6 essentials of observational studies

The development of observation and ethnography may strongly depend on the variety applied. How far observation is revealed to those who are observed, how far researcher participates or how systematic the collection of data is, gives way to the different varieties to be applied. Regardless such differences that may be looked up in the references, this post aims to highlight the essentials of a good observation.

  1. Case study design. One shop, one office, one street or restaurant; observation is commonly applied in a specific case, always giving more importance to the depth of analysis than to how representative this case is.
  2. Location in place and time of everydaylife (Flick, 2009)
  3. Interpretation and understanding. Although the information might be systematically collected by a “off-the-shelf” coding schedule (Lewis et al), usually called structured observation, the truth is that it is commonly applied as a method to interpretate rather than quantifying pleople behaviour.
  4. Besides the competencies of speaking and listening used in interviews, observing is another everyday skill that is relevant for qualitative studies. Almost all sense; seeing, hearing, feeling and smelling are required for a good observation.
  5. Interest in human meaning and interaction. In social sciences we cannot hope to adequately explain the behaviour of social actors unless we at least try to understand their meanings (Delbridge and Kickpatrick) Remember the meaning of DC Metro for passer-by during rush hour on the Washington post´s violinist experiment.
  6. Flexible, oportunistic and open ended inquiries (Flick, 2009) are an essential part of observation, except for the varieties that don´t require the researcher participant where there is no interaction with actors and consequently no question is formulated (non-participant observation)


Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited

Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.


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