The Use of Observation in Research

The Use of Observation in Research




Observation involves looking at a particular setting, and can be done in various ways, from informally watching what is going on to structuring the looking course of action in some way, such as by noting what is observed at particular times or counting the number of people, vehicles, or behavior at a particular site. In some situations, the observer can watch unobtrusively, like a bystander, without identifying him or herself to the people being observed. In other situations, the observer can participate in the behavior being observed, either with the knowledge of the other participants or without their knowledge, where they think the observer is just another member of the group. Such observation can also occur with the observer noting only what he or she can with the naked eye; in other situations, the observer can use special equipment, such as time-lapse photography, video, or aerial photography to take pictures of the behavior.

The major situations where observation is more appropriate than other methods include the following:

– Observing child’s play, such as to determine what kind of play activities or equipment children prefer, and the differences in play of different types of children, such as boys and girls or children from different ethnic groups. Such activity is best observed, since it can be difficult to interview and get answers about their play from children, especially those who are very young, and consequently don’t have the verbal ability or may not feel comfortable talking to an adult interviewer.

– Assessing the usage patterns in informal recreation areas, where there is no entrance charge, so there is no way to control access or acquire a count, such as by collecting tickets. Also, this approach might be useful if most visitors arrive by car, already if there is a charge for each means, since the number of people using the site can vary for each means.

– calculating the way people use the site based on where they locate themselves in the site or what activities they include in there;

– calculating the demographic characteristics or user profile of users, since a fleeting questionnaire might not provide this information or show how different types of people use the facility differently;

– Describing deviant behavior, since people may not want to talk to an interviewer or answer a questionnaire about the behavior they include in that is considered deviant, because it is unacceptable or against the rules;

– Observing consumer behavior or observing the kind of experience consumers have in a store or leisure facility, such as by mystery shopping; such observation might be used to estimate the quality of the sets consumers receive or look at the way consumers respond to leisure displays and make purchases;

– Conducting observations as complementary research to counteract the effects of different sampling patterns, such as when there are more individuals who are interviewed or respond to a questionnaire at one time of day and much fewer individuals at another time, or when the kind of individuals are different at these different times – such as when there are more families with kids during the day and more single adults later in the early evening.

– Observing the way people behave and interact in everyday life, such as when Erving Goffman distinguished between the way people behave differently in public and private spaces.

– Making observations to develop theories about how people behave in different social environments using induction from one’s observations to build theories.

For example, say you wanted to do a study of the attitudes, motivation, perception of value, race, ethnicity, culture, and gender in a new start-up recreation and entertainment business, you might do the following.

– You could observe the demographic characteristics or user profile of the users by being present when consumers come to use the service or by training the employees providing the service to observe these characteristics for each customer. It would be best to make such observations with the naked eye, since it would probably not be a good idea to use camera or video equipment to observe, since consumers might not feel comfortable being photographed using the service and it seems unethical and a violation of the privacy expected in using such a service to have hidden cameras. It would be helpful to know such demographic information about the age, gender, race, and ethnicity of the consumers and observe any differences in their usage on different times and days, since this could help in marketing and promoting the service to these target markets.

– You could use an observation of consumer behavior or of the kind of experience that consumers have in a store or leisure facility to see what the actual experience is for the consumer and to see the kind of interaction that occurs between the consumer and the service provider. Such observation might be useful as a form of quality control to estimate whether the consumer fully enjoys the experience and whether the employees are effective in providing this service. Then, this observation might be related to whether the customer uses the service again or the customer’s rating of the service on a questionnaire.

– You could use an observation of the way people behave and interact in everyday life to look at how people go to the facility to use the service, much like Ervin Goffman and other researchers in sociology and anthropology have observed people participating in activities in bars and restaurants. It might be helpful to observe how people learn about the service, sign up for, and experience the activity, say at a trade show or business fair, which might help to enhance the methods of attracting people to the service and improving the service provided.

– Finally, you could make observations to develop theories about how people behave in different social environments, such as by looking at how different types of people participate in the experience in different settings. For example, businessmen experiencing the service at a conference or trade show might differ from women experiencing the service at a shopping mall, and teenagers experiencing the service at a party or community center might differ from older adults experiencing it at a restaurant, bar, or massage therapy center. It might be helpful to observe the different behaviors and use induction to develop some theories about different motivations and perceptions of value of different types of consumers in different settings.




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