“Observation is the technique of gathering data through direct contact with an object—usually another human being. The researcher watches the behavior and documents the properties of the object”. Observations are the primary data source in sociological community studies and anthropological field studies. Observations are also used to supplement and clarify data derived from participant interviews. One source of observational data in connection with interviewing is the participants’ behaviors, facial expressions, gestures, bodily tone, clothing, and other nonverbal indications. Data from these sources can be used to shed light on the meaning of a participant’s oral comments. Another source is the environment in which the interview takes place; for example, if an interview is conducted in a participant’s home or office, the furniture arrangement, displays of photos and pictures, books, magazines, and other reading materials can serve as indicators of a participant’s experience. Observational data take on a larger role in qualitative inquiries that concern experiences of children or those of other persons who are only able to express their thoughts with difficulty.
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Use of Observational Data
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