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A Researcher’s Toolkit for Observational Methods  

Michael G. Pratt and Gabriel R. Sala

Central to all empirical research—in particular, inductive qualitative field research—observations can provide core insights to work practices, the physical or material elements of organizations, and the integrity of research informants. Yet management research has devoted less attention to observations than it has to other methods. Hence, providing resources and guidance to current and aspiring researchers as to what constitutes observations and how to tackle key questions that must be addressed in designing and implementing observations is key. Observing, as pertains to research, can be defined as a method that involves using one’s senses, guided by one’s attention, to gather information on, for example, (a) what people are doing (acts, activities, events); (b) where they are doing it (location); and (c) what they are doing it with (objects), over a period of time. Once researchers have determined they want to engage in observation, they have to make several decisions. First, they have to figure out whether observation is a good fit with their study and research question(s). If so, various other choices must be made with regard to degree of revelation, degree of immersion, time in the field, and how to be present in the research context, and still more choices follow. Researchers need to decide when to start (and stop) observing as well as how to observe, record, and report their findings. The article provides a decision-tree model of observational methods to guide researchers through these various choices.