SSC 470/570

Spring 2004

Steps in Field Research

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Begin with a topic of interest.


Step 1:  Select a Field Site

·       Search for a site that will allow you to study your topic

·       Identify potential collaborating organizations or key informants

·       Visit several sites and choose carefully


Step 2:  Enter the Field and Establish Connections with Members

·       Spend time with your organization or community

·       Get to know people, learn about your organization or community

·       Look for other organizations as secondary sources


Step 3:  Establish a Role, Observe, Make Friends

·       Find an identifiable identity in the community

·       Participate!  Talk to people, tell people what you are doing


Step 4:  Watch, Listen, Collect Data

·       Observe activities, events, ordinary interactions

·       Keep detailed notes of everything you observe

·       Review your notes and think about what you observe – what is this a case of?


Step 5:  Analyze Data and Generate Working Hypotheses

·       Establish patterns in your data

·       Generate working hypotheses that tie your case to a theoretical perspective


Step 6:  Focus on Aspects of Interest, Connect with Theory

·       Focus your activities on specific events that address your hypotheses

·       Think in terms of grouping or organizing information into theoretical categories


Step 7:  Conduct Interviews, Focus Groups, or other Targeted Data Collection Techniques

·       Develop a series of open-ended questions that will help you understand your subjects and subject matter

·       Administer the questions to selected subjects or focus groups; choose subjects purposefully, using “snowball” sampling or advice of key informants

·       Record your interviews (with permission)


Step 8:  Disengage and Leave the Setting

·       Prepare your collaborating organization and key subjects for your departure

·       Dedicate time to your departure; allow subjects to “see you off”


Step 9:  Complete your Analysis and Write your Report

·       Finalize your typology or theory

·       Prepare your results; Write inductively

·       Verify your results with your subjects

·       Present your results to colleagues


(adapted from W. Lawrence Neuman, Social Research Methods, Fifth Edition, 2003)