Observation: The research method

According to Godde & Hatt, science begins with observation & ultimately returns to observation for its final validation.

According to Moser, Observation can fairly be called the classic method of scientific enquiry in the strict sense, observation implies the use of eyes, rather than of ear & voice.

Observation as a fundamental technique of data collection refers to watching and listening to the behaviour of other persons over time without manipulating and controlling it & recording findings in ways that allow some degree of analytical interpretation and discussion.

Thus, observation involves broadly selecting, recording and encoding behaviour for empirical aims of description or development of the theory (Wieck,1968).


  1. There is a natural social context in which person’s behaviour is studied. Thus, observation usually occurs in natural setting although it can also be used in such contrived settings as laboratory experiments and simulations.
  2. It captures those significant events or occurrences that affect the relations among person being studied.
  3. It identifies important regularities and recurrences in social life by comparing and contrasting the data obtained in the study of various natural settings.


  1. It captures and study human behaviour as it actually happens. It helps in snapshot comprehension of the activities of the person in real life or social life.
  2. It provides a graphic description of real life that can be acquired in other ways.
  3. Another purpose is exploration.


  1. Proper planning
  2. Observing the behaviour
  3. Noting down the behaviour
  4. Analysis of the behaviour(statistical methods, mean, median, mode etc.)
  5. Discussion of observed behaviour
  6. Generalisation of results.




It is one that is done according to some explicit procedures as well as in accordance with the logic of scientific inference. A psychologist studying the aggressive behaviour of children in their playgroup with some objective and explicit principles decided beforehand is an example of systematic observation.


  • Variables can be manipulated,
  • Simple method,
  • Save time & cost,
  • Observed in the lab setting.


  • Observer can distort information,
  • Reactivity effect,
  • Cannot control outside variables that might impact behaviour.


It is a type of casual observation made by the investigator without specifying any explicit and objective inference. A psychologist/sociologist observing the behaviour of people on a railway platform without any explicit principles and procedures is an example of unsystematic observation. Observation has also been classified on the basis of the role played by the investigator. On the basis of these criteria, observation may be classified into participant & non-participant observation.


In this, the investigator actively participates in the activities of the group to be observed. Here, the investigator may already be a member of a group or organisation and decide to observe it under one or more situations. Or he may join the group for the express purpose of observing the group under one or more situations.

The procedure of participant observation is often unstructured and usually, the identity of the observer is not known to other members of the group. This is called disguised participant observation. But sometimes the person who is being observed know that the observer is present for collecting information about them. This is known as undisguised participant observation. Therefore, other members of the group take him as an ordinary member and interact with him in a natural way.


  • Done in natural setting , investigator is able to record the behaviour in a realistic manner and naturally ,then the analysis yield meaningful and convincing conclusion about human behaviour.
  • Complete observation takes several days and moths. As a consequence information collected is very broad and meaningful for understanding human behaviour.


  • Unstructured , fails to be precise about the procedures for data accumulation. Less attention is paid to precision and more to discovery.
  • Time consuming, costly.
  • Since observer is an active member, s/he sometimes starts showing human weakness like love, sympathy, hatred etc. Towards the members and their behaviour.


It is the observation in which the investigator observes the behaviour of other persons in a natural setting but does not remain a participant in the activities being observed. Non-participant observation is usually structured, and therefore, the observer preplans the likely nature of the natural setting, representativeness of data, problems associated with the presence of the investigator etc. Here, the observer/investigator is able to go into the development of exploratory strategies or some specific research questions for probing.


  • Structured, data obtained is more reliable and representative.
  • Observer is able to concentrate upon any specified aspect of social behaviour in a better way & therefore gets a better opportunity to find out the solution of the related probe.


  • The behaviour of the person being observed and the settings do not remain in a natural one. The person may develop the consciousness that their behaviour are being observed which slightly distorts the natural flow of their behaviour.
  • It fails to capture natural context of social settings to the extent participant observation is able to capture.


It is used by skilled clinicians, doctors, and therapists in order to glean information about their patients or clients. These are observations of behaviour from the clients that are used in order to determine a diagnosis and treatment plan. Notes are taken systematically during the interview with the clients. Clinical observations are the basis of therapy and treatment. It is the means by which a professional can learn about their client.

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2 thoughts on “Observation: The research method

  • February 3, 2022 at 3:26 pm

    it’s really helpful if you would provide the citation references.
    “observation involves broadly selecting, recording and encoding behavior for empirical aims of description or development of the theory (Wieck,1968)”
    can I get the reference of this citation?

    • February 3, 2022 at 6:42 pm

      This is been referred from the book A.K. Singh “Tests, Measurements and Research Methods in Behavioural Sciences”.


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