Collecting Data and Information – Observation Techniques

Interviews and questionnaires valuable ways to gather information. Both reliant on accuracy & honesty of answers relating to persons behaviour and beliefs which is a weakness with both approaches.
Observation is alternative technique. Observe behaviours first-hand and analyse by quantitative or qualitative means.
Observation used by everyone. Examples:

  • Consumer comparing prices in retail outlets before buying
  • Social planners monitoring traffic counts
  • Managers observing employees in work place

Key factors of observation technique

  • What will be observed?
    • Relates directly to objectives of research and measures to be employed.
  • Where will the observations be made?
    • Advantages to having neutral setting for observation, but not always possible e.g. in working environment.
    • Best way to undertake observation is to be unobtrusive (e.g. use of one-way mirror if possible). Enabled by making regular observations or by concealing the fact that observations are being undertaken.
  • How many observations will be made?
    • To provide balanced view and valid conclusions, as many observations as possible should be made. Needs to be considered against practicality and time.
  • How will the observations be recorded and analysed?
    • Narrative recording.
      • Observations recorded in real-time with sentences. Very slow method. Not all information can be recorded.
    • Frequency counting.
      • Observation made each time event occurs.
    • Interval method.
      • Mainly in scientific research, behaviour record at determined time interval.
    • Duration method.
      • Amount of time individual engaged in behaviour recorded, e.g. on the telephone
      • Useful to record number of observations for individuals/groups for later analysis e.g. tracking areas of football pitches covered by player(s).





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