Tag Archive | Field Notes

Bailey ch 8 (Duncan)

Bailey Chapter 8: Field Notes and Leaving the Field

Field Notes Overview (p. 113):

  • Like keeping a journal/diary that is “teeming with detailed descriptions, paraphrased quotations, self-reflections, and profound thoughts.”
  • You must keep entries organized and type them out every night.
  • “If you are not writing field notes, then you are not conducting field research.”
  • Field notes “serve as repository for the important and no-so-important data of field research.”
  • Act of writing is “creating data.”  Methodological decisions made while writing
  • Common to feel uncertain if doing it “right.”
  • Better field notes, better final project
  • Trust process and keep writing


  • Any small tablet, notebook.
  • Journal should be a field researcher’s constant companion.
  • “In a pinch….anything will do”

Note Taking pg 114

  • Not necessary to hide, but don’t make a big production
  • To keep flow of interview, scribble quick and add more details at inconspicuous moments
  • Fine line as some subjects expect note taking or feel you are not listening/paying attention.
    • Researcher must sense whether subjects are expecting more note taking or listening.
    • Lofland and Lofland (1984)
      • Fuller jottings – writing as much as possible (as in a college class)
      • Mental notes – remembering as much as possible (does not result in level of detail in written notes)
      • Jotted notes – writing key words (must be quickly followed up with full descriptions or usefulness diminishes)

Full Field Notes (per Lofland and Lofland 1984) pg 115

  • Detailed descriptions – of observations and interactions in the field.
    • Descriptions kept in a chronological log – with exact or approximate times
    • Concrete, with tangible details
    • Focus on “raw behavior” – do not explain “why” or make guesses.
    • Be sure to specify that any “feelings” written down are interpretation of observation
    • Detailed accounts of conversations and informal interviews
    • Maintain a system to differentiate notes from verbatim quotes, close paraphrases and general recall
      • Use systems such as double quotes around verbatim, single around paraphrasing, no quotations when captured “gist”
  • Words play an important part in understanding the setting
  • Thin Notes – lack detail
  • Rich Notes – detailed
  • Things previously forgotten, now remembered – may be placed in “day recalled” or “day of event.”
  • Analytic ideas and inferences – write ideas of social meanings, inferences, interpretations of interactions, patterns.  Put all ideas, good bad, uncertain into field notes.  More analysis makes project easier to complete
  • Personal feelings – write personal feelings, people you liked and didn’t, did interaction go well or not? Emotional reactions to people and events affect them and shape interpretation.  Will help with analyzation of data but be sure to label as “personal opinions.”
  • Things to think about and do – start journal each day with “to do list” of people to speak with, missing details to gather, questions to ask.
  • Reflexive Thoughts – overlaps other categories.  Active consideration of his or her place in the research.  Observer is “always unavoidably present and necessary in field research”

Guidelines for writing Field Notes pg 120

  • Limit interactions and observations to three hour blocks
  • Write ASAP after observation
  • Do not conduct two or more observations before writing the first
  • Number of pages of field notes per observation varies.  Suggestion of 13pgs per hour observation
  • Should take as long to write out observation as it did to observe…probably twice as long
  • Always type notes from journal
  • Keep notes organized
  • Do Not trust memory
  • Backup computer files
  • Do not put off completing the field notes

Leaving the Field pg 121

  • While class assignments last days, most field research requires months or years in the field
  • Reasons to leave the field
    • Safety: physical, psychological
    • Participants no longer want you there
    • Lack of money or time
    • Not learning anything new (saturation point).  Evidenced by “things to do” portion of notes grows smaller and smaller
    • Fewer and fewer analytic insights
    • Concern for relationships.
      • Discuss plan to exit with participants and be sure you have done “all you said you would.”