In allow us to see things from a different

In social research it is
common for researchers to use participant observation as a method to gather
information in ethnography. (Bryman, 2016, p.423) It allows the researcher to
see the world from the participants point of view. On the other hand, Interviews
are another method of research used which is mostly utilised to gain quantitive
data which can later be generalised and repeated. Both methods of research have
different advantages and disadvantages, meaning that the information gathered
from one strategy may allow us to see things from a different angle to the
other. The aim of this essay is to outline and explain in detail the different
types of interview structures, for example, structured, semi-structured and
unstructured along with what covert and overt participant observations is. The
positives and negatives of each strategy will also be discussed. In order to
comprehend how we are able to collect different types of data from each one and
what these different results may teach us, the essay will also aim to engage in
deep discussion concerning how although one method may give us one result and
the other method a different result, when both are used together using
triangulation, the authenticity of ones research then increases.

Participant observation can consist
of the researcher taking part in the same activities as those who the
researcher is observing and records what they find. This method of research is
more common in field experiment where the participant(s) are in a natural
environment rather than a controlled environment, this means that the
researcher can then see how the participant behaves in a natural environment.
Participant observation is much preferred by interpretivists as it has high
ecological validity. This means that the actions displayed in the observation
can be generalised because they have taken place in real world settings. It allows
the researcher to empathise with the participants and see the world from their
point of view, giving us better understanding of why the participant behaves in
that particular way. There are two types of observation, covert and overt observation.

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 Covert observation is when the participants
being observed are not aware of this and are therefore more likely to act natural.
The researcher becomes part of the crowd that they are studying in order to get
a true understanding. This means that the identity of the researcher must
remain hidden in order for the observation to be successful. In contrast to this,
Overt observation is when the participant(s) are aware that they are being
watch and are aware of the experiment/subject of research. This means their
identity and intentions are known to the crowd and therefore they are allowed
to openly observe as much as they can. Covert observation has many positives
and negatives. Some positives of covert observation are that the troubles
getting in, staying in and getting out are reduced. For example, in Patrick’s
covert Glasgow gang study, getting into the gang was not a problem because the
identity of the researcher was hidden and therefore the gang members believed
that the researcher wanted to join the gang was genuine, but if they knew that
they were part of a study, the likelihood of the researcher being allowed to
observe them openly would be minimal. Staying in also wasn’t a problem because
the researcher’s identity is hidden. However, when considering the fact that
the identity of the researcher must remain hidden, one must also realise that
this may affect the field notes the research takes and how much information
they can truly access. Because the researcher’s identity is hidden, asking too
many questions would make them seem suspicious and uncover their true identity.
In addition to this, taking notes in front of the crowd would not be a wise
idea and therefore the researcher would have to wait until afterwards and rely
on their memory and versions of events. An example of how covert surveillance can
affect a studying this way is in Ditton’s research on fiddling in a bakery 1977
(Bryman, 2016. p.426). The researcher started of as a covert observer and then
transferred to being an overt observer because of the difficulty of taking
notes during the experiment without revealing the nature of his presence. Another
positive of covert observation is that because the true intentions of the researcher
are unknown, the participants are more inclined to act natural, their natural
behaviours are uninterrupted by the presence of the researcher. In contrast to
this, because the identity of the researcher, intentions and nature of the
study is hidden, this raises some ethical issues such as deception. In
addition, the participants being observed have not given permission to be part
of the study and therefore the ethical issue of consent is then raised. The
ethical issue of withdrawal is also an issue when considering covert
observation. Due to the fact that participants are unaware of the study and
unaware that their information is part of it, they do not have the knowledge to
withdraw this information if they wish to.

Overt observation also has its
own positives and negatives. When conducting overt surveillance, the
participants know the intentions of the researcher as well as the nature of the
study, the identity of the researcher is not hidden and therefore the
researcher doesn’t have to make a conscious effort to watch what they say and
their behaviour around the participants. As a result of this, the researcher
can ask more detailed questions about the what they have observed to gather more
detail about why they have decided to behave in that particular way. Compared
to the covert observation method, the researcher who chooses to use overt
surveillance is likely to have more accurate notes. This is because overt
researcher do not have to recall from memory before taking notes. They can take
notes at the moment of the event happening and therefore there is likely to be
more reliability placed on this category of surveillance. However, because in
overt observation the identity and intention of the researcher is known, this
may cause the participants to respond to things in an unusual way compared to
how they would if no one was observing therefore elucidating that the
authenticity of the results found would lack validity. This is known as the Hawthorne
effect. ‘going native’ may also be a problem for the researcher. Due to the
fact that the researcher is trying to fit in, the may get accustomed to the lifestyle
or behaviours and as a result, lose sight of what they are studying.

