Ethnography, Observational Research, and Narrative Inquiry

Short Term Observation

Short term observational studies list or present findings of short term qualitative study based on recorded observation. Observation in the studied group's natural setting is a key aspect of qualitative research. The terms group and culture are used in a loose sense here because for the researcher, a group or culture may include populations such as an individual classroom of students, a set of employees in the workplace, or residents of similar geographical or cultural areas or backgrounds. Short term observational studies differ from ethnographies in that they focus more narrowly on specified categories of group behaviors. This type of research functions well as a means of fleshing out quantitative research that would otherwise do little more than list numerical data. Types of short term observational research run the spectrum from crossing the boundary into quantitative research to a very nearly ethnographic approach. Regardless of the group or culture under study, the observer/researcher studies a set of individuals in their natural setting as opposed to a clinical setting, hence this type of research is known as fieldwork.

Traditionally, the period of observation for a qualitative observational study has been from six months to two years or more (Fetterman 1989). Today, it is generally acceptable to study groups for less than six months, provided that the researcher triangulates the research methods. The more time spent in the field the more likely your results will be viewed as credible by the academic community.

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