Field Research

Qualitative research is concerned with understanding and interpreting another person's social world through accessing their lived experiences. Three types of qualitative field research methods are described here that focus on capturing lived experiences: direct observation; participant observation; and qualitative interviews.

Direct Observation

Advantage of direct observation:

Disadvantage of direct observation:

Forms of data gathered from direct observation:

Direct observation as a research method is most appropriate to open, public settings where anyone has a right to be or congregate. Conducting direct observation in private or closed settings -- without the knowledge or consent of members -- is more likely to raise ethical concerns.

Participant Observation

Advantage of participant observation:

Disadvantages of participant observation:

Forms of data gathered from participant observation:

Ethical issues concerning ethnographic study

A main ethical issue confronting ethnographers is deciding when and how to inform members that they are part of a research study.

Qualitative Interviews

Qualitative interviews are a type of field research method that elicits information and data by directly asking questions of members. There are three primary types of qualitative interviews: informal, conversational; semi-structured; standardized, and open-ended.

Informal, Conversational Interviews

Advantage of informal interviewing:

Disadvantage of informal interviewing:

Semi-Structured Interviews

Advantage of semi-structured interviewing:

Disadvantage of semi-structured interviewing:

Standardized, Open-Ended Interviews

Advantage of standardized interviewing:

Disadvantage of standardized interviewing:

Both standard and semi-structured interviews are typically tape-recorded and should begin with obtaining informed consent from the interviewee prior to starting the interview. Additionally, the researcher may write a separate field note to describe the member's reactions to the interview, or events that occurred before or after the interview.

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Research Connections is supported by grant #90YE0104 from the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The contents are solely the responsibility of the National Center for Children in Poverty and the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, the Administration for Children and Families, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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