Observational research methods are the deliberate, organised, and systematic observation and description of a phenomenon. There are three types of observation studies with varying amounts of control the researcher can exert over the environment in which the observation occurs: In controlled observations, researchers retain control of the time, location, duration of the observation and the participants taking part. While participants tend to be aware of the observation objective, the researcher avoids direct contact with them during the observation, generally by using a two-way mirror to observe and record details. Contrary, in naturalistic observations, researchers observe and study participants’ spontaneous behaviour in open or natural surroundings. During the participant observation method, often considered a variant of the naturalistic observation method, researchers participate in the participants’ activities and become a part of the group/activity. Participant observation can be overt/disclosed or covert/undisclosed. 

data can be collected in real-time while the phenomenon occurs or in suspended time by recording an event and later analysis (video enhanced observation). Regardless of the type, data collection continues until saturation, the point at which the observer learns nothing new from continued observation. The advantages of observation methods include direct access to research phenomena, high levels of flexibility in terms of application, and generating a rich, permanent record of phenomena to be referred to later. Disadvantages of the method include the prolonged time it can take for data collection, potentially high observer bias levels, the impact of observer on primary data, and potential ethical considerations, especially in covert observations.



Allan LM, Wheatley A, Smith A, Flynn E, Homer T, Robalion S, et al. An intervention to improve outcomes of falls in dementia: the DIFRID mixed-methods feasibility study. Health Technology Assessment, 23(59), 1–208. https://doi.org/10.3310/hta23590

  • A prospective observational study identified service use via participant diary completion.

Al-Nouh, Nariah A. A. (2008) Are Kuwaiti primary EFL teachers implementing a CLT-based learner-centred method in their classrooms. Thesis. Available at: http://theses.ncl.ac.uk/jspui/handle/10443/613

  • Conducted classroom observation on twenty-three primary Kuwaiti female teachers using the COLT (Communicative Orientation of Language Teaching) Observation Scheme.

Colosi, R. (2008) Undressing the moves - an ethnographic study of lap-dancers and lap-dancing club culture. Thesis available at http://theses.ncl.ac.uk/jspui/handle/10443/110

  • The data for this research was generated in a UK lap-dancing club using extensive participant observation, estimated at over 2000 hours, along with in-depth interviews to supplement the core findings.

Smith, F., Hardman, F., & Higgin, S. (2006) The Impact of Interactive Whiteboards on Teacher-Pupil Interaction in the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies. British Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 443-457.

  • Conducted 184 lessons observation using a computerised observation schedule.


Bogdewic, S. P. (1992). Participant observation. In B. F. Crabtree & W. L. Miller (Eds.), Research methods for primary careDoing qualitative research (p. 45–69). Sage Publications, Inc.

Given, L. M. (2008). The SAGE Encyclopedia of qualitative research methods (Vols. 1-0). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781412963909

Lee, Nick & Broderick, Amanda. (2007). The past, present and future of observational research in marketing. Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal. 10. 10.1108/13522750710740790.

Mays N, Pope C. (1995) Qualitative Research: Observational methods in health care settings. BMJ 311:182 doi:10.1136/bmj.311.6998.182

Rodríguez, JB. (2016) An interview with Paul Seedhouse on video enhanced observation (VEO): a new tool for teacher training, professional development and classroom research. Bellaterra Journal of Teaching & Learning Language & Literature. 9(3), 90-97. https://www.jstor.org/stable/30032677