Observation Method in Research With Examples

observation method

When you are performing research, it is important to use an observation method. There are several different types of observations. Here, you will learn about the types and their characteristics. You will also discover the importance of the method in research. We will discuss the characteristics of different observation theories, tactics and the purposes of each.

What is the Observation Method in Research?

Source: DW Documentary

An observation method involves placing oneself in a situation and observing it. This technique is effective when the researcher is able to control some variables. The data that emerge from this type of research is more accurate than those obtained from questionnaires. 

However, it does have drawbacks. The researchers’ presence in the situation may cause the participants to act differently than they normally would. So, the findings obtained from this method can be prone to bias. The two main types are naturalistic observation and structured observation. 

  • Naturalistic observation is when a researcher observes a population in its environment without the use of a laboratory. 
  • Structured observation can still be carried out in the real world, by introducing a certain task, social situation, or manipulation. 

Both types have their advantages and drawbacks, but there are many similarities between them. Before conducting an observation, you need to have permission from stakeholders or other individuals you will be observing. If possible, you should be aware of the rules for conducting research. 

It is essential you know which laws and regulations apply to the environment you are visiting. Make sure you have plenty of backup plans, such as extra batteries and paper, in case of malfunctioning equipment. You should prepare yourself mentally for possible unforeseen situations that could interfere with the research.


The observation method in research has two main characteristics. 

1. It is an empirical approach

It is an empirical approach, and the data collection during observation is unbiased. Covering the entire happenings and requires no questioning or sample manipulation. There are advantages and disadvantages to both forms. This method is the most reliable and accurate way to study an unknown object. 

2. it generates a permanent record of phenomena.

Scientists use this method to answer questions and formulate hypotheses related to the phenomena they study. In addition to its accuracy, it generates a permanent record of phenomena.

3. Ability to answer research questions with greater rigor

Another characteristic is their ability to answer research questions with greater rigor. Using the right tools for observation, quantitative observation can be a breeze. 

When selecting the method, make sure to identify the research questions. In situations where you are unsure about which one to choose, consult with your professor for help. The most important thing to remember when deciding is that you’re working with data from a real situation.

The Best Types of Observation

Observation methods differ in form and function. Structured methods rely on a predetermined procedure, while unstructured are ad hoc and generally involve no planning, schedules, or variables. 

They are often more efficient for analysis than naturalistic observations. Here are the two main types of observations. Let’s examine each type in more detail. The best one depends on the type of study, the research question, and the researchers’ preferences.

Observation can be classified into three types. They are:

  • Participant observation
  • Event sampling, and 
  • Time sampling. 

Participant observation is the most popular choice because it provides a fresh perspective on behavior. Its advantages are below. Observation tactics vary in scope and effectiveness.

Participant observation is an observation technique in which the researcher actively participates in the study group. Participant observation involves becoming part of the group and participating in its activities. Non-participant observation, on the other hand, happens by sitting on the sidelines and not participating. 

The researcher may talk with and converse with the subjects. Some researchers may limit their interactions to interviews, while others may immerse themselves in all aspects of the subject’s daily life. 

Some researchers even live among different cultures and ethnic groups to observe their subjects’ lives. It is worth mentioning that participants may be unconsciously aware of the researcher’s presence.

Importance in Research

person in blue shirt writing on white paper
Source: UOfYork

The observation method is one of the most important in conducting research. It is a good tool to gather data about phenomena without having to rely on interviews.  Many respondents may refuse to allow researchers to observe their activities and may refuse to answer questions about their past lives.  Also, the method can be time-consuming and may require the respondent to be cooperative. Nevertheless, the benefits of using this method outweigh the drawbacks.

Before conducting the observation, you should identify the goals and objectives of your study. Determine who your target audience is. You have to decide on the research approach and the type of observation. 

Researchers conduct observations by recording audio, video, or pictures. And, you must obtain permission before conducting field observations. The most important step in the observation process is to know how you will conduct the study. 

By conducting observations, you will be able to understand your target audience better and conduct a more meaningful study. It is one of the easiest ways to gather data. It requires only minimal technical expertise and little training. This makes it easier for non-technical researchers to use it. 

Also, the fact that we already observe things around us means that it is very easy to train ourselves to be an excellent observers. The method does not introduce artificiality and is not as limited as an experiment. It is a good option for studies involving infants and children.

Steps Involved

The method is an important research tactic because it allows researchers to understand people better. There are some basic principles that define a valid observation. It involves three basic steps to perform an effective observation. 

  • You must first identify your objective. 
  • Collect data: Once you have decided what to observe, you can begin to collect data about the subject. Depending on the type of observation, you may be able to collect a wealth of information from the data you have collected. 
  • Note the findings: You should note down the findings of the study. You may choose to use descriptive, controlled, or participant observation techniques.

Note: The method is for studying the behavior of subjects. You should define the purpose of the observations before starting the process. The primary objective is to note down the essential characteristics and behavior of the subject under observation. 

The observations are frequent, stretching over a period of time. If possible, the subjects should not be aware that the observer is recording them. The frequency of observation helps you make a more accurate and comprehensive estimate of the behavior.


One of the fundamental principles is that it does not require the participant to speak. The method is very useful for studying phenomena that are too difficult or incomprehensible to be described. 

For example, studies of infants must be conducted through observation. Infants cannot speak their thoughts clearly, so they cannot be surveyed using the traditional methods. For humans with hearing disability, animals, and people who are too shy to cooperate, observation is often the only way to study them.

It is important to note that an observer may forget to record important information. As a result, it is essential to record all important information as soon as possible after an observation. And when possible, try to repeat the study to ensure that the results were accurate. 

It is helpful to note the observations in detail and check for errors. You can also repeat the study to validate the findings. It is also useful to record the details of the meeting in a detailed field note.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Observation Method

One of the advantages is that it is very convenient. This type of research can be conducted continuously over a long period of time. Unlike surveys, the process of observation can be done without any biases. 

Observations can also identify problems. But, they cannot be used to study the past, since documents and other information are necessary for the study. Furthermore, observation can only be used to observe certain phenomena, while surveys can only study the present.  Other advantages are that it requires less cooperation from respondents. 

The disadvantage in research is that it doesn’t allow for the study of personal secrets. This is because many respondents do not want the researchers to see their behavior, which makes it difficult to collect information on their preferences and past lives.  In addition, this method is not as accurate as the questionnaires based on interviews. 

Wrapping Up

Observations may be used by scientists to study the reaction of a chemical substance in an experiment. Scientists may observe a patient’s reaction to an injection, whereas doctors may observe a patient after a procedure. Astronomers may observe the night sky and record data about objects they see. The validity and reliability of observations can be compromised when the observer lacks the requisite knowledge or competence.

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