• view as they are occurring

  • can be efficient in getting much range and depth in a short time frame

  • allows one to see directly what people are doing without relying on their word

  • firsthand experience

  • can provide objective measurement

  • can determine what does NOT occur

  • observer may see things others do not

  • can be used with participants with weak verbal skills

  • good for description

  • can be difficult to interpret or verbalize seen behaviors

  • can be complex to categorize observations

  • can influence behaviors of program participants

  • can be expensive

  • reasons for behavior may be unclear

  • participants may behave in atypical ways when being observed

  • sampling may be limited

  • cannot observe large or dispersed populations

  • some settings can not be observed

  • more expensive than questionnaires/surveys

  • data analysis can be time consuming

  • more objective than surveys because they do not rely on self-reporting (but only as far as observers objectivity)

  • may have observer bias

  • researchers who are participants may alter behavior of subjects


Observations used to gather accurate information and record behavioral patterns in a systematic way.

Types of Observations:

  • Structured or unstructured
    • Structured
      • Researchers specifies in detail what is to be observed and how measurements are to be recorded
      • Appropriate when problem is clearly defined
      • Information needed is specified
    • Unstructured
      • Researcher monitors all aspects that may seem relevant
      • Appropriate when problem has yet to be formulated
      • Flexibility is needed in observation to identify key components of the problem and to develop hypotheses
      • Potential for bias is high
      • Findings should be treated as hypothesis to be tested rather than conclusive finding
  • Disguised or undisguised

    • Disguised
    • Respondents are unaware that they are being observed
    • Respondents behave naturally
    • Observation is achieved by hiding or hidden equipment
    • Undisguised
      • Respondents are aware that they are being observed
      • Respondents could behave differently because they are being observe
  • Natural or contrived
    • Natural
      • Observed in its natural settings
      • Observed as it takes place
      • Ex: observing patrons at a fast food restaurant
    • Contrived
      • Observed in artificial environment
      • Ex: a taste test session
  • Personal or mechanical
    • Personal
      • Observes actual behavior as it occurs
      • Observer may or may not attempt to control
      • Observer merely records what is taking place
      • Cannot capture everything from note taking
    • Mechanical
      • Some sort of media used to record observation
      • May or may not require respondent’s direct participation
      • Continuously recording on-going behavior
      • Cannot capture everything from recording
  • Participant or non-participant
    • Participant
      • Researcher becomes part of situation being observed
      • Has its roots in ethnographic study
      • Very extensive literature
      • Different way of classifying role: researcher as employee; researcher as an explicit role; interrupted involvement; observation alone
      • May gain more understanding by participating
      • May alter events by participating
    • Non-participant
      • Observer does not interact with participants
      • Does not question or communicate


  • to increase validity, use narrow, specific definitions of behavior to be observed
  • measure low-inference variables (ex: counting the number of times that specific actions occur during a game instead of rating each individual’s sports performance from poor to excellent)
  • only record as many aspects of behavior that observers can attend to

Good websites to gain more insight:


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