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10.5: Analysis of Field Research Data

  • Page ID
    • Anonymous
    • LibreTexts
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    Learning Objectives
    • Define analytic field notes and explain how they differ from descriptive field notes.
    • Explain why making note of mundane details is a good idea.
    • Describe the process by which field researchers analyze their data.

    Field notes are data. But moving from having pages of data to presenting findings from a field study in a way that will make sense to others requires that those data be analyzed. Analysis of field research data is the focus herr.

    From Description to Analysis

    Writing and analyzing field notes involves moving from description to analysis. Previously, we considered field notes that are mostly descriptive in nature. Here we’ll consider analytic field notes. Analytic field notes are notes that include the researcher’s impressions about his observations. Analyzing field note data is a process that occurs over time, beginning at the moment a field researcher enters the field and continuing as interactions are happening in the field, as the researcher writes up descriptive notes, and as the researcher considers what those interactions and descriptive notes mean.

    Often field notes will develop from a more descriptive state to an analytic state when the field researcher exits a given observation period, messy jotted notes or recordings in hand (or in some cases, literally on hand), and sits at a computer to type up those notes into a more readable format. We’ve already noted that carefully paying attention while in the field is important; so too is what goes on immediately upon exiting the field. Field researchers typically spend several hours typing up field notes after each observation has occurred. This is often where the analysis of field research data begins. Having time outside of the field to reflect upon your thoughts about what you’ve seen and the meaning of those observations is crucial to developing analysis in field research studies.

    Once the analytic field notes have been written or typed up, the field researcher can begin to look for patterns across the notes by coding the data. This will involve the iterative process of open and focused coding that is outlined in Chapter 9. As mentioned several times it is important to note as much as you possibly can while in the field and as much as you can recall after leaving the field because you never know what might become important. Things that seem decidedly unimportant at the time may later reveal themselves to have some relevance.

    In my field research experience, I was often surprised by the bits of data that turned out to hold some analytic relevance later on. For example, my field notes included a number of direct quotes and descriptions of informal interactions with participants that I didn’t expect would be important but that I nevertheless jotted down. Several of these quotes eventually made their way into my analysis. For example, Polly, who ran the volunteer office for a breast cancer organization, once remarked to me, “We [in the volunteer office] don’t use disposable cups here. It is always best to have coffee in a real mug. It’s much nicer that way” (Blackstone, 2004, p. 187).Blackstone, A. (2004). Sociability, work, and gender. Equal Opportunities International, 23, 29–44.

    It didn’t occur to me at the time that this was just one of many tasks that Polly and other women volunteers do that remains largely invisible to the beneficiaries of their work. Because it is “much nicer” for volunteers to drink out of a real mug instead of a disposable cup, Polly actually spends a large amount of time washing mugs every day, and throughout the day, so that a clean, real mug is always available to the many volunteers who show up for brief volunteer shifts at the office each day. Had I not made a note of the coffee cup interaction with Polly, which at the time seemed rather mundane, I may have missed an important analytic point about the invisibility of some components of women’s volunteer labor that I was later able to make in presentations and publications of the work.

    • In analytic field notes, a researcher makes note of impressions about her or his observations.
    • Details that may seem unimportant in the moment may turn out to be important during later analysis; it is therefore crucial that field researchers make note of these observations when conducting field research.

    This page titled 10.5: Analysis of Field Research Data is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anonymous.