what is observation in research?

Observation is the active acquisition of information from a primary source. In living beings, observation employs the senses. In science, observation can also involve the recording of data via the use of instruments.

The term may also refer to any data collected during the scientific activity. Observations can be qualitative, that is, only the absence or presence of a property is noted, or quantitative if a numerical value is attached to the observed phenomenon by counting or measuring.

Observation offers the researcher a distinct way of collecting data.

It does not rely on what people say they do, or what they say they think. It is more direct than that. Instead, it draws on the direct evidence of the eye to witness events first-hand.

It is a more natural way of gathering data. Whenever direct observation is possible it is the preferable method to use.

The observation method is a technique in which the behavior of research subjects is watched and recorded without any direct contact.

It involves the systematic recording of observable phenomena or behavior in a natural setting.

The purpose of observation techniques are:

  • To collect data directly. 
  • To collect substantial amount of data in short time span. 
  • To get eye witness first hand data in real like situation. 
  • To collect data in a natural setting.

Characteristics of observation as a data collection tool :

It is necessary to make a distinction between observation as a scientific tool and the casual observation of the man in the street.

Observation with the following characteristics will be scientific observation.

  • It is systematic. 
  • It is specific.  
  • It is objective.  
  • It is quantitative.  
  • The record of observation should be made immediately. 
  • Expert observer should observe the situation.  
  • It’s result can be checked and verified.

types of observation in research

Observation in research can be classified as a participant and non-participant

participant observation

In participant observation, the observer or researcher becomes more or less a member of the group under observation and shares the situation as a visiting stranger, an attentive listener, an eager learner, or as a complete participant-observer registering, recording, and interpreting the behavior of the group.

non participant obervation

in the non-participant observation, the observer or researcher observes through a one-way screen and hidden microphone. The researcher remains at distance and look, register, and record what is going on. he keeps his observation as inconspicuous as possible.

The purpose of non-participant observation is to observe the behavior in the natural setting. The subject will not shift his behavior or the respondent will not be conscious that someone is observing his behavior.

advantages and disadvantages of participant and non paericipant observation

The advantages and disadvantages of the participant and non-participant observation depend largely on the situation.

Participant observation is helpful in studying criminal activities or situations which necessitate the researcher to have intimate knowledge about the group.

It gives the researcher a better insight into how the group or respondents live and therefore it gives a more valid outcome.

The disadvantage of participant observation is that it is time-consuming as a researcher has to develop relationships with members of the group and there is a chance that the researcher will lose his neutrality, objectivity, and accuracy to rate things as they are.

Non-participant observation on the other hand is used in the situation in which the researcher can not interact with members of the group observed.

This type of observation permits the use of recording instruments and the gathering of large quantities of data.

Observation as a data collection tool has the following advantages.

  • Data are collected directly 
  • Substantial amount of data can be collected in a relatively short time span.
  •  Provides pre-recorded data and ready for analysis.  
  • In the observation reliability is high.

Disadvantages of observation as data collection tool in research

  • Establishing validity is difficult.
  •  Subjectivity is also there. 
  • It is a slow and laborious process. 
  • It is costly both in terms of time and money. 
  • The data may be unmanageable. 
  • There is possibility of bias.

However, observation is a scientific technique to the extent that it serves a formulated research purpose, planned systematically rather than occurring haphazardly, systematically recorded and related to more general propositions, and subjected to checks and controls with respect to validity and reliability.  

We hope that you have found this article useful. If you have any additional points you would like to share with us on the advantages of observation as a data collection tool, please add them on the comment below. 


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