Observation methods

Malgorzata Ciesielska*, Katarzyna W. Boström, Magnus Öhlander

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

87 Citations (Scopus)


Observation may be seen as the very foundation of everyday social interaction: as people participate in social life, they are diligent observers and commentators of others’ behavior. Observation is also one of the most important research methods in social sciences and at the same time one of the most complex. It may be the main method in the project or one of several complementary qualitative methods. As a scientific method it is has to be carried out systematically, with a focus on specific research questions. Therefore, we start with practical guide on clarifying research objectives, accessing the research field, selecting subjects, observer’s roles, and tips on documenting the data collected. The observation comprises several techniques and approaches that can be combined in a variety of ways. Observation can be either participant or not, direct or indirect. Further in this chapter, the main characteristics of three types of observations are outlined (the fourth type—direct non-participant—is discussed in the chapter on shadowing). While participant observation follows the ideal of a long-time immersion in a specific culture as a marginal member, researcher conducting non-participant observation takes position of an outsider and tries to distance him/herself from the taken-for-granted categorizations and evaluations. In the case of indirect observation, the researcher relies on observations of others (e.g. other researchers), various types of documentation, or self-observation. The chapter discusses the differences between those types of observation, shows inspirational examples from previous studies, and summarizes the method.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMethods and Possibilities
EditorsMalgorzata Ciesielska, Dariusz Jemielniak
Place of PublicationCham
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9783319654423
ISBN (Print)9783319654416
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Observation methods'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this