Observation is a technique used in qualitative research that assists researchers to familiarize themselves with a conventional or online setting by ethically and strategically recording whatever they hear or see in the research field. Public observation can be used as a qualitative technique in its own right or as a means of gathering data in grounded theory, ethnographic, case studies, and in action research approaches. When public observation is chosen as a formal research method, recording whatever information the researcher gathers becomes a critical component of the observation process and should begin from the earliest possible moment. In this type of technique, observers apply all of their senses in examining individuals in their natural settings (Creswell, 2013). Public observation entails prolonged engagement in a public setting, self-conscious and clearly expressed notations of how observation is done, tactical or systematic improvisation to establish a full understanding of the setting of interest, imparting concentration and attention in a manner that is standardized, and recording of observations. There are many reasons why public observation might be used, which may also serve as the benefits of using public observation. One of the reasons is when it becomes essential to research a phenomenon in its natural setting. In addition, when individual report data is likely to be distinct from the actual behavior is also a reason that might necessitate public observation. An appropriate example would be when the difference that exists between individual reports when compared to observed service delivery in health care settings. When the subject of interest is moderately unexplored, and only little is known on the behavior of individuals in a certain setting and when comprehending the meaning of a setting in a detailed manner is of significant value.
Objectivity in public observation might be affected as a result of biases of the researcher. This makes individual notes to be unreliable and invalid as they may lack independent confirmation. The accounts of the observer’s checks might be available through other techniques or from other researchers. This implies that bias undermines the reliability and validity of a research. Bias in observational research means deviation from, the truth. Susceptibility bias in observational research refers to variations in baseline features. Performance bias, on the other hand, is the distinct proficiencies of treatment. Detection bias in observation is the varied measures of outcome. A broader category of bias in observational research is selection, information, and confounding bias (Janesick, 2011). Selection bias arises from the lack of comparability between groups of study. It also stems from varying rates of research participation depending on individuals’ cultural backgrounds, socio-economic status, and age. Information bias stems from wrong determination of outcome or exposure. On the other hand, the confounding form of bias is a blurring or mixing of effects. This is related to the exposure of interest.
However, although bias may be common in observational research, there are ways that can be used to manage or avoid biases in research. Better planning is required before the commencement of the study. This is essential in order to ensure that the participants selected are a representative of the target group. To avoid information bias, the researcher should ensure that he or she records exact and correct information either the phenomena being observed or risk factors involved in the study. Avoiding this is essential as continued information errors result to measurement errors. Errors arising out of confounding factors should be considered to avoid subjectivity in the study. This is because the risk factor is not an element of the causal path between exposure and the outcome.
Public Observation in a shopping center
Public observation is an inexpensive and simple means of collecting research information. Public observation can be tailored to suit the subject or phenomena a researcher is observing. There are various subjects fit for observations including how people behave in shopping malls or centers (Tracy, 2011). This setting is unique as a researcher is able to study the behavior of people while shopping, both sellers and customers. The role of a researcher in this setting is to observe the behavior of individuals of different cultures and record whatever the researcher sees or hears in the context. Gathering this information is essential in analyzing data to describe the phenomena being studied. The researchers may apply the theories of related to the topic of interest, in addition to the observed information, to explain the findings of the study.
A public observation was carried out at Manhattan Shopping Mall on Saturday, March 30th, 2013 as from 9.00 A.M to 4.00 P.M. The Mall is located in Manhattan Town half block from Penn Station, the Empire State Building, and Madison Square Garden. Because of technological advancement, the Mall is designed in the most technical and complicated way. Sophisticated items such as CCTV cameras were all over the place ensuring maximum security for all individuals. The Mall occupies space of about ten acres. There were a variety of things in the mall ranging from food products to clothing products and other household stuff. The arrangement of things in the mall was all in order to make it easy for customers to obtain whatever product or service they want to purchase or be served with. There were numerous and distinct types of ethnicity, as well as, different manners of how individuals act. This was an indoor shopping arena. On the day of observation, there were a lot of people in groups of three or more. People seemed to worry about themselves and their groups rather than other people. A lot of families had brought along their children to play children games and play around the water fountain. Individuals are exceptionally distinct in various ways such as views, perceptions, and cultures. This implies that for communication and adaptation to new cultures to take place, individuals should learn to understand norms, social control, and signs. These factors are essential as they influence almost all aspects of social life.
