Conduct research

Gathering observation data

STEP 6. Conduct the observation

You will need to get approval for the study from the university's Institutional Review Board and obtain an informed consent from the persons you are observing if the observation is not occurring in a public place.  The informed consent should explain the purpose, and potential risks or benefits of the observation.

When performing the observations, the observer should monitor for the entire length of the process or activity and remain as unobtrusive as possible. It is best if the observer sits in a place where all behavior is visible.

Conduct observations several times, in case one session or activity is unusual in some way, and complete observation forms, including narrative comments, during and immediately following an observation. Observers should always record the session title, date, and the beginning and ending time of the observation. Recording information such as the number of subjects present and any interruptions or irregularities is also recommended. Observers should focus on describing/documenting behaviors using an established protocol rather than making judgments based on personal preferences.

If you use multiple observers, make sure they are reporting observations in a consistent manner. To improve consistency among observers or reliability, train them in a group and have them practice using the same form and by comparing results. Although reliability will be higher when recording concrete rather than abstract behaviors, observing only concrete behaviors might lead to overlooking meaningful behavior. Reliability is higher for checklists than for ratings, which involve greater observer judgment. Once you begin observations, you may need to refine observation procedures or definitions of observational categories to increase reliability.

Page last updated: Sep 21 2011
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