Posts Tagged: field research

Posts Tagged ‘field research’

Mar 14 2007

Assignment Showcase: Ethnography (Kim Pyne)

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or, What is the culture of this group of people?

Field research—as distinct from library or secondary source research—has two predominant modes: quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative research involves numbers, statistics, and fixed experimental designs.  It investigates large, random samples and attempts to learn the what, where, and when of a topic. It tests theories or hypotheses in order to make statements that can be generalized across populations and situations. It is all about measurement, mathematical models, and the manipulation of variables. Classic experimental research tends to be quantitative. For example: rats in a maze; medical testing of aspirin users vs. non-aspirin users; or examining samples of atmospheric pollution in major American cities.

Qualitative research, on the other hand, involves an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that may govern that behavior. It investigates small, carefully chosen, focused populations and attempts to learn the why and how of a topic.  It concentrates on what people do in face-to-face interaction and depends heavily on participation, observation, and interviewing. This methodology is grounded in the same principles behind experiential learning—that we can understand the world by participating and engaging with other people. For example: while achievement tests can tell us which students succeeded on a particular question, they cannot tell us why certain students did better than others. Qualitative research, however, can.

One of many forms of qualitative research, ethnography is a method of studying the social and cultural dimensions of human interaction. It is a staple in social sciences research (sociology, anthropology, history, etc.) and the primary method for anthropologists. Its goal is to understand communities and cultures from an insider’s perspective, and then translate that understanding to outsiders. It assumes that any human group interacting together for a period of time will evolve a culture—a collection of shared behavior patterns, beliefs, and values—and is interested in understanding groups of people with a shared sense of identity. Unlike similar forms of field research, ethnography does not focus on individuals.  (After all, “Ethnos” is the Greek word for “a people” or cultural group.)

In the past, ethnographers often studied exotic cultures in far-away places. Contemporary ethnography, however, also turns its attention to cultures that are closer to home, revealing previously undiscovered aspects of local communities. Good ethnographers, whether focused on the exotic or the everyday, teach us to view cultural communities in new and unexpected ways. Such insights can be applied to assessing and helping people address problems and needs within organizations, communities, or larger social contexts.


Design and enact an ethnographic project that will help you to answer an interesting or important question about a particular community or social group. Conduct your research, and then write a research report that presents and analyzes your findings. Your research methods should include interviews with members of the group, observations of key aspects and/or events, and relevant secondary source research in the library.  You may also include questionnaires or surveys, but they should not be your dominant form of data collection.


1)      Invent (brainstorm, etc.) a list of communities or groups that you would like to investigate. You might even choose a group to which you already belong. If so, realize that you will have to concentrate on “seeing” the group as both an insider and an outsider. Be careful to limit your group to something very specific. (Ex: not Native Americans, but Elon students who are Native American. Not athletes, but senior players on the varsity football team. Not compulsive internet junkies, but the regular long-term visitors at a particular internet café in Raleigh.)

2)      Conduct some preliminary secondary source research. Gather data about your group or about similar groups from various library resources, including books, journals, and other print or video media.  You might need to supplement this with further secondary source research as you go.

3) Focus your initial research.  What would you like to understand better about this group? What particular aspect of the group do you expect to focus on? This will drive your initial data collection—the questions you ask in interviews, the specific information you seek during observations, etc. Know that most ethnographers change their focus during the research as new, more compelling, or more significant discoveries and understandings arise.

4)      Determine how you will gain access to your group. How will you select participants to interview? How many responses will you solicit? What do you hope to observe and will you be just a background figure or actually participate in the events?

5)      Think Ethics! What will you tell participants about the purpose of your research? Remember to let them know that this is research for a College Writing course only and that members of the class and the professor will have access to some materials. You should use pseudonyms in place of all names and keep any identifiable descriptions or contact information private, and should assure participants of that level of confidentiality.