A sign in research refers to a symbol that conveys or stands for an idea (Tracy, 2013). In the Shopping Mall, for instance, signs are price tags, numbers, slow down signs, and many others that are used to represent an idea on some issue or concern. It is essential to note that all signs convey certain information despite their nature. They are the most common and make every person’s life a little easier not only in the shopping center setting, but also in other social settings. Additionally, gestures are examples of signs and have to do with the movements of the body. Although signs are found everywhere, some individuals have to learn in order to comprehend what they convey. For instance, in the public observation of the mall, there were numerous signs of sale outside the stores. The signs are exceedingly powerful as they persuade and attract customers or rather buyers to come in. Sale has a lot of meanings including what is being told and the price of the particular sale item. The signs are big and easy to see, thus, a trick strategy used by sellers to attract buyers. For example, people walked by a store and saw a sign indicating 20% to % off on Summer Apparels. People saw the sign as automatic and became curious. They went in the store and came out with bags looking happy.
People in the mall were from different cultures and race, and this could be explained by their physical features and characteristics that they possessed, as well as, the language they spoke. There was bargaining from customers on prices to reach an affordable price for them and sellers of products or services. Being a Saturday, a lot of activities were taking place and people were busy doing their stuff. The groups of individuals included members of family, friends, and relatives who had come to the shopping center for various reasons. Couples held hands when they came in while children were held by their parents when in the area. However, the researcher noted that although there were many types of people in the Mall, the people are likely to be from middle and high levels class status. This was illustrated by the cars that individuals came in, the mode of dressing and make up for women, as well as, the things they talked about. Additionally, the products and services from the shopping centre are of high quality and are, therefore, a bit expensive. This makes it difficult for people belonging to the lower level social class to afford goods and services from the center.
The role of bias, context, and the researcher played a significant role in ensuring that reliability and validity in the findings of the observation study were achieved and maintained throughout the research. The results are objective as a result of the researcher staying away from all types of bias in observational research. The role of the researcher in observation is to ensure that he records the real information while recognizing the potential factors that interfere with the objectivity of the study (Creswell, 2013). The researcher was able to avoid selection bias by choosing a public setting where different people with different beliefs and opinions go for various purposes. Selection bias was, therefore, avoided as the researcher chose participants randomly and used non-participant form of observation to study phenomena. Avoiding selection bias is an essential thing in research in establishing reliability and validity of a research. Lack of reliability and validity in a study implies that the findings cannot be trusted as they may after all be untrue. Additionally, in order to avoid bias, the researcher ensured that there is comparability between groups of study. Better planning was done by the researcher before the commencement of the study. This was critical in order to ensure that the participants selected were a representative of the target group. Although the researcher noted that the groups likely to be observed in the mall are from the middle and the upper social classes, this does not imply that the research is biased as these people are a representation of the targeted population.
Incorrect determination of exposure or outcome causes information bias (Tracy, 2013). It is crucial to avoid information bias as this also affects objectivity in research. The researcher ensured that the exact and correct information was recorded on the both the phenomena being observed and risk factors involved in the study. Avoiding this is essential as continued information errors would lead to result to measurement errors. Correct and exact information in this case implies that the researcher recorded what was seen or heard without being influenced by external factors or knowledge from other sources. Thus, the researcher’s findings are true and represent the real individuals’ behavior while in the shopping mall. The role of the researcher in avoiding information bias means that the researcher was also able to avoid measurement errors that could have occurred during the observation study in the Manhattan Shopping Mall.
On the other hand, possible errors that could arise out of confounding factors were taken into account by the researcher in order to avoid subjectivity in the study. As the risk factor is not an element of the causal path between exposure and the outcome, the researcher ensured that these were considered to maintain objectivity in research. Therefore, the researcher played a significant role in the selection of the public setting (context) and in the maintenance of objectivity throughout the study. This is what is required for not only researchers using the observational form of qualitative research, but also all researchers.
Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Janesick, V. J. (2011). “Stretching” exercises for qualitative researchers (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Tracy, S. J. (2013). Qualitative research methods: Collecting evidence, crafting analysis, communicating impact. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
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