Observation & writing field notes activity


Qualitative Research


The purpose of the exercise is to gain practice with writing Field Notes as part of qualitative data collection. 

Your role is to be an observer.

1. Identify a busy, bustling place that is ideal for “people watching” for 30 minutes to an hour. Or, observe on more than one occasion of not less than 20 minutes.

2. Set up to be as unobtrusive as possible, for note taking about what you see.

3. Interact with people at the site as little as possible.

4. This is a formal assignment and should not be completed while also watching your children or dogs, sharing coffee with friends or family, or while accepting phone calls, and otherwise planning to allow distractions. 

5. Go alone, or with only one partner from class.

6. Write down everything you observe—these are your notes to create a descriptive text. If you do partner, let me know and we’ll discuss those examples and examples of individual researchers.

7. Do not take photographs with your phone or other devices.

8. Do not audio-record.

9. As soon as you complete your observation session, review your notes and add details from recall.

10. Note your questions: “I don’t recall,” “I cannot describe, and “I’m not sure about…”

11. From your observational notes, write up field notes about the experience. Your response should include but is not limited to the following information:

· Practical information: Where was the observation completed? What time of day? Why did you choose the place and time? How long did you observe? 

· What did you see? 

12. Second create what Denzin & Lincoln might describe as “a memo to self” (p. 10). Include your personal reactions to the observation: Were you comfortable in the setting? Were people seemingly aware of your presence? Did someone or something remind you of something particularly important in your own life, beliefs, or experiences? Were there distractions (friends, family, etc) and how did you handle interruptions, side bars, etc.

13. Complete the project with a separate “telling.” This time you will combine your observational field notes (#11 above) with your personal reactions (#12 above) to create a narrative interpretation of your field experience. Integrate your notes, sketches, other information and artifacts from your experience, as appropriate.

14. Post on BB your link to a single document that contains three written responses: numbers 12, 13, and 14, above.

15. The document: Single-space (easier for me to read). In your subject line, 


1. It can be useful to use a divided sheet of paper and note observations on one side and personal responses on the other.

2. Some of us respond well to visuals—sketch your notes or include diagrams, etc.

3. Color coding can be useful—for instance, some researchers like to separate recall from in-place observations. A different color pen can alert you to which type of information you’ve collected. 

4. Write your observations in vivid language and with extensive detail. Try to visualize what you’ve described. 

5. Edit, Edit, Edit.

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