6)      Conduct your field research. Keep your eyes open for significant and unexpected details. Take careful notes on what you see and hear. Take thorough notes during interviews (even if you choose to tape and transcribe the interviews).  After you collect your data, you should have a large amount of information from which to develop a final focus. Narrow this down to a single point of significance about the culture of your group.

7)      Select your audience carefully (one which would not be already very familiar with your group), but also be aware that members of the group you are studying may read this report. One possible audience could be a professor in an introductory sociology or psychology class.

8)       Write a short, tightly focused ethnography. Because you only have 5-7 pages, you cannot paint a broad portrait of this group. Instead, you will need to make a specific claim, promote a new understanding about a particular aspect of the group. You will need to synthesize secondary sources along with offering specific descriptions and analysis of your group.

9)      Your report should include these four parts (and maybe use these subheadings):

a)      Introduction: This should clearly offer the rationale for selecting your group, including a discussion of what you hoped to learn through field research, why such study is important, and at least a hint of your key finding(s).

b)      Methodology: A brief description of how you designed and conducted your research. This should also include a discussion of your role within the group or setting.

c)      Data: Description and analysis of your data (library sources, interviews, observations, etc.). If you researched in a particular setting, be sure to include a description of the place as well as the key people.

d)     Discussion: Explains the significance of your findings and draws conclusions about your group.

10)  Save all of your research notes and include them in your folder when you submit this paper. Your final paper should be 5-7 pages. Be sure to cite any secondary sources, using either APA or MLA method of documentation. (APA is preferred for this kind of research, but I’ll take either as long as you are consistent.)


Due: Thursday, October 12

1. Identify the community you plan to explore. What aspect(s) of this community do you expect focus your research on?

2. Briefly note the following:

  • What you currently know about the community
  • What you currently assume about the community
  • What you expect to find, knowing you may be wrong and/or that there may be a better focus that will emerge as you research

3. Identify your purpose and audience. (Note: Your audience should be generally unfamiliar with your group. But know that members of the community may also read this particular work.)

4. Identify by name (with contact information such as phone number and/or email) the person/people you plan to interview. For each person, include at least five open-ended interview questions. If the nature of your community prohibits knowing in advance who you will talk to, explain this and explain how you will identify people to speak with when the time comes.  What interview questions do you plan to use with them? (Please read the material on interview methodology before writing questions!)

5. Identify what you plan to observe (a community member working in their trade, a particular event or set of activities, interaction between members of the group in a certain location, etc.) Scheduling more than one limited observation is best for most cases.

6. Identify the secondary sources you plan to consult in order to complete your paper (specific sources found in library, online, and so on).

7.  Briefly discuss any significant issues that might arise concerning a) gaining access to your chosen community and b) confidentiality for participants. How do you plan to deal with these.  [If any of these seem serious or if any arise later in your research, contact me immediately to discuss options.]


____________            Do you address a community or group rather than simply profile an individual? (10 pts)

____________            Have you integrated observation, interviews, and secondary source research to address a clear and specific focus? Or do the parts of your research seem disjointed, arbitrary, and unconnected? (20 pts)

____________            Does your writing effectively and appropriately address your intended audience? Have you chosen an appropriate tone and style? Have you structured the piece with your audience in mind? (i.e. Have you thought what your audience is going to want to know first? What they will be drawn by?) Have you also thoughtfully allowed for readers from the community you studied? (10 pts)

____________            Is it clear that your observations and interviews have helped you move beyond a general and superficial understanding of the group and into something that you and your audience may not have realized? May even be surprised by? (15 pts)

____________            Are your observations vivid? Are they detailed in significant ways? Do you use strong verbs and adjectives to describe your community/group? (10 pts)

____________            Do you utilize your interview data well, including carefully selected quotes from members of the community that portray them clearly, fairly, and vividly? (10 pts)

____________            Is your purpose clear? Are you effective in eliciting the proper

response from your audience? Are you convincing? (10 pts)

____________            Have you avoided grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors? (10 pts)

____________            Have you correctly cited your sources (written and human) in MLA or APA style? (5 pts)

____________            TOTAL (100 points)

Sources: Chiseri-Strater’s Field Working, Axelrod & Cooper Reading Critically, Writing Well, Dr. Prudence Layne, Dr. Jessie Kapper, and other English 110 members.

