The “Observation” as a research method

You need to make sure that you can describe, apply, compare and evaluate the following types of observation:

  • covert and overt
  • participant and non-participant
  • structured observations and naturalistic observations

You also need to understand what is meant by the following terms:

  • tallying
  • event and time sampling

observation-powerpoint-1 (2)

observation essay planner sheet

Vimeo: Narration (me talking through the observation PowerPoint 53 minutes in total, you could do it in several chunks if that helps;) sorry it was a really long one!)

Assessment Question:


hilarys-study-of-superstition (5)

Make sure you understand all the following terms:

tallying; event and time sampling; covert, overt, participant, non-participant; structured observations; naturalistic observations

Practice Questions

  1. Maurice had to carry out an observation for his A level coursework. He decided to observe body language in same sex and mixed sex groups. He placed signs on the walls of the sixth-form common room saying when the observation was to take place. Maurice sat in a corner of the common room and carried out an observation of everyday behaviour. This type of observation is

A structured

B naturalistic

C covert

D participant

2. Maurice created definitions of the behaviour he was looking for before carrying out the observation. Maurice then asked a friend to watch a television programme with him using these definitions. When Maurice and his friend compared scores they found that they had some big differences. The difference in scores is mainly an issue of

A inter-rater reliability

B task validity

C generalisability

D objectivity

3. A strength specific to overt observations is that…

A participants know they are taking part in a study so are able to give consent

B participants are more likely to act naturally than if they were in a covert observation

C there is less chance of demand characteristics affecting the results

D the observer is already part of the group so has greater insight into the behaviour being studied

4. One research method used in the Learning Approach is the observational method. One type of observation is an overt observation.

i. Outline the overt observational method. (3)

ii. Indicate whether the following four statements which relate to evaluating the observational method are either true or false. (4)

  • The data may not be valid as participants’ behaviour may change if they know they are being observed
  • If the observer is part of the group being observed their data is more objective than if they were not a member of the group being observed
  • Structured observations are more valid than natural observations as they are in a controlled environment
  • If two or more observers have similar results then reliability is low.

5. Give one strength of using time sampling rather than event sampling (2)

6. Compare the use of overt and covert observation (4)

7. Give one strength and one weakness of participant observation (4)

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