is based on the premise that, for certain purposes, it is best to observe what actually happens.There are essentially two kinds of observation research used in the social sciences. The first of these is systematic observation. Systematic observation has its origins in social psychology – in particular the study of interaction in settings such as school classrooms (Flanders 1970; Simon and Boyer 1970; Croll 1986). It is normally linked with the production of quantitative data and the use of statistical analysis. The second is participant observation. This is mainly associated with sociology and anthropology, and is used by researchers to infiltrate situations, sometimes as an undercover operation, to understand the culture and processes of the groups being investigated. It usually produces qualitative data.These two methods might seem poles apart in terms of their origins and their use in current social research, but they share some vital characteristics.
Direct observation. The obvious connection is that they both rely on direct observation. In this respect they stand together, in contrast to methods such as questionnaires and interviews, which base their data on what informants tell the researcher, and in contrast to documents where the researcher tends to be one step removed from the action.
Fieldwork. The second common factor is their dedication to collecting data in real life situations – out there in the field. In their distinct ways, they both involve fieldwork. The dedication to fieldwork immediately identifies observation as an empirical method for data collection. As a method, it requires the researcher to go in search of information, first hand, rather than relying on secondary sources.

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The Good Research Guide for Small-Scale Social Research Projects
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Figures vi
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Strategies for Social Research 3
  • 1: Surveys 6
  • 2: Case Studies 30
  • 3: Internet Research 41
  • 4: Experiments 61
  • 5: Action Research 73
  • 6: Ethnography 84
  • 7: Phenomenology 96
  • 8: Grounded Theory 109
  • Part II - Methods of Social Research 131
  • 9: Questionnaires 144
  • 10: Interviews 163
  • 11: Observation 192
  • 12: Documents 212
  • Part III - Analysis 231
  • 13: Quantitative Data 236
  • 14: Qualitative Data 267
  • 15: Writing Up the Research 284
  • Frequently Asked Questions 299
  • References 302
  • Index 307
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