Steps in Field Research

Naturalism and direct involvement mean that field research is more flexible or less structured than quantitative research. This makes it essential for a researcher to be well organized and prepared for the field. It also means that the steps of project are not entirely predetermined but serve as an approximate guide or road map. These guideline steps are:
1.      Prepare yourself, read the literature and defocus.
Þ    As with all social and behavioral research, reading the scholarly literature helps the researcher learn concepts, potential pitfalls, data collection methods, and techniques for resolving conflicts. In addition field researcher finds diaries, novels, journalistic accounts, and autobiographies useful for gaining familiarity and preparing emotionally for the field. Field research begins with a general topic, not specific hypotheses. A researcher does not get locked into any initial misconceptions. He or she needs to be well informed but open to discovering new ideas.
Þ    A researcher first empties his or her mind of preconceptions and defocuses. There are two types of defocusing. The first is casting a wide net in order to witness a wide range of situations, people, and setting – getting a feel of the overall setting before deciding what to include or exclude. The second type of defocusing means not focusing exclusively on the role of researcher. It may be important to extend one’s experience beyond a strictly professional role.
Þ    Another preparation for field research is self-knowledge. A field researcher needs to know him or herself and reflect on personal experiences. He or she can expect anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, and uncertainty in the field. Also all kinds of stereotypes about the community should be emptied.
2. Select a site and gain access.
Þ    Although a field research project does not proceed by fixed steps, some common concerns arise in the early stages. These include selecting a site, gaining access to the site, entering the field, and developing rapport with members in the field.
Þ    Field site is the context in which events or activities occur, a socially defined territory with shifting boundaries. A social group may interact across several physical sites. For example, a college football team may interact on the playing field, in the dressing room, at a training camp or at the place where they are staying. The team’s field site includes all four locations.
Þ    Physical access to a site can be an issue. Sites can be on a continuum, with open and public areas (e.g., public restaurants, airport waiting rooms) at one end and closed and private settings (e.g., private firms, clubs, activities in a person’s home) at the other end. A researcher may find that he or she is not welcome or not allowed on the site, or there are legal and political barriers to access.
3.      Enter the field and establish social relations with members
Þ    Present yourself in the field the way it is acceptable to the people to be studied. Develop relations and establish rapport with individual members. Here the researcher may have to learn the local language. A field researcher builds rapport by getting along with members in the field. He or she forges a friendly relationship, shares the same language, and laughs and cries with members. This is a step toward obtaining an understanding of members and moving beyond understanding to empathy – that is seeing and feeling events from another’s perspective.
4. Enter the field: Adopt a social role, learn the ropes, and get along with members.
Þ    At times, a researcher adopts an existing role. Some existing roles provide access to all areas of the site, the ability to observe and interact with all members, the freedom to move around, and a way to balance the requirements of researcher and member. There could be some limitations for the adoption of specific roles. Such limitations may be because of researcher’s age, race, gender, and attractiveness. At other times, a researcher creates new roles or modifies the existing one. The adoption of field role takes time, and a researcher may adopt several different field roles over time.
Þ    The role may also depend upon the level of involvement in the community’s activities. The researcher may be a complete observer, observer as participant, participant as observer, and complete participant.
5. Observing and collecting data: Watch, listen, and collect quality data.
Þ    A great deal of what field researchers do in the field is to pay attention, watch, and listen carefully. They use all the senses, noticing what is seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched. The researcher becomes an instrument that absorbs all sources of information.
Þ    Most field research data are in the form of field notes. Good notes are the brick and mortar of field research. Full field notes can contain maps, diagrams, photographs, interviews, tape recordings, videotapes, memos, objects from the field, notes jotted in the field, and detailed notes written away from the field. A field researcher expects to fill many notebooks, or the equivalent in computer memory. He or she may spend more time writing notes than being in the field.
Þ    Writing notes is often boring, tedious work that requires self-discipline. The notes contain extensive descriptive detail drawn from memory. The researcher makes it a daily habit or compulsion to write notes immediately after leaving the field. The notes must be neat and organized because the researcher will return to them over and over again. Once written, the notes are private and valuable. A researcher treats them with care and protects confidentiality.
6. Begin to analyze data generate and evaluate working hypothesis.
Þ    Right in the field try to look into the research questions and the kind of answers the researcher is getting. The analysis of the answers might help in the generation of hypotheses. Over time are such hypotheses being supported by further field research?
7. Focus on specific aspects of the setting and use theoretical sampling.
Þ    Field researcher first gets a general picture, and then focuses on a few specific problems or issues. A researcher decides on specific research questions and develops hypotheses only after being in the field and experiencing it first-hand. At first, everything seems relevant; later, however, selective attention focuses on specific questions and themes.
Þ    Field research sampling differs from survey sampling, although sometime both use snowball sampling. A field researcher samples by taking a smaller, selective set of observations from all possible observations. It is called theoretical sampling because it is guided by the researcher’s developing theory. Field researchers sample times, situations, types of events, locations, types of people, or context of interest.
Þ    For example, field researcher samples time by observing a setting at different times. He or she observes at all time of the day, on every day of the week, and in all seasons to get a full sense of how the field site stays the same or changes. Another example, when the field researcher samples locations because one location may give depth, but narrow perspective. Sitting or standing in different locations helps the researcher to get a sense of the whole site. Similarly the field researchers sample people by focusing their attention or interaction on different kinds of people (young, adult, old).
8. Conduct field interviews with member informants.
Þ    Field researchers use unstructured, non-directive, in-depth interviews, which differs from formal survey research interviews in many ways. The field interview involves asking question, listening, expressing interest, and recording what was said.
Þ    Field interview is a joint production of a research and a member. Members are active participants whose insights, feelings, and cooperation are essential parts of a discussion process that reveals subjective meaning. The interviewer’s presence and form of involvement – how he or she listens, attends, encourages, interrupts, disagrees, initiates topics, and terminates responses – is integral to the respondent’s account.
9. Disengage and physically leave the setting.
Þ    Work in the field can last for a few weeks to a dozen years. In either case at some point of work in the field ends. Some researchers suggest that the end comes naturally when the theory building ceases or reaches a closure; others feel that fieldwork could go on without end and that a firm decision to cut off relations is needed.
Þ    Experienced field researchers anticipate a process of disengaging and exiting the field. Depending on the intensity of involvement and the length of time in the field, the process can be disruptive or emotionally painful for both the researcher and the members.
Þ    Once researcher decides to leave – because the project reaches a natural end and little new is being learned, or because external factors force it to end (e.g., end of job, gatekeepers order the researcher out) – he or she chooses a method of exiting. The researcher can leave by quick exit (simply not return one day) or slowly withdraw, reducing his or her involvement over weeks. He or she also needs to decide how to tell members and how much advance warning to give. The best way to exist is to follow the local norms and continuing with the friendly relations.
10. Complete the analysis and write the report.
Þ    After disengaging from the field setting the researcher writes the report. The researcher may share the written report with the members observed to verify the accuracy and get their approval of its portrayal in print. It may help in determining the validity of the findings. However, it may not be possible to share the findings with marginal groups like addicts, and some deviant groups.