Observation Method of Data Collection

One of the principal methods of collecting data is observation. This research technique is primarily used for qualitative research to gather data about people, objects, events, behaviours, etc., in their natural setting. Researchers watch, listen, take notes, and also record video/audio in their surroundings to get first-hand information on the research topic. There are two approaches to observation:

Participant observation – Researchers become part of their research projects, take part in the events, and may even interact with the other participants. It may alter the behaviour of participants knowing that they are being observed (Hawthorne Effect).

Non-participant observation – Researchers are not involved with anything that happens around them. In this situation, people act more naturally as they are unaware of being watched by someone.

Observation method has significant advantages and disadvantages. First, let’s check the benefits that come with this method:



Because the researcher is there to observe the entire situation in person, data collected through this method is more accurate compared with the other methods. Non-participant observation gets more reliable information because there is no intervention from anyone, and there is no pressure on people to influence their behaviour. In contrast, the researcher doesn’t have any means to check the accuracy of the data collected with the help of other methods, namely surveys and interviews.

Easy to organize

It happens in a natural environment, so there is no need to “organize” anything. You don’t need to find participants or hire an office like in interviews. In other words, you don’t spend money on all these things. Additionally, you can also go to that setting once in a while to repeat the same procedure.


You can skip the scheduled observation and also can change your location and subjects any time you want. Considering there are a lot of people in certain places, you can change your approach and observe different demographics.




It may take a while to get the desired result from it, especially if it is a non-participant observation. You are not able to control the situation or ask possible questions. You may need several observations to get any data from it. It is different in one-on-one or group interviews where you have specific and usually open-ended questions related to the research topic, and respondents give feedback according to those questions.


Before participant observation, researchers provide brief information about what they want to observe and make sure if the subjects are comfortable with it. You can’t do the same with non-participant observation. After it is finished, you need to ask people’s permission to include their activity in your research paper.
Impossibility of observing everything


Although it is possible to see what people are doing in a particular situation, there is no method to determine the motivation behind it.  That is to say, it is impossible to observe the feelings and emotions of people. Observation helps us to find answers to “whats” but won’t let us speculate on “whys.”