What to write down

Instructor: Nadine Cornejo Choy is an undergraduate sociology major at San Diego State University, on the deans list, and top of the class for Qualitative Research Methods.

It helps to have a topic in mind when you enter the field. Take the park example used in this video. Imagine three different researchers go to the same park each weekend at the same time, but each has a different research interest:

  1. Types of parental styles in public spaces
  2. Gendered playground behavior among children
  3. The unspoken rules of interaction between strangers

They may be using the same source for their data, but what they capture will be very different.

That said, there are some cases where a particular space is chosen before having a particular focus. This might be because that location is exceptionally fascinating to the researcher or because the researcher has unique access to an otherwise hard-to-enter and understudied space. In this case they may enter the field with an exploratory orientation, rather than a focused one. However, after a few trips to the field, possible topics generally begin to emerge and the exploratory orientation gradually becomes more focused.

When doing your first field observations you do yourself a favor to have a topic first, and pick the field to match.