Observation as a primary source of data collection in a research study

Tuesday, September 1, 2015 15:34
Posted in category Research methodology
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Observation is one way to collect primary data. It is a purposeful way of watching and listening to an interaction or phenomenon as it takes place.

Types of observations

There are two types:

  1. Participant.
  2. Non Participant.


When the researcher participates in the activities of the group being observed in the same manner as its members. Members may know or do not know that they are being observed.

For example:

  1. You might want to study the life of prisoners. In order to do this you pretend to be a prisoner.
  2. You might want to study the reactions of general population towards people in wheel chairs. You can study their reactions by sitting in a wheel chair yourself.

Non participant

When the researcher does not participate in the activities of the group being observed but remains a passive observer.

For example:

  1. You might want to study the functions carried out by nurses in a hospital. As an observer watch, follow and record the activities they performed. After making observations, results can be drawn from them. Similarly, you can do this in any other occupation.

Situations in which observation can be made

Situations can be:

  • Natural: Observing a group in its natural operation without intervening in their activities is classified as natural conditions.
  • Controlled: Introducing a stimulus to the group for it to react and then observing the reaction is classified as controlled conditions.

Advantages of using observation as a method of data collection

There are many situations when observation is an appropriate tool for data collection. For example:

  1. When you want to learn about interaction in a group.
  2. Study the dietary patterns of a population.
  3. Ascertain the functions performed by a worker.
  4. Study the behavior or personality traits of an individual.
  5. It is also useful in situations where full information cannot be received by questioning.
  6. Because respondents either are not co operative or unaware of the answers.
  7. When subjects are so involved in the interaction that they are unable to provide objective information about it.
  8. In short, when you are more interested in behavior rather than their perception, observation is the best approach to collect information.

Limitations while using observation as a method of data collection

Using observation as a method of data collection may suffer from a number of problems. But it does not mean that all these problems or any of these necessarily present in every situation. But as a beginner you should be aware of these problems.

Changing of behavior when a group become aware

When a person or a group become aware that they are being observed. Then they may change their behavior. Depending upon the situation this change could be positive or negative. It may increase or decrease their productivity.

When a person or a group become aware they are being observed and they change their behavior due to this, it is known as Hawthorne effect.

The use of observation in such a situation does not represent their actual behavior.

Observer bias

There is always a possibility of observer bias. If observer is bias then he can easily introduce bias. Then there is no easy way to verify observations and inferences drawn from them.

Interpretation may vary

Interpretations drawn from observation may vary from observer to observer.

Possibility of incomplete observation

There is always a possibility of incomplete observation or recording. This varies with the method of recording. An observer may watch keenly but at the expense of detailed recording. Another problem which may occur when the observer takes detailed notes, but while doing this misses some of the interaction.

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