Mar 14 2007

Assignment Showcase: Field Research Report (Jessie Moore)

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Reports typically synthesize information in an effort to inform or explain; in other words, a report writer selects and organizes information about a topic and conveys that information to the reader in a more accessible manner.

Before you compose your report, you will need to gather and select information to include. Your information should come from field research that you have conducted in relation to your topic. Field research might include interviews, surveys, or observations. For instance, if your topic is what you perceive as limited parking for students on campus, you might:

  • Interview a representative of the Elon Physical Plant to learn about maintenance issues associated with existing parking facilities;
  • Interview a university administrator to learn about previous investigations of parking issues on campus, as well as the administration’s current stance on parking;
  • Survey students and/or faculty and staff to learn about their specific parking-related concerns; or
  • Observe the use of two or more parking lots on campus.

The form of a report can vary, depending on the audience and their needs. A writer might convey synthesized information in an article, a fact sheet, a lab report, a brochure, a web site, a memo, or an academic report, just to name a few possible forms. Since your classmates and I are your audience for this task, I would like you to practice using the form of an academic report. Once you’ve completed your research, you should write a report that includes:

  • An introduction that explains what research questions you attempted to answer;
  • A literature review that explains what you’ve already learned about the topic based on your research for your annotated bibliography;
  • A methods section that explains how you conducted your research;
  • A results section that identifies the findings of your research;
  • A discussion section that interprets your results; and
  • A conclusion that summarizes your main findings and explains how you might integrate your results into a proposal on your topic.

Chapter 7 of A Meeting of Minds discusses synthesizing ideas, which will help you prepare the literature review section of your field research report. Class discussions will help you prepare to compose other sections of your report.

A completed draft of your Field Research Report is due on Wednesday, March 15th. Your final draft is due on Friday, April 28th, as part of your portfolio.

As always, I encourage you to visit the Writing Center for assistance with any stage of your writing process. I also am available during office hours, or by appointment, to visit with you about drafts of your report or to answer questions.

Evaluation Criteria

Needs Improvement Good Excellent
Introduction Includes minimal, if any, introduction to your research subtopic and research questions. Readers may be confused about the purpose of your report after reading your introduction. Introduces your research subtopic or the research questions that you attempted to answer, but not both. Attempts to introduce the main ideas addressed in the report, but might benefit from additional revision. Introduces your research subtopic and the research questions that you attempted to answer. Provides your reader a roadmap for the rest of the report.
Literature Review Includes minimal, if any, discussion of your archival sources. Does not relate the information from the sources to your own field research. Errors in MLA citations prevent the reader from identifying your source use and locating your sources. Discusses the sources you found for your annotated bibliography, but does not identify connections between individual sources or relate the information to your own field research. Some MLA citations contain errors that could confuse the reader about your source use. Explains what you’ve already learned about the topic based on your archival research for your annotated bibliography. Discusses how the source information relates to your own field research. Skillfully synthesizes sources. Correctly uses MLA citations to identify your sources.
Methods Contains minimal explanation of how you conducted your research (subjects, procedures, etc.). Explains how you conducted your research, but readers might want more elaboration or detail. Explains how you conducted your research. Provides sufficient elaboration and detail.
Results Research findings are absent or are hard to identify. The presentation or organization of the findings could be stronger. Identifies the findings of your research, but might benefit from revisions to enhance clarity and/or coherence. Identifies the findings of your research in a clear and coherent manner.
Discussion Includes minimal, if any, discussion of the research results, or poor organization makes it difficult for the reader to understand the discussion. Discusses the significance of the research findings, but does not link the findings to your campus topic of concern. Explains the significance of the research findings and examines how the findings are relevant to your campus topic of concern.
Conclusion Provides only minimal summary of your field research, or fails to connect your research to your campus topic. Would benefit from extensive revision. Summarizes your field research and partially explains how you could integrate your work into a research-based proposal, but might benefit from further revision. Clearly and coherently summarizes your field research and explains how you could integrate your work into a research-based proposal.
Organization Organization is difficult to follow. Required components are not easy to recognize. Reader might be confused by the structure of the paper. Overall organization is easy to follow, but between-paragraph or within paragraph transitions could benefit from revision. Overall organization is strong. Between-paragraph and within paragraph transitions are effective and help the reader understand the writer’s organization.
Style and Editing Errors interfere with the reader’s understanding. Sentence structure would benefit from extensive revision for clarity. Paper would benefit from proof reading. Some sentence structures would benefit from revision for clarity. Errors exist, but they do not interfere with the reader’s understanding. Sentence structures are clear and coherent. The writer’s style is effective for the purpose and audience. The paper includes few, if any, errors.


