Unobtrusive Observation

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1502 Words
Date:  2021-03-11

According to Carter, Sharbaugh and Stapell (1981, p 542), unobtrusive observation is a research methodology that does not allow researchers to intervene in the research context. It requires the physical presence of the researchers to make observations for possible analysis. It is a method according to Carter, Sharbaugh and Stapell (1981, p 542) that is common in social sciences. The methodology is used to get necessary data through indirect ways. Carter, Sharbaugh and Stapell (1981, p 543) explains that unobtrusive methods should not be used as an alternative but can be used for comparison. In this method, the researchers do not make any physical contact with the subject of the study. It may involve observing people from a distance or even through recorded media such as video, analyzing data and statistics among other data sources. Having made three observations for twenty minutes each, this paper discusses two methodological issues concerning literature.

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Observation 1: Couple seated face to face

In the restaurant, five meters from where the researcher was seated were a white couple seated facing each other. The hotel has chairs facing each other with a table in between. At the time of the observation, the couple had not ordered anything. The couple told the waiters to wait before they could place their order. The conversation seemed to form and based on that the researcher assumed they were couples. In this first observation, the researcher used an indirect measure that allowed him not to introduce any formal measurement in the process of the observation. In the researchers analysis, based on the facial expressions and body movements, it could be observed that the couple had some problem that they were trying to resolve.

According to Bouchard (1976, p 363), unobtrusive observation only allows the researcher to observe without any interference. During the observation, the researcher did not make his intentions known as that could have manipulated the outcomes of the study in one way or the other. Bouchard (1976, p 363) explains that this type of observation reduces the biases that come as a result of researchers intrusion or in other cases the use of measurement instrument. The reduction of biases is the first methodological issue highlighted in numerous literature. Norlin (2000, p 546) explains that because of minimal involvement of researcher and him being an indirect observer, there is no or minimal introduction of measurement instruments that can manipulate the outcome of the study. There are minimal biases that can potentially influence the outcome of the study. For instance in the first case, all the observer did was to sit from a distance and watch the couple. In the observation, it was easy to observe that the couple had some problems. They took some time before placing an order. They told the waiters to give them sometimes which according to the researcher are a sign that besides the food, their priority was to resolve something that was wrong.

The researcher had very minimal control over the data that was collected. According to Norlin (2000, p 547), when using this type of data collection, the researcher normally have very minimal or even no control over the data collected. Norlin (2000, p 547) explains that the researcher plays an indirect role in the collection of data. The researcher only records the data as seen from the study subject without any manipulation. Compared to other forms of data collection, this method of data collection is appropriate for studies that need minimal interference from the researcher. Norlin (2000, p 548) suggests that unobtrusive observation has no bias, and that is the major advantage that it has over other types of data collection. Researchers bias often reduces the credibility and integrity of a study.

During the observation at the restaurant, the researcher also established that the researcher method was low-cost compared to other forms of data collection. Garner and Scott (2013, 17) argue the researcher do not to spend a lot of resources in the data collection method as compared to other forms that may require a lot of resources. According to Garner and Scott (2013, 18), unobtrusive observation is cheap because there are no specialized instruments required to make the observation. Brill and Knauss (2011, p 175) explain that all the researcher needs are to sit somewhere and make an observation without necessarily traveling for long distance or using research equipment that may be expensive to collect data. In the researchers observation, all he had to do was sit and order a drink while he was making the observation. The drink was to help the researcher not to arouse suspicions as that could have interfered with the study. The drinks ordered also made the researcher look like any other ordinary customer in the restaurant. To understand that the couple was having some issues that they were trying to resolve did not cost much as it would if the researcher had to do live interviews or use questionnaires in the process of data collection.

Observation 2: painting on the wall

In the second observation just within the restaurant, the researcher studied a drawing placed on opposite walls of the restaurant. For twenty minutes, the researcher studied the drawings that were placed on the wall to help him understand the environments and the culture that influenced the design of the restaurant. Unlike the first observation, the second one only had drawings on the wall with no human beings involved. As explained in the literature, in this second observation there was no researcher bias as the data came from something that already existed. Brill and Knauss (2011, p 176) explain that what limits researcher bias when using unobtrusive observation is the fact that observation is made on things that are already in existence, and nothing can be introduced to manipulate the outcome. The paintings and the arrangement of the restaurant it can be said were culturally inspired. Brill and Knauss (2011, p 177) explain that through unobtrusive observation, one can easily get to understand the meaning of signs and symbols based on universal meanings. Consequently, that limits the risk of having researchers biases as can be seen in other forms of data collection. As a researcher, one is forced to interpret the observation recorded according to existing standards and measures. The Chinese inspired art on the walls did not require researchers motivation to interpret.

In this second observation too, the researcher was within the restaurant, and the observation was done without making any big payment. As explained by Garner and Scott (2013, p 18) the study was low-cost and did not require much as compared to other forms of data collection that could have been used to get the same information. The researcher still had the first order of drinks and did not require more to make the second round of observation. With just a little, the researcher was able to collect data from two sets of study subjects. Brill and Knauss (2011, p 179) suggests that this type of data collection is the cheapest as compared to other forms of data collection methods. Having done the observation, the researcher asserts that the study method is far cheaper than other methods.

Observation 3: High school friends having snacks

Just within the same restaurant, the last observation for twenty minutes was two high school friends having some snacks. The two friends ordered immediately when they got to the restaurant. It was evident that the two were jovial as they joked and laughed the whole time. The two friends seemed to be very close to each other and from the observation, it is right to say they were of the same age group. In this last observation, the researcher did not have to introduce anything to make the study subjects happy. They expressed their happiness just the moment they set foot in the restaurant. The observation therefore further proves as explained in literature that unobtrusive observation has minimal researcher bias. The researcher did not in any way talk to the study subjects to understand why they were happy. Unobtrusive observation sees to it that the researcher takes a very objective approach to a study. The researcher was objective in making the observation which in the end limits researcher bias.

Just like the other two observations, the observation was low-cost. Making the observation did not cost the researcher much save from the drinks that were ordered. The researcher to those who were around was just like any other customers. The researcher as such paid for the bills but ended up collecting data from three observations.


Carter, R.L., Sharbaugh, C.O. and Stapell, C.A., 1981. Reliability and validity of the 24-hour recall. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 79(5), pp.542-547.

Bouchard, T.J., 1976. Field research methods: Interviewing, questionnaires, participant observation, systematic observation, unobtrusive measures. Handbook of industrial and organizational psychology, 1, p.363.

Norlin, E., 2000. Reference evaluation: A three-step approachsurveys, unobtrusive observations, and focus groups. College & Research Libraries, 61(6), pp.546-553.

Garner, R. and Scott, G.M., 2013. Doing qualitative research: designs, methods, and techniques. Pearson Education.

Brill, O. and Knauss, E., 2011, August. Structured and unobtrusive observation of anonymous users and their context for requirements elicitation. In Requirements Engineering Conference (RE), 2011 19th IEEE International (pp. 175-184). IEEE.

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Unobtrusive Observation. (2021, Mar 11). Retrieved from

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