What Is Field Research?: Definition, Types and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 14, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Conducting field research can provide professionals with the information necessary to create and prove new theories through a variety of data collection methods. Many social sciences use field research to gather information about human interactions and subjects in their natural environments. Individuals who work in an occupation that uses field research can benefit from understanding the purpose and methods of data collection. In this article, we discuss the definition, types and methods of field research and provide examples of field research practices.

What is field research?

Field research refers to the process and methods of gathering qualitative data about the interactions of people or groups in their natural environments. Social scientists use field research methods to collect information and develop new theories about sociology, human nature and interpersonal interactions. Field research aims to establish and prove cause-and-effect relationships in various natural environments and communities.

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Types of field research

Field research encompasses many types of data collection and research objectives. The various types of field research can include written reports, observational records and data analysis. Each component of the field research process contributes to the overall development of theories and conclusions.

Written reports

Creating a written report of your field research includes creating a summary of your methods, hypotheses, findings and overall conclusions. A written report often follows the structure of a formal paper or journal. Providing a written report of your field research allows you to reflect on your findings and share information with other researchers.

Observational records

Field research methods rely heavily on the use of observation to identify patterns, causes and behaviors within a group of subjects. Keeping detailed observational records allows you to recall events, data and factors that can influence your overall results and conclusions. Observational records include informal field notes, journal entries and recordings from the field research process.

Related: Observation Skills: Definition and Examples

Data analysis

The primary goal of conducting field research includes the ability to analyze your findings and develop theories that correspond to the provided data. Data analysis in field research includes using both qualitative and quantitative data to identify patterns or correlations between behaviors, environmental factors, demographics and belief systems. The evaluation of field research results allows social scientists to assign meaning and parameters to specific actions or responses.

Field research methods

The processes used to gather data can vary depending on your desired information and results. Here are some of the most common field research methods:

Ethnography

Ethnography provides a broad observation of a community or social setting. By observing an entire community or region objectively, you can gain insight and data about the cultural values, societal perspective and social structure of the overall group. A field researcher may live within a group or observe from afar to understand their motivations, traditions and beliefs.

Case study

Field researchers and social scientists use case studies to create in-depth analyses. Conducting a case study entails performing a thorough evaluation of a singular person, event or environment. You can use the data and principles from a case study to infer and develop social theories that apply to a larger grouping of people or situations.

Related: How To Write a Psychology Case Study in 8 Steps (Plus Tips)

Qualitative interviews

A qualitative interview involves directly asking research subjects a series of close-ended questions. This process creates a collection of information and qualitative data from multiple sources. You can perform qualitative interviews through focus groups, written surveys and individual interviews. The results from these interviews provide relational data that shows interactions, beliefs and perspectives.

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Participant observation

Participant observation refers to a method of field research where the researcher becomes an active participant in the society or group they observe. As a participating researcher, you can observe the interactions of a group while also having the ability to ask questions and guide discussions to gather more specific data. Using participant observations methods requires skills in communication and interpersonal relations to encourage your subjects to engage in discussions about their personal lives or beliefs.

Direct observation

Direct observation is the process of objectively and silently observing subjects in their natural environments. In this method, the research doesn't interfere or directly interact with subjects. The data gathered through direct observation provides a contextual analysis of interactions and social structures and can help in developing theories about behaviors and environmental factors.

Examples of field research

Here are some examples of studies that use field research methods to observe behaviors and establish social science theories:

Determining the class system of a tribe

A researcher who wants to create a model for the class system of a tribal group can use field research to observe and determine how members of the group measure wealth or authority. The field researcher may use qualitative interviews, participant observation or direct observation to collect data about the tribe's methods of indicating wealth and relations between members of different social classes.

Analyzing the impact of reading on brain development

If you want to determine and analyze the effect of reading on overall brain development, you may conduct field research on a large sample of individuals from different regions, ages and backgrounds. Field research for this study includes qualitative interviews and direct observation to determine a relationship between factors such as reading levels, brain functions and individual development. Performing analysis of the collected data allows you to determine common connections between reading and brain development in individuals and communities.

Studying race relations in a specific region

Studying the interactions and attitudes between individuals of different races in a specific region requires the use of field research. Direct observation allows you to observe subjects interacting in the context of their natural environment and without interference. Conducting qualitative interviews also provides data concerning the attitudes and perspectives of subjects from various races and the relationships between them.

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