Field research: what it is, characteristics, types and techniques

Field research: what it is, characteristics, types and techniques
Posted on 22-02-2022

What is Field Research?

Field research, field study, or field work, is the process that allows obtaining data from reality and studying it as it is presented, without manipulating the variables. For this reason, its essential characteristic is that it is carried out outside the laboratory, at the place where the phenomenon occurs.

There are several types of field research, depending on the objective of the study. They can be investigations to explore a new phenomenon or one that has been studied very little, or to corroborate if a phenomenon fits an established paradigm. Field research can also be done to describe or compare variables, etc.

Field research uses instruments such as files or statistical representations that, combined with techniques such as observation or survey, allow the data to be studied to be collected and analyzed.

One of its main advantages is that, as it is carried out at the scene of the phenomenon, the data collected is more reliable. However, moving to the field can be costly for a research team.

Field research allows generating new knowledge by applying the scientific method, which is why it is considered essential in both the pure sciences and the social sciences.

For example, when a group of biologists collects water samples from a lake to measure its level of contamination, they are doing field research.

Although the term field research is often associated with collecting data in a natural setting, it actually refers to anywhere the researcher needs to go.

Characteristics of field research

Field research has certain characteristics. The location of the phenomenon under study is perhaps the most important, as will be seen below.

It takes place outside the laboratory

The field investigation is carried out in the place where the phenomenon is to be studied. That means that “field” is really any geographic location that is outside of a laboratory or space with controlled conditions.

Data is collected in the field

In field research, the data or samples are sought in the place where the phenomenon under study takes place.

For example, if you are going to do research on school bullying, you have to look for the data in a previously selected school.

investment required

Field research needs a certain level of budget or, failing that, sponsorships or financial aid from organizations or individuals.

If a group of biologists in Mexico City wants to investigate the butterflies of Michoacán, the costs of that trip will be borne by the researchers or by the organization they work for.

Field research design

Field research design is the planning of how the phenomenon will be studied. The research design serves to determine the type of fieldwork, the instruments, and the techniques to be implemented, and for this reason, it must be done before beginning to address what is going to be studied.

The research design can be:

  • Experimental: refers to the manipulation of independent variables to analyze their effect on the group studied. For example, when a researcher alters the feeding habits of wild rodents (independent variables) to compare them with another group of rodents that can feed normally.
  • Quasi-experimental– used when study groups cannot be selected because they are already naturally formed. In this case, the manipulation of the variables is less and, therefore, the degree of reliability of the study decreases. For example, when doing research on the behavior of adolescents from two countries with different languages.

Types of field research

Field research is done to study a new phenomenon, to measure it, to establish relationships between variables, etc. Depending on its objective, it is classified into 7 types:

1. Exploratory

It collects data on aspects of reality that have been little or not studied at all. The results serve to decide if further research is necessary in the future.

For example, a group of teachers decides to investigate bullying in a classroom and finds relevant data that leads them to extend the study to the rest of the school.

2. Evaluative

What this type of research seeks is to demonstrate whether the phenomenon studied adheres to a certain paradigm or model of reality. For example, a study that determines if a group of pregnant women had cravings during the first trimester of pregnancy.

3. Descriptive

It is a type of field research that serves to identify variables that have not yet been measured. For example, a study that determines how many hours children from 3 to 5 years of age spend in a certain place in front of the phone screen.

4. Correlational

It is a type of field research that measures relationships between variables that are apparently connected. For example, a study linking increased muscle mass in people who consume protein supplements.

5. Explanatory

It is a type of research that explains the occurrence of a phenomenon from two or more variables.

For example, a study on domestic violence and poverty as causes of low academic performance.

6. Comparison

As its name indicates, it is an investigation whose objective is to compare a series of data. For example, a study comparing the eating habits of people who work in offices and those who work from home.

7. Purposeful

The objective of this type of research is to make a diagnosis of the phenomenon studied and then propose a solution. For example, the general manager of a company discovers that his shoe production method is not working and makes a proposal to make more shoes in less time.

Field research instruments

The tools or instruments of field research are all the means required by the researcher to apply the research techniques. They are classified into three types according to their function:

  • Ordering instruments: they are used to order the research data according to a hierarchy or sequence. A list of questions, a catalog of images, or a file with data from the interviewees are examples of this type of tool.
  • Classificatory instruments: they are used to order data based on common characteristics, such as similarities, differences, characteristics. An alphabetical list of names, a statistical representation, and a comparative table are examples of these instruments.
  • Diagrammatic instruments: they use images or symbols to represent the data. The most common example is a map, but it can also be a plan, an infographic, or a diagram.