Another research method
commonly used is interviews however there are three types. Unstructured
interviews are similar to conversations in the sense that it is very easy
flowing and back and forth. The interviewer’s response is based on the
interviewee’s answer. This allows the participant to be free with their answer
and express their true opinion on the subject being studied.  This method of research is much preferred by
interpretivist due to the fact that the method doesn’t limit the participant to
one answer or the other making the validity of the results very high. In
contrast to this, because the interview then becomes the person leading the
interview, they may lead it the interview to a path that has nothing to with
the subject. This is similar to a semi-structured interview. In this case, the
questions are “predetermined”, (Banister et. Al 2011 pg.89) this is known as an
interview schedule. However, the difference between the two is that the
interviewer may miss questions out and add questions depending on what the
interviewee’s response is to the previous question (Banister et. Al 2011 pg.90).
The questions are also usually open ended, for example, if the researcher is
studying race they may ask “how do you feel about hate crime?” which allows the
participant to express themselves and their opinion. For this reason, the
method is also much preferred by interpretivist. But when considering all
factors, semi-structured interviews then become difficult to quantify and
compare when reviewing the results leading to lack of reliability and
generalisation. The last category is structured interviews. This too has an
interview schedule meaning that the questions are “predetermined”. (Banister
et. al. 2011 pg.89). However, unlike semi-structured interviews, the questions
are unchanging in terms of what is asked, the order it is asked in and possible
responses that could be given. The questions are closed-ended, meaning that the
participants can only answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the questions they are asked.
This means that they are limited replies they can give. Although the data is
then easy to analyse and qualify, it lacks validity. Overall, interviews are
extremely time consuming. This is because each participant has to get a turn
being interviewed. In addition to this, constructing interviews is also costly.
The researcher must pay for the interviewer to be train, pay the interviewer for
the job and pay for a venue to conduct this in. the may also have to consider
paying participants in some cases.

When studying specific
subjects, researchers may choose to use one research method over the other.
This is because there are some things that the researcher can learn from
observation that we can not gather from interviews and other things that we can
learn from interviews that observation would not reveal to the researcher. For
example, from using participant observation, specifically covert observation
the researcher allows themselves to look through the eyes of others. This means
the researcher has the best possible understanding of the group of people that
they are studying. They have been in contact with the selected group for a
prolonged period of times and have taken part in the same activities that the
group. From this we learn how to put ourselves in the shoes of others, this is
known as empathising with others. Interviews on the other hand are more likely
to involve “fleeting contact” (Bryman, 2016, p.493) meaning that they don’t get
the chance to gather full information and understanding of the participant
because they only have brief contact. On the other hand, when considering
ethical implications, interviews do not have as many as participant
surveillance. In the case of interviews, the participant is aware that they are
taking part in a study and therefore the researcher is able to limit the ethical
issue of deception within the study. In essence, this also mean that they have
given their consent to be part of the study and lastly, they have understood
that they have the right to withdraw their information if they wish to. Usually,
all these ethical rights are repeated to them before the interview commences.
Participant surveillance, mainly covert, suffer the previous ethical issues
mentioned before due to the fact that the researcher’s identity must remain
hidden in order to avoid “reactive effects”. (Bryman, 2016, p.494). Similar to
understanding, the research is able to obtain knowledge of how people act in
natural situation without the reactive effects or the participant putting on an
act due to the presence of someone watching them. When conducting a structured
interview, it is possible that the participant may base their answers on social
desirability. Due to their desire to want to impress the interviewer, it is
likely that a participant may change their answer from what they honestly think
to something else which they may believe is the correct answer or the answer
that the interviewer would prefer to hear. This means that the results obtained
may not be genuine nor valid. On the other hand, Covert participant observation
allows the researcher to gain easy access. For example, if the research is
studying a sensitive subject such as rape victims or prostitution, it may be
hard to find people that would participate in an interview. This could be due
to risk or danger or because of the sensitivity. In contrast to this, covert
observation allows the researcher to be in a familiar and comfortable environment.
Due to this, the victim may be more open to talking to some whom they view as
ordinary rather than an interview whom they think may judge them. As a result, it
also creates what is referred to as the snowball effect. Once the covert
researcher has gained access to one member of their target sample, it may lead
them to another which allows the researcher to collect more authentic
information.

Although when analysing both
methods of social research, it is clear that they both have negative and
positive aspects to them, meaning we can gather different types of information
from each one. There are things that we can learn from participant observation
that interviews can not provide and there are things we can learn from
interview that observation can not provide. An example of this would be that interviews
tend to hold high status in the case of reliability, however this method still
would lack validity, whereas participants observation has high status in
validity due to its empathetic nature but lack reliability. However, if a
researcher was to use a method of research called triangulation, which is when
the researcher uses more than one method to gather their information, this
would then maximise both reliability and validity of the study. The empathetic
aspect of covert observation would allow the researcher to see how people react
in a natural comfortable environment and get in the mind of the participants.
In addition to this, the semi- structured interview method would allow the
researcher to gain deeper understanding as to why the target sample behaved in
that specific way.