Qualitative research employs research methods that are somewhat flexible and open to subjectivity -- surveys, interviews and observations. Observation is a strategy that many qualitative researchers use to capture a comprehensive understanding of an event or phenomenon. Although the collection of observational data yields subjective information and is therefore open to interpretation, it is sometimes both inevitable and desirable in qualitative research.The researcher's conclusions are a reflection of his interpretation of observations and insights gained from those observations.

Captures the Essence of the Research Setting

The physical environment is a part of the learning environment.
The physical environment is a part of the learning environment.

Qualitative observational methods allow the researcher to capture the overt and subtle factors of the research setting. Instead of just indicating that the research study was conducted in a third-grade classroom, observation allows the researcher to see and record how the study participants interact with the physical environment of the classroom. This creates a broader and more comprehensive understanding of the study setting. Through observation, the researcher may be able to discover directions for research that might not have been previously considered.

Allows the Researcher to Witness Human Dynamics

Observation allows the research to detect subtle contributing factors.
Observation allows the research to detect subtle contributing factors.

Qualitative observational methods allow the researcher to witness a totality of human dynamics within the study group. Although the researcher may be investigating a specific element of the setting, having the ability to witness all exchanges in the environment may lead to a more comprehensive understanding of that element. Again, observational methods may prompt the researcher to consider other human elements (actions, interactions and reactions) in the environment that may impact desired outcomes.

Allows Researchers to Detect Developing Themes or Patterns of Behavior

Observation allows researchers to witness differential focus.
Observation allows researchers to witness differential focus.

Qualitative observational methods allow researchers to detect developing themes or patterns of behavior that might be ignored or obscured when using alternative methods. Using observational methods, the researcher is able to see behaviors that, when viewed in context, may reveal important information about the participant or the group relative to the research topic.

Defines Why

Qualitative observational methods afford researchers the opportunity to see the entire picture. Researchers often use observational methods to investigate and gain insights on a known phenomenon. They are able to not only investigate a particular phenomenon, but researchers are able to see and record events, comments and interactions that may lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the 'why' of a phenomenon. Observational methods allow the researcher to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon.