Writing@CSU Guide

Conducting Ethnographic Studies, Observational Research, and Narrative Inquiry

Qualitative observational research describes and classifies various cultural, racial and/or sociological groups by employing interpretive and naturalistic approaches. It is both observational and narrative in nature and relies less on the experimental elements normally associated with scientific research (reliability, validity and generalizability). Connelly and Clandinin (1990) suggest that qualitative inquiry relies more on apparency, verisimilitude and transferability. On the other hand, Lincoln and Guba (1985) emphasize the importance of credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability in qualitative studies. Because the field of qualitative research is still evolving, the criteria and terminology for its evaluation are not yet agreed upon.

What is agreed upon is that qualitative observational research is a systematic inquiry into the nature or qualities of observable group behaviors in order to learn what it means to be a member of that group. The researcher's job, rather than to describe a stable entity, is to give continually updated accounts of observations on multiple levels of group interactions that occur on both a temporal and continuous basis simultaneously.

Thus, this type of research attempts to identify and explain complex social structures within the study group. Typically, qualitative research methodologies are combined with each other in order to provide comparative results. A triangulation of methods (also called multiple methods), where three or more methodologies are used and the results compared against each other, is common and can provide a more complete understanding of the behavior of the study group.

Qualitative study lends itself to thick narrative description, and it may be intensive given the complexity of group interactions. It takes place on site, in the group's natural environment, and attempts to be non-manipulative of group behaviors. The purpose is to aim for objectivity, while it must take into account the views of the participants.

This guide attempts to acknowledge the broad categories of qualitative observational research. First, qualitative observational research is broken down into its most common approaches, including types of this research method, themes that guide researchers' study designs and other, secondary approaches. Next, a Methods section introduces steps and methods used in qualitative observational research, employing multiple methods and computer software for this field of research. Then, a Commentary section includes some of the advantages and disadvantages to qualitative observational research, a look at the ongoing qualitative vs. quantitative discussion and some of the ethical considerations of this form of research.

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