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Field Research : Definition, Examples & Methodology

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Table of Contents

What is Field Research

Field Research is a method of collecting qualitative data with the aim to understand, observe, and interact with people in their natural setting. It requires specialized market research tools. The goal is to understand how a subject behaves in a specific setting to identify how different variables in this setting may be interacting with the subject. Field research is used most in the field of social science, such as anthropology and health care professions, as in these fields it is vital to create a bridge between theory and practice.

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Methods of Field Research

There are 4 main methods of conducting field research, and they are as follows:

  1. Ethnography

Ethnography is a kind of fieldwork that aims to record and analyse a particular culture, society, or community. This method defines social anthropology, and it usually involves the complete immersion of an anthropologist in the culture and everyday life of the community they are trying to study.

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      2. Qualitative Interviews

The goal of qualitative interviews is to provide a researcher with a breadth of information that they can sift through in order to make inferences of their sample group. It does so through interviews by directly asking participants questions. There are three types of qualitative interviews; informal, conversational, and open ended.

     3. Direct observation

This method of field research involves researchers gathering information on their subject through close visual inspection in their natural setting. The researcher, and in this case the observer, remains unobtrusive and detached in order to not influence the behavior of their subject. 

     4. Participant Observation 

In this method of field research, the researchers join people by participating in certain group activities relating to their study in order to observe the participants in the context of said activity. 

Steps to conduct Field Research

The following are some key steps taken in conducting field research:

  1. Identifying and obtaining a team of researchers who are specialized in the field of research of the study.
  2. Identifying the right method of field research for your research topic. The various methods of field research are discussed above. A lot of factors will play a role in deciding what method a researcher chooses, such as duration of the study, financial limitations, and type of study.
  3. Visiting the site/setting of the study in order to study the main subjects of the study.
  4. Analyzing the data collected through field research.
  5. Constructively communicating the results of the field research, whether that be through a research paper or newspaper article etc.
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Reasons to conduct Field Research

The following are a few reasons as to why field research is conducted, typically via market research tools:

  1. To understand the context of studies: field research allows researchers to identify the setting of their subjects to draw correlations between how their surroundings may be affecting certain behaviors.
  2. To acquire in-depth and high quality data:  Field research provides in-depth information as subjects are observed and analysed for a long period of time.
  3. When there is a lack of data on a certain subject: field research can be used to fill gaps in data that may only be filled through in-depth primary research.

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Examples of Field Research

  • The following are real studies conducted using field research in order to answer questions about human behavior in certain settings: 

    • William Foote Whyte used participant observation in his 1942 study to answer the question “How is the social structure of a local “slum” organized?”.  The study involved over 3 years of participation and observations among an Italian community in Boston’s North End.
    • Liebow’s study in 1967 involved twenty months of participation and observations among an African American community in Washington, DC, to answer the question “How do the urban poor live?”.
    • American sociologist, Cheri Jo Pascoe, conducted eighteen months of observations and interviews in a racially diverse working-class high school to answer the question “How is masculinity constructed by and among high school students, and what does this mean for our understanding of gender and sexuality?”.

Advantages of Field Research

  1. Can yield detailed data as researchers get to observe their subjects in their own setting.
  2. May uncover new social facts: Field research can be used to uncover social facts that may not be easily discernible, and that the research participants may also be unaware of.

No tampering of variables as methods of field research are conducted in natural settings in the real world. Voxco’s mobile offline research software is a powerful tool for conducting field research.

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Disadvantages of Field Research

  • Expensive to collect: most methods of field research involve the researcher to immerse themselves into new settings for long periods of time in order to acquire in-depth data. This can be expensive.
  • Time consuming: Field research is time consuming to conduct.
  • Information gathered may lack breadth: Field research involves in-depth studies and will usually tend to have a small sample group as researchers may be unable to collect in-depth data from large groups of people.

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