Dear Qualitative Methods Students,
This is a REAL assignment (i.e., worth 20% of your grade) so do take is seriously.
You can hand in the raw notes in the field by hand (i.e., jottings) but you should expand the notes
a bit as well. These expanded notes should total at least 3-5 typed pages double spaced. They
will be used again when we discuss coding your data and the Qualitative Software program Atlas/
ti (in this case, the more notes the better).
Observation Activity (20% of overall grade)
Assignment: 15 min. Observation. Use any of the following three examples or a
mixture of them as your guide:
I. Angrosino Ch 4 To Do (p. 40);
The comparable aspect of this looks fun but requires cooperation on
your part; this exercise is more time intensive than I expect.
II. Bailey ch. 6, ex. 2. (p. 94)
Spradley’s 9 (1980, p. 78)
Space, actor, activities, objects, acts, events, time, goals and
III. Mullooly (what I use in an undergraduate class I teach to a general
Distinguish observation from [summary]
OBSERVATION is what you actually see that should be noted in a
way that others could use them as reliable accounts of what you saw
[SUMMARY is what you think ‘what you saw’ means. These could
the beginnings of hypotheses you are constructing (e.g., they
all hate the teacher),
simple notes to yourself
e.g., [I hate these people]
These sorts of notes could help explain things
later – like your evident irascibility or
depressed demeanor explain why your notes
were rather biased in a clear direction that
Guesses you have about what this interaction might mean to
others in the group e.g., [Sally hates Bobby]
Be mindful of the important “lesson from the field” implied by Bailey ch.8
that jottings (notes in situ) are key;
that time is the ruination of the note taker
(i.e., that “re-membering” is a very bad thing for
Geertz’ familiar/strange point:
FAMILIAR i.e., the familiar is very hard to observe so don’t go to
places you normally go to:
e.g., – if you like Starbucks, go to Harry’s in stead for this;
STRANGE i.e., exotic things are very captivating and draw you
Rather than try to find something spectacular and
completely out of your frame of reference (e.g., a Hmong
wedding) observe ROUTINE behavior that is new to you or
in a novel location (e.g., Go to a park you never go to, or a
part of the library you never go to, or Harry’s in stead of
III. Mullooly (what I use in an undergraduate class I teach to a general education audience).
Feel free to use this but be mindful of the fact that part I is what I really want. They part
two should not be emphasized.
THE GOAL IS TO WORK ON THE TECHNOLOGY OF OBSERVATION
-DON’T TRY TO FOCUS A GREAT DEAL ON WHAT THE OBSERVATIONS
MEAN, ETC. (e.g., Think of yourself as a cabinet maker who does not know what cabinets
are. The teacher intentionally keeps the final product out of sight so as to have the student
focus on the minutia of wood work details that will make the final cabinet look exquisite).
“Objectivity cannot be equated with mental blankness; rather, objectivity resides in recognizing
your preferences and then subjecting them to especially harsh scrutiny - and also in a willingness
to revise or abandon your theories when the tests fail (as they usually do).” — Stephen Jay
Effective qualitative research starts often with solid ethnographic observations. This
activity will familiarize you with this sort of research. There are two parts to this assignment:
Part one is comprised of a sustained 15 minute period of systematic observation and writing on
social interaction. Part two includes contextual features described in points 1-6.
Students will be expected to systematically observe and “write” interaction for a 15
minute period. To ask you to “record everything” is absurd. At some point during any person’s
observational process, things are being attended to and others are being ignored. What you need
to do is figure this out prior to your observation. Once you know what you will note (and ignore),
pick a location and observe and record what you see for 15 minutes.
Assessment of Part One:
I will evaluate Part one of this assignment on the detail of the observations. If they are general
“summaries” of actions, you will earn no better than a C. If the observations are reports of actual
behavior for a sustained period of time, you will receive a B or A depending on how well you
filled the notes out after you finished the observational period. That is, you will likely develop a
short hand while recording. Directly after the 15 minute period, you should fill out the spaces left
empty due to time. Notes must be typed. I will also evaluate the assignment based on if the
following points are addressed.
Assessment of Part Two: Please follow these guidelines as closely as possible during your
observations, and when you write up your observations. Please use the numbers below in your
write up, to aid me in my evaluation of your work. If you respond to all of these points (some
responses may require one or two sentences only), this section will receive full credit.
NB: DO NOT COMBINE PARTS ONE AND TWO
1. Where and who are you observing? When were you there?
2. Describe in detail the physical setting in which you observed – pretend that the reader has
never been to such a place before and be specific (e.g., how big is the room in feet and inches?
How many tables, chairs, desks are there?). Maps and diagrams are helpful.
3. What are the stated rules regulating behavior in this setting?
4. What are the unstated rules regulating behavior in this setting? Give this some thought as this
is a central feature of ethnography and cultural anthropology.
5. Note general patterns of behavior, speech, interaction – what are most people doing most of
the time? (This is what I meant by “general summaries” above).
6. Describe those observed in general terms: how many of them are there, what are the
gender/ethnicity/linguistic divisions, are there other characteristic that distinguish them as a group
(uniforms, physical characteristics, et al.).
7. Reflect on your own feelings and thoughts while you were in this setting.