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Observation Method of Data Collection and Its Analysis

What Is the Observation Method of Data Collection?

Observation as a method of research has been around for a very long time; right back to man studying the behavior of his prey to better understand how to have a successful hunt. We often use an observation method of data collection in research so as to ensure that we get the data that we need to prove or disprove our thesis and to ensure that the data is correct for using in quantitative descriptive analysis as well. However like any other method the observation method of data collection and like other methods of quantitative data analysis has its problems as well as advantages.

statistical data analysis schema

Types of Observational Methods for Data Collection

There are different ways of approaching the observation method of data collection and the method that you use will affect the results that you get;

  • Formal Observation; the person or group being observed knows that they are being observed and what for. Things are structured and controlled for the experiment being conducted
  • Informal observation; the subjects are unaware that they are being observed and what they are being observed for. There is far less control over the actual experiment
  • Indirect Observation; instead of observing for yourself you ask others what has happened; for instance talking to accident eye witnesses to discuss the behavior of emergency personnel

Advantages of Using the Observation Method of Data Collection

The observation method of data collection is used in many fields especially psychology. The reason for this is that many researchers in this field will want to see what happens when people are presented with a specific situation. While you could use a survey and ask people “what would you do if…” there are many areas in which the respondent would actually respond in one way with a survey against what they would actually do if the situation actually occurred. This is especially true for areas such as racism or discrimination where most people would put themselves forward in the best possible light rather than being honest about their true feelings and likely behavior. Because of this it is often seen as a preferred method of gaining data; the researcher gets to see what the subject will actually do rather than what they say they will do.

Disadvantages of the Observation Method of Data Collection

The disadvantages of the observation method of data collection often depend on the specific style of observation that you are carrying out and will vary accordingly. While it may appear a more accurate method of gathering data there are a huge number of factors that can affect or invalidate the data that you collect and you need to be aware of these issues before you begin or make claims based on your data availability;

  • Formal observation where the subject has full knowledge of what is happening can result in behavior that is actually contrary to that which the person would otherwise undertake. They behave how they feel you want them to behave rather than as they actually would biasing the results
  • Informal observation could be an experiment for instance where you have someone collapse in public and see how people will behave; the problem is that there are many variables at play that you will often have no control over. This could be anything from recent events in the media, to the weather to even the time of year. Without fully controlling all of the variable you cannot be sure what actually affected the outcome
  • Indirect observation; like a survey the results are very much based on what the respondent will be happy to tell you; for instance many people will be reluctant to say bad things about the emergency personnel in the example above

Choose observation method of data collection in research!