Research Writing

What is Observation in research Benefits Disadvantages Types

Observation in research

Observation in research is an essential activity for collecting data. The investigation method goes beyond seeing and hearing – it actually has the role of examining the facts studied.

Researchers use several research instruments to collect data , such as interviews , questionnaires and observations.

The observation can be individual or in a team. As for the place of realization, it focuses on real life ( field research ) or in the laboratory. 

The observation activity is concerned with using the senses to understand everyday life and extract knowledge . It is a scientific method because it is systematic and serves a previously defined objective, in addition to verification and control.

Benefits of Observation in research

Compared to other data collection techniques, observation in research is considered advantageous because it allows knowing facts and phenomena directly , without intermediation. This reduces the subjectivity of a study.

Other advantages are also associated with the observation activity. Are they:

  • Allows you to delimit the research problem ;
  • It makes it possible to discover new aspects of the problem;
  • Serves as a basis for building hypotheses ;
  • It’s not as reliant on introspection or reflection;
  • It is not as demanding on the researcher as other data collection techniques.

Disadvantages of Observation in research

Like any research method, observation also has its limitations. Are they:

  • The behavior of the people observed can be altered due to the presence of the researcher;
  • As a result of an engagement with reality, the investigator may have a distorted view of facts ;
  • Some aspects of everyday life may be inaccessible;
  • Many unforeseen factors;
  • Variable duration of events, which can be quick or slow;
  • When there are two simultaneous events, it is more difficult to collect data.

Types of Observation in research

The observation method in research is divided into:

unsystematic observation

Also known as simple observation, it is an unstructured , free and occasional technique. Widely used as a data collection instrument in exploratory research , it makes it possible to recognize and record facts of reality, without prior planning or means of control.

This type of observation has no fixed rules. However, according to Gil (2008, p.102) the researcher needs to be concerned with the following factors:

  • The subjects – Who are they? How many? What are your ages? How do they dress? What do their bodies express?
  • The setting – What are the characteristics of the place? Where are the people? What is the social system?
  • Behavior – How do people relate? What are the languages ​​used? What are the social terms.

Previous study of the subjects, the setting and the behaviors is essential in order not to act solely on the basis of subjectivity.

systematic observation

In systematic observationthere is control over the conditions to achieve the objectives of the investigation. The researcher is able to recognize his mistakes and avoid his own influence on the collected information.

Even before collecting data, the investigator is concerned with drawing up an action plan and establishing variables to analyze according to the fact studied. It doesn’t just rely on memory, that is, it uses frames, notes, camera, recorder and other features that facilitate recording.

participant observation

The researcher participates in the situations, that is, he shares in the life of the community or a group of people. The activity can occur naturally (when he is already part of the investigated community) or artificially (when he integrates temporarily to collect data).

The participant observer may face limitations, such as distrust in the group. For this reason, it is so important to gain the trust of the subjects involved.

See an article, published in Revista Enfermagem UERJ, about the application of the participant observation technique in the health area .

non-participant observation

The researcher observes the reality or the studied group, but remains outside, that is, he only witnesses the phenomena without participating. He assumes the role of mere spectator .

Observation in the laboratory

In the laboratory, the observer can control conditions. In addition, it has instruments to measure and record its findings in a more refined way.

How do you make a scientific observation?

After knowing the main types of observation in research, it’s time to perform the procedure. See some tips:

know what to watch

Define what will be observed, taking into account the research objectives . Then determine categories to guide data collection and organize information. These are aspects to analyze:

  • Acts (short actions)
  • Activities (longer duration actions)
  • Meanings
  • situations
  • Relationships between people
  • Participation (involvement and adaptation)

Apply the 5W method

To facilitate observation planning, apply the 5W technique:

  • What? (What?)
  • Who? (Who?)
  • Where (Where?)
  • When?
  • Because why?)
  • As? (How)
  • How much? (How much?)

Record the information

The observer can use several resources to record information, such as filming, recording, hidden camera, photographs, spyglass and microscope.

The record involves two major categories: observation of the context (description of the place and people) and the behavior adopted by the members.

set the sampling

Observation is a selective method, that is, subject to some type of sampling. It can be ad libitum (at will), focal (an individual at a defined time), sweep (study of individuals at regular intervals) and behavior (total context, with continuous or temporal record).

be ethical

The individual or team observer must be concerned with the ethics of observation, especially when the studied group lacks knowledge.

To obtain more reliable data, many researchers go undercover. The situation, however, is considered critical, especially when it involves working with unauthorized information.

People involved in any type of research have the right to know the real purposes of the study and also refuse to participate.

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