Field investigation techniques

Field research techniques are all the mechanisms that allow collecting, analyzing, and transmitting the data studied.

If the data is of a qualitative nature, that is, it cannot be measured, one of these techniques will be used:

  • Participant observation: is getting involved with the phenomenon to be studied. For example, when the researcher participates in the activities of an indigenous community to understand their way of life.
  • Life stories: consist of the collection of biographical data of a group of people during a certain period. An example would be collecting stories from adolescents in Buenos Aires during the months of preventive isolation due to the coronavirus.
  • Open interview: these are questions in which the interviewee can express their points of view. For example, when doing an opinion poll on the situation in the country.
  • Discussion group: consists of bringing together a group of people to discuss a topic. The discussion is recorded for later analysis.

If the data is of a quantitative nature, that is, it can be measured, one of these techniques will be applied:

  • Passive observation: the researcher does not get involved with the phenomenon to be studied. For example, when observing the behavior of animals in their natural habitat.
  • Closed interviews: they are formed with a list of questions with limited answers. For example, when you can only answer “Yes” or “No”.
  • Field experiment: study carried out with a sample that is under controlled conditions and a sample that is under usual conditions. For example, when comparing behaviors between laboratory rats and wild rats.

Advantages of field research

Field research allows the researcher to have direct contact with what they want to study and obtain reliable data. These and other advantages are detailed below:

Direct contact with the phenomenon to be studied

The investigator has to move to the terrain where the event occurs. This allows you to have first-hand information.

If a group of scientists is going to study a polluted lake, for example, they have to go to the site to collect water samples.

Unbiased data

The data collected does not respond to the interest of the researchers, but rather obeys the nature of the phenomenon studied, which gives greater credibility to the investigation.

For example, by studying an isolated tribe in the Amazon, researchers collect genuine data on the way of life of the community, since its members are not changing their customs.

Research adaptation

As the investigation progresses, new variables can be analyzed or other data obtained that helps expand the available information.

A study on eating habits of school-age children can relate the type of food with height, for example. This may reorient the investigation to collect data on the height and weight of each boy and girl, although at the beginning of the investigation it was not contemplated to do so.

Disadvantages of field research

The money to cover the research and the possibility of analyzing the data in the wrong way are some disadvantages of field research, as described below:

can be very expensive

Traveling to the scene of the events, buying or renting equipment to collect information, are aspects to take into account when planning the cost of a field investigation.

Data analysis errors

When it comes to qualitative data analysis, biases or beliefs held by the researcher can influence the results of the study. Therefore, it is important that the people involved in the investigation maintain an objective position.

For example, if researchers studying the customs of a minority ethnic group have preconceived ideas about that community, their beliefs are likely to interfere with data analysis.

Takes time

Although it depends on the type of research, field work generally requires a reasonable amount of time to study the phenomenon, collect and analyze data. Therefore, they imply a certain level of planning in their execution.

Field Research Examples

These are some examples that serve to see the impact of this type of research in the generation of new knowledge:

Grant study on happiness

In 1939, Harvard University began one of the longest and most ambitious studies known to date. For 75 years, they collected data on the lives of 700 volunteers to learn what factors influence people's happiness and success.

The results were published in 2012 by psychiatrist George Vaillant, leader of the investigation, and concluded that the key to happiness is emotional bonds. The participants recognized that they were happy to have a network of family and social relationships to share good times.

Minnesota Twin Study

In 1979, the American psychologist and geneticist Thomas Bouchard began a study on twins who had been separated at birth and raised in different families.

The investigation determined that approximately 70% of the intellectual quotient is of genetic origin since regardless of the upbringing conditions, the twins developed similar levels of intelligence. In addition, they had personality traits as similar to those who had been raised in the same home.

Study on Heliconius butterflies

In 2012, a study from University College London was published showing that butterflies of the Heliconius species interbred with each other to share genetic information that would help them survive.

The butterflies Heliconius Melpomene, Heliconius timareta, and Heliconius elevatus share distinctive features such as the color of their wings, which announces their unpleasant taste to predators. Hybridization between species was considered rare, but this study revealed that these butterflies use it as a survival strategy.

Study on gender perspective during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic

In September 2020, the United Nations Organization published a study on countries that implemented protection strategies for women in situations of violence during the pandemic. Argentina ranked first among 206 countries.

Study on the brightest colors

In 2020, a Cambridge University study showed that the brightest colors in nature were blues and greens. This is because they do not depend on pigmentation processes, but are formed from nanostructures that increase the intensity of their shine, depending on their angle of placement.

The results of this research may have applications in the manufacture of more durable intense color paints.



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