Definition of Observation
(noun) Making and recording a measurement.
Types of Observation
- American English – /ahb-suhr-vAY-shuhn/
- British English – /ob-zuh-vAY-shuhn/
International Phonetic Alphabet
- American English – /ˌɑbzərˈveɪʃ(ə)n/
- British English – /ˌɒbzəˈveɪʃn/
- Plural: observations
- To properly conduct research, defining the unit of observation is important.
- Observations are recorded in field notes during field research.
- “[A field experiment] enables researchers to observe various forms of social behavior under conditions in which they normally occur. In a laboratory study, subjects know they are being observed and thus may display the behavior they believe is desirable” (Kendall 2006:27).
- “Ethnographers seek out the insider’s viewpoint. Because culture is the knowledge people use to generate behavior and interpret experience, the ethnographer seeks to understand group members’ behavior from the inside, or cultural, perspective. Instead of looking for a subject to observe, ethnographers look for an informant to teach them the culture” (Spradley and McCurdy 2008:4).
- “Sociological feminism begins with the observation that for most of the history of sociology women hardly appear in social theory and research. Men’s experiences have been viewed as universal and women’s activities and experiences have been hidden” (Hughes and Kroehler 2008:17).
- “Sociology, through its emphasis on observation and measurement, allows us to bring rigorous and systematic scientific thinking and information to bear on difficult questions associated with social policies and choices, including those related to poverty, health, immigration, crime, and education. Many people interested in these issues do not realize that more than concern is need to solve problems. Action must be informed by knowledge” (Hughes and Kroehler 2008:3).
- “Units of analysis in a study are usually also the units of observation. Thus, to study success in a political science course, we should observe individual students. Sometimes, however, we “observe” our units of analysis indirectly. For example, suppose we want to find out whether disagreements about the death penalty tend to cause divorce. In this case, we might “observe” individual husbands and wives by asking them about their attitudes about capital punishment, in order to distinguish couples who agree and disagree on this issue. In this case, our units of observation are individual wives and husbands, but our units of analysis (the things we want to study) are couples” (Babbie 2011:102).
- Qualitative Research Resources – Books, Journals, and Helpful Links
- Quantitative Research Resources – Books, Journals, and Helpful Links
- Word origin of “observation” – Online Etymology Dictionary: etymonline.com
- field experiment
- field note
- field research
- qualitative research
Babbie, Earl R. 2011. The Basics of Social Research. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Hughes, Michael, and Carolyn J. Kroehler. 2008. Sociology: The Core. 8th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Kendall, Diana. 2006. Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Spradley, James P., and David W. McCurdy. 2008. Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology. 13th ed. Boston: Pearson Education.
Ferrante, Joan. 2011a. Seeing Sociology: An Introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Ferrante, Joan. 2011b. Sociology: A Global Perspective. 7th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Jary, David, and Julia Jary. 2000. Collins Dictionary of Sociology. 3rd ed. Glasgow, Scotland: HarperCollins.
Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).
Schaefer, Richard. 2013. Sociology: A Brief Introduction. 10th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wiktionary, The Free Dictionary. Wikimedia Foundation. (http://en.wiktionary.org).
ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “observation.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved November 29, 2023 (https://sociologydictionary.org/observation/).
APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)
observation. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/observation/
Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)
Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “observation.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed November 29, 2023. https://sociologydictionary.org/observation/.
MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)
“observation.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 29 Nov. 2023. <https://sociologydictionary.org/observation/>.