How to Write Field Notes

Posted by Olivia on Jun 25th 2021

Many professions require taking field notes. They are the most common and easiest way for researchers and scientists to record their observations.

They are also the first step in developing a quality analysis and therefore, should not be overlooked.

While there are many ways to take field notes, in this post, we are going to show you how to write field notes along with some of our best practices.

Types of Field Notes

When writing field notes, you should not be going for literary value. You should also not be bothered with making your notes readable to anyone other than yourself. Instead, focus on what information will best supplement your research data.

Before getting into how to write field notes, let us take a look at the two main parts that field notes consist of:

Descriptive Information

Descriptive information is information that you attempt to accurately document factual data. This includes the date, time, setting, and actions you observe on location.

When writing down descriptive information, be sure to describe the physical setting as well as the social environment and how the participants are interacting. As best you can, try to record exact quotes and describe any impact you may have had on the observation.

Reflective Information

Reflective information is the ideas, thoughts, questions, or concerns that you exhibit during your observation.

When writing down reflective content, note down your ideas, impressions, along with any thoughts and criticisms you may have.

It is important to note that as soon as you have completed your observation, it is best to immediately review your notes. This will allow you to add additional details and fill in any missing information while the observation is still fresh in your mind.

How to Write Field Notes

While there are no hard and set rules for writing field notes, here are some basic guidelines you should follow:

Be accurate

You only get one chance to observe each moment, so you should try to be as accurate as possible when writing field notes. It might be a good idea to try and replicate the type of setting you will be observing in advance. Before you conduct your observation, try to find a setting with a similar environment and number of people, and practice taking notes there.

Be organized

Depending on the situation, it might be difficult to take accurate notes during your observation. This is why it is important to stay organized and plan how you will document your observations in advance.

Be descriptive

Even if you are writing shorthand, be sure you are descriptive. Note down even the slightest details like the lighting, the textures, the temperature, etc. This is your chance to supply yourself with enough factual evidence so that you are not stuck trying to recall tiny details later.

Focus on the research problem

It is almost impossible to document every single detail while out on the field. For this reason, you should focus on the research problem when writing your field notes. Try to avoid littering your notes with information that is irrelevant to the main purpose of your study.

Record your insights

As you are taking notes, be sure to think about the underlying meaning of your observations. Jot down your thoughts and any questions you may have. This will be especially useful if you need to seek clarification from the participants during your observation.

Choosing the Right Notebook for Taking Field Notes

When taking field observations, it is important to have a notebook that will allow you to write on-the-go. It should be small enough to fit into your pocket, and be sturdy enough to be able to write while standing.

A top-bound notebook is ideal as it will allow you to quickly and easily turn the page so that you can continue taking notes. A tactical top-bound notebook like this one is a great choice for taking field notes.

Conclusion: How to Write Field Notes

We hope you found our tips on how to write field notes helpful! Remember, when taking field notes it is important to be accurate, organized, descriptive, and focus on the research problem.

Once you are finished with your observations, try to immediately review your notes and fill in any additional details or information that might be missing.

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