Bailey’s Guide to Qualitative Field Research, Chapter 1 [Anna]


EDL 207: Seminar Moderator

Bailey, C. A. (2007). A Guide to Qualitative Field Research

2nd Edition, Pine Forge Press. [K-12 & Higher Ed]   Intro, Chapter 1.

Chapter 1: Introduction to Qualitative Field Research

 History of Field Research

No definitive study has been completed to identify the origins of inquiry through field research. There is currently much debate and disagreement about when it was first completed. Some scholars suggest that field research first appeared in the 18th century. While others argue that field research existed long before it emerged in academics.

What is field research?

Field research is, “The systematic study, primarily through long-term, face-to-face interactions and observations, of everyday life.” The goal of field research is to understand daily life from the perspectives of individuals in a specific setting or social group. A naturalistic setting is used to complete field research since it provides a more holistic picture of people and their lives. Through field researcher participants in the study continue with their daily routines during research. This “in the field” research is also called naturalistic inquiry.

While completing this type of research, researchers study the order of events and changes that take place over time and commonly focus their research on status characteristics. However, instead of controlling the events in the study, the researcher tries to become part of the setting in which the study is occurring. The immersion of the researcher into their study is done to provide in-depth descriptions and analytical understanding of the participants in their “natural setting.”

What is the purpose of field research?

The primary reason for field research is for the researcher to answer their overarching question, issue, or problem that leads to more specific research questions. During field research, researchers sometimes change their research questions throughout their study. It is also common for researchers to add, refine, or delete research questions while they are conducting field research.

What type of data is collected?

The types of data collected vary on the purposes of the specific study and the research questions in place. However, the majority of the data is primarily collected through systematic observations and interactions and takes the form of nonnumeric texts in the form of words, sentences, and observational and interview notes. This data is often turned into field notes. To gain insight into a setting unstructured, semi-structured, and structures interviews are often completed. In addition, the contexts of conversations are also studied through conversational analysis.


Ultimately, the researcher determines the findings of the study because of their central role in conducting the research, generating the data, and analyzing the data. Due to this the researcher is often identified as a research instrument since the research conducted is always influenced by the characteristics of the researcher.

Once data is collected coding is completed to identify which parts of the data are useful for analysis. During this process many researchers create a typology or develop themes for the data.


Reflexivity is when the researcher critically identifies how their characteristics, values, history, and choices made during the studies, affected the study results. These affects are often identified through their reflections.


The procedures for conducting field research are complicated because they depend on the paradigm used by the researcher. This chapter focused on two types of paradigms. A positivist paradigm focuses on objectivism, value-free research, and reliability. However, many researchers use interpretive paradigm that focuses on the ideal that social reality and social meaning are closely related within a given setting.


One of the many differences among the paradigms is the role of values on research. The role of values in field research is an ongoing area of disagreement among researchers.


Discussion Prompts:

-Since the outcomes of field research studies are influenced by researcher affects, how reliable do you find these studies?
-If you were to create a field research study, what would you do to ensure your participation had little affect on the outcome of the study?
-Which paradigm system would you use in a research study (positive or interpretive)? Why would you choose this paradigm?
-One of the many differences among the paradigms is the role of values on research. The role of values in field research is an ongoing area of disagreement among researchers. What are the positive and negative aspects of both sides?
-When could a field research study provide more benefit than a quantitative study
-Why do you think that a majority of qualitative studies focus on status characteristics? (gender, race, etc.)


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