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Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation, 4th Edition by Elizabeth J. Tisdell, Sharan B. Merriam

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Chapter SixBeing a Careful Observer

Interviews are a primary source of data in qualitative research; so too are observations. Observations are common in many types of qualitative research, such as in case studies, ethnographies, and qualitative action research studies. Observations are especially important in ethnographic studies.

Observations can be distinguished from interviews in two ways. First, observations take place in the setting where the phenomenon of interest naturally occurs rather than a location designated for the purpose of interviewing; second, observational data represent a firsthand encounter with the phenomenon of interest rather than a secondhand account of the world obtained in an interview. In the real world of collecting data, however, informal interviews and conversations are often interwoven with observation. The terms fieldwork and field study usually connote both activities (observation and informal interviews) and may also include the study of documents and artifacts. That caveat notwithstanding, the primary focus of this chapter is on the activity of observation—the use of observation as a research tool, the problem of what to observe, the relationship between observer and observed, and the means for recording observations. We also discuss the whole phenomenon of online observation, given that we now have the ability to observe at a distance through online and various virtual technologies.

Observation in Research

Being alive renders us natural observers ...

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