Researchers write field reports to combine the theoretical concepts learned in the classroom with observation methods applied out of the classroom. Field reports are used to describe an observed event, person or place and analysing the observed data to identify and categorize the themes about the research problems outlined in the study.
In most cases, the data is usually in the form of notes taken while observing the event, person or place. It can also include other data-gathering forms such as illustrations, photography and audio recordings to name a few. Having a basic idea about sampling method, some experience with research report writing, framing research questions, and data collection techniques, qualitative research & quantitative research are of additional advantage.
Also Read: Getting started with Thesis Writing
How to write a field report?
Field reports are usually prepared by employees in the social sciences departments. These departments include criminal justice, anthropology, health care, law and social work to name a few. In these professions it is crucial to do field research and construct a bridge of relevance between theory learned in class and doing the work that you’ve been taught to do practically. People in science and technology departments such as geology also generate field reports. However, they are organized differently than what we are talking about.
Employers and professors assign field reports to improve how you think and understand key concepts through a well-structured method of observation and reflection on real-life practices. A theoretical framework is essential just like a field research. Field reports allow researchers to develop new techniques to collect data while improving their observation skills.
They also help researchers understand how theoretical concepts apply in the real world. Field reports offer opportunities and additional information to obtain evidence through observational practices that challenge and improve current theories.
Everyone who goes out of their home is an observer of places, people and events, however, when writing a field report, you are responsible for creating a research study that is supported by data obtained through observation, findings and interpreting their meaning. When writing your field report for any field study, you need to:
- Observe and record the aspects of a situation accurately – Approaching your area of study with a clear and concise plan about what you are going to observe, where you’ll conduct your observation and the data collection method that you’ll use to collect and record data is crucial.
- Analyse what you observe – Looking for the meaning in every action observed will enhance clarity in your field report. Ask yourself: What is happening here? What does this action signify? Remember, this process never ends.
- Keep your goals in mind while observing – Recording what you see and hear in your area of study should not be done haphazardly. Instead, you should pay attention to detail. Go to the field with a detailed plan of what you intend to observe and note down. Also, be flexible and adaptable when things change.
- Record and analyse what you observe in your theoretical framework context – This section separates the researcher who is just gathering data from one who is simply reporting. Your theoretical framework should act as the foundation that enables you to interpret what you find.
Recording Your Observations
This is one of the best and easiest ways to record your field observations. When taking notes, you should come up and organize a few symbols so that recording a repeated action does not affect your ability to pay attention.
You should also take short notes, record changes in activities and leaving some space in the end where you can write down any brilliant idea or thought about what you are observing. Remember to write down anything that needs further investigation.
Audio & Video Recordings
Audio and video recordings have a positive effect of giving you an unaltered observation of an event. It also allows you to review what you’ve analysed countless times. The negative effect of audio and video recording is increasing your intrusion levels as an observer. The majority of people will change how they talk or behave when they are recorded.
Drawings and Illustrations
You don’t have to be an artist to create drawings and illustrations of objects or people’s behaviour. You can use rough tables and graphs to document what you are observing. You can always recreate your drawings and make them readable while writing your field report.
Some of the things to document while observing
- Physical setting – These are the characteristics of a specified place of observation
- Objects and materials – These are all the objects that are present and arranged in the physical setting that affect the behaviour of the subjects. Some of these objects include attitudes, beliefs, values, and assumptions of your subjects.
- Language – Observing also involves listening to what your participants are saying and how they communicate with each other.
- Behaviour – This refers to noting down the participants who perform a particular task and how they behave. Recording the behavioural stages in the setting will greatly benefit you.
- Order of events unfolding – Pay attention to the pattern of action or events that are taking place and their relevance. It can also be described as time period during which a particular event took place.
- Physical characteristics of respondents – This includes clothing, gender, and physical attributes to name a few. Keep in mind that your observations will greatly affect the framework of your field report.
How to structure your field report?
The format of your field report will be determined by your research problem, the observations you make and the guidelines that you are going to follow. Since most field reports don’t have a standard format, it is important to go through the guidelines of your organization or educational institution. Most them have the following components:
The introduction is the section where the objectives and important concepts of the field of study are outlined. The introduction describes the nature of your settings, your observations and the methods that you used to collect and gather information.
Description of activities
Your readers will want to understand what happened during your field research because they were not witnesses in the events that you describing. It is crucial to provide details of your place of analysis. The description section helps you describe the five W’s namely:
- What – describe what you saw and heard in your area of study
- Where – write about the background information of the setting that you’ve observed
- Why – Describe why you are doing what you are doing. Write why something happened and why you included or excluded some information.
- Who – describe the participants in terms of gender, age, ethnicity and other relevant variables from your observation.
- When – Record the day or time the actions observed occurred and how time impacted your participants.
As a researcher, it is your responsibility to determine which observations you are going to interpret. Your theoretical framework will help you make this decision. You should show the reader that you are interpreting events like an informed viewer and not an amateur.
Conclusion and recommendation
The conclusion should briefly summarize your entire field report and emphasize the importance of your observations. You should avoid including new information in this section. Also, remember to highlight any recommendations that you’ll have. The conclusion should not exceed three paragraphs.
You should list every source that you used while writing your field report in this section. You should consult your professor or employer regarding the format to use when writing this section.
After reading and understanding all the points described in the sections above, writing a field report should not be difficult. The more you’ll do it, the easier it will become. Happy writing!