Observation and qualitative approach

The observation in the theses with a qualitative approach is not a mere work of looking at and recording what is seen, it is more related to perceiving in all its aspects the phenomenon that is being studied. Unlike what you might think this is a complex work, much more than the observation in quantitative studies. Remember that the latter register, account and tabulate in a structured way. On the contrary, observation in qualitative research takes aspects that cover many details, which will require prior preparation.

Some people believe that the qualitative approach lacks objectivity and validity because of the interpretative (subjective) nature of the analysis, but nothing is further from reality. The interpretation and the qualification, although they give room to the judgments of opinion of the investigator, that does not imply that you can say what you want without argumentation.

The qualitative approach also produces scientific knowledge and, therefore, must be able to demonstrate the relevance and veracity of its postulates. Hence the importance of observation for the collection of relevant data and justify the results and conclusions.

OBSERVATION IN THE INVESTIGATION

Observation in qualitative research does not refer only to seeing, recording what stimulates the view. It requires all our senses and acuity to collect the data. We may be studying a particular problem and things like sounds, textures, smells are just as important. For example, it happens frequently in studies of environmental issues or social issues. Think of the researchers who study communities, families or ethnicities.

We can define it then as a holistic observation that attends to the whole, but without forgetting the details. Its function is to explore the whole environment where the problem is presented and the phenomenon itself. When working with people should be observed culture, values, activities, social interaction, emotional ties and attitudes.

WHAT SHOULD BE OBSERVED?

Everything that is relevant to your research topic and its context. In the first instance, the environment of your research problem: how is that environment, what are its elements, its physical characteristics and its symbolic meanings?

Likewise, if the context is human, you must be attentive to all forms of social organization, hierarchisation, modes of communication and language, leadership, influences and decision making. It is not easy, there are many things that must be taken into account, that is the reason for the depth of the analysis and the work with small samples.

The observation should also record the relationships between the participants, their opinions and actions. Nor can you forget the physical aspects: how people look. It is also possible that you have to observe the use of certain technologies. And that’s not all. By knowing more about the research problem you will add more parts to study.

A good observer for qualitative approach does not put adjectives to their study context, except those that are mentioned by the collaborators themselves. Actively participates in all the activities that it seeks to register, because it is the only way to achieve a true immersion in the field of study and, consequently, the depth and quality of the information.

If you are going to use qualitative observation, keep in mind all the points that are known in the process. Always keep the order in the registry, otherwise you can stop observing important things. Finally, this procedure is not done in a single opportunity, it will take some time to collect all the data.