What are the four types of observation methods?

There are several types of observations varying from completely unstructured to structured, pre-coded, formal procedures to suit the needs of researchers and the overall objectives of the research problems.

One way of differentiating among various types of observations is to draw distinction on the basis of degree of structuredness. Accordingly, we get two observational procedures:

  1. Unstructured
  2. Structured.

The other way of classifications is in terms of the role played by the researcher. On this basis observation procedures may be classified as

  1. Participant observation
  2. Non-participant observation.

1. Structured Observations

Structured observations take into consideration a clear and specific definition of the units to be observed and data to be recorded. This is possible only when the problem is well formulated. However, in exploratory studies the researcher does not know in advance which dimension of the problem will be relevant. Structured observations are mostly used in studies designed to describe a problem or to test causal hypothesis. The use of structured observation procedures presupposes that the researcher knows what aspects of the problem under study-are relevant to his research objectives and is in a position, therefore, to plan the recording of observations before he starts data collection.

2. Unstructured Observations

In a practical situation it is often not possible to plan out the ‘observation’ process in advance. Particularly in case of exploratory studies, the researcher does not have enough clues to structure his observations, which may call for changes in what he observes. Such changes are characteristics of unstructured observation. Since the unstructured observations are flexible it allows for changes in the focus from time to time if and when reasonable clues warrant such changes.

3. Participant Observations

Participant observation involves sharing the life of the group under study by the researcher. In other words, participant observation is an attempt to put both the observer and the observed on the same side by making the observer a member of the group so that he can experience what they experience and work within their frame of reference. In particular, the researcher becomes a member of the community being observed by him.

4. Non-participant Observations

On the contrary, non-participant observation is characterised by a lack of participation by the observer in the life of the group that a researcher is observing. In other words, in non-participant observations the observer has detached role and records without any attempt on his part to participate in the interaction process with the group being observed.

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