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ENC 1102 (Pinkerton)

Tips for Taking Observation Notes

The purpose of observation notes, usually referred to as field notes when you are doing an ethnography, is to gain knowledge about the context, to begin to accumulate patterns of information, and to remember what took place during each observational period. Here are some tips to keep in mind when you record your observations of your community.

  • Stay organized
    • There are generally 2 parts to observational notes: descriptive and reflective notes. You can create two columns, one for descriptive notes and another for reflective notes. Descriptive notes are highly detail-oriented, specific, and can include direct quotations, while reflective notes are more subjective and create a space for your interpretations and questions. 
    • Write your notes in chronological order, noting the day, time, and location the observation took place.
  • Be descriptive and detailed
    • Describe your observations with rich adjectives and details rather than abstract, evaluative, or summative phrases.
  • Set aside time after each observation to review your notes and expand them into descriptive narrative form.
  • Keep your research question(s) and writing studies concepts in mind as you take notes
    • This will help you determine what you should be paying attention to during your observation.


Information from The Sage Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods and The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods, available through the Sage Research Methods database.

Additional Resources for Observation Notes

"What's the Role of Field Notes? How Do You Capture What Happens in the Field?"

Here's a segment from a video from Sage Research Methods in which David Mills and Jane Dyson discuss field notes.