Date Preparation/Homework for Class Activities During Class
M, 2/27
  • Read New York Times article, “To:”
  • Discuss reading email etiquette
  • Introduce Field Research Report Assignment
W, 3/1
  • Read 19a (pp. 330-340) in Handbook
  • Write a paragraph identifying the type of field research that you plan to conduct and explaining why it is the best choice for investigating your topic.
  • Discuss field research methods
  • Draft research materials
F, 3/3
  • Revise research materials and bring to class for peer response/testing.
  • Read Chapter 7 in Meeting of Minds
  • Test research materials
  • Discuss synthesizing sources and in-text citations
  • Analyze examples of synthesis
M, 3/6
  • Complete Synthesis Worksheet
  • Bring sources to class
  • Drafting strategies: Synthesizing Sources
  • Discuss strategies for reporting Methods
W, 3/8
  • Draft the Methods section of your Field Research Report and post it to the Methods Section discussion board
  • Continue conducting your field research
  • Discuss strategies for reporting Methods, continued
  • Examine section draft for completeness
  • Discuss strategies for reporting  results
F, 3/10
  • Complete your field research
  • Read 17 (pp. 313-321) in Handbook
  • Draft the Results section of your Field Research Report and post it to the Results Section discussion board
  • Discuss visual representations of research findings
  • Practice creating visual representations
M, 3/13
  • Create at least one visual to include in your Field Research Report
  • Draft the Discussion section of your Field Research Report and post it to the Discussion Section discussion board
  • Discuss strategies for discussing results
  • Discuss strategies for introducing your report
W, 3/15
  • Complete your Field Research Report Draft
  • Write a Response Request Memo
  • Post your Field Research Report Draft and your Response Request Memo to Blackboard
  • Complete a Peer Response memo for your assigned partner
F, 3/17
  • Read pp. 90-108 in Handbook
  • Reread your drafts and comments
  • Complete Mid-Semester Assessments on Blackboard
  • Complete Revision Worksheet on Blackboard
M, 3/20 – F, 3/24: Spring Break—Enjoy!

This schedule is subject to change. Updates will be announced in class and posted on Blackboard. Check Blackboard often for the most up-to-date information.

Mar 14 2007

Strategies for Teaching Field Research

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  • Observation Activity (In-Class) : Students brainstorm observation criteria and then test them out. When conducted as a group activity, sub-groups could compare results to prompt discussion of the challenges of conducting thorough (but non-obtrusive) observations.
  • Interview Activity (In-Class): Students brainstorm interview questions and test them out by interviewing each other
  • Field Research Report (See Jessie Moore’s Assignment)
  • Ethnography Assignment (See Kim Pyne’s Activity)