SOCI 1301 Unit 8


Print Friendly and PDF  Site Search and Site Map   




Unit 8: Putting It All Together



A.  Read the following selections from the Margin Notes by clicking on each link.


There are no Margin Notes selections to read for this unit.



B.  Watch these presentations. When you click on one of the links below, a new screen will pop up. Use the scrollbar on the side of the new screen to navigate. You need Adobe Reader to view PDF files.


There are no presentations to watch for this unit.



C.  (Optional) Read the following chapters from the textbook.

There are no chapters to read for this unit.


D.  The following Optional Links will help you do better in your course but they are not required.



Ethnography is a time consuming process that demands a personal commitment that goes well beyond the usual social science methodology.

In ethnography, unlike many other methods, the fieldworker has far more invested in the research and outcome. This gives ethnography a distinct subjective flavor to its methodology.

Ethnography is a kind of field observation, such as you undertook early in this course. Ethnographic research puts great emphasis on the field notes an observer takes during and immediately after leaving the field. Ethnographic field notes and reports provide what sociologists call a thick description – notes that exhibit a high degree of depth and complexity. As Neuman noted, an event might take only 3 minutes, but require many pages of descriptive narrative.

Ethnographic research typically involves the following characteristics.

The observer may or may not be familiar with the setting or the people prior to the research.

The observer must gain entry into the group of people under study.

Observers take regular and systematic field notes to accumulate a written record of observations and/or experiences.

Ethnographic field notes emphasize concrete and detailed descriptions that show action rather than attempt interpretation.

The observer attempts to connect observations to each other and to theoretical concepts.

Ethnographic research often requires the observer to spend extensive amounts of time studying or even participating in the group under observation, sometimes for years.

In many ways, ethnography is similar to what we do when we come home from a long trip. We tell stories about our travels … and if we're not careful, we tend to embellish the stories to some extent. Ethnography allows us to document our observations in such a way as to maintain their accuracy and objectivity, the action without the embellishment.

The ethnographic report, however, is not just a pile of field notes. It is a clean manuscript based on those field notes. What gets lost in translation? Whose story does the research really tell – the experience of the researcher or the experience of the subject? It depends … all researchers attempt objectivity, to document only what they observe (and you will as well) but there's no denying that something of the researcher goes into what he/she chooses to write down, how he/she chooses to write it and etc.

There are a few (but increasing numbers of) researchers recording their observations using field notes other than the written word. Modern ethnography may be in the form of movies, paintings, music, the internet, photographs and almost any other form of communication.


Before you read the instructions below,

please note that this assignment is not difficult but it is time-consuming and cannot be completed in one day.

If you're reading these instructions the day your assignment is due,

It's probably a waste of your time to continue!


I. Choose Your Setting, But Choose Carefully!

 Choose any one of the following four settings for your ethnographic field work. Once you've chosen your setting, read the Observer Instructions below.

  1. Your fieldwork must take place in two field sites having to do with religious organizations, events, services or phenomena. This may be two different sites within the same religious denomination or two sites from different denominations. There is only one restriction as to the site you chose … you may not use your own church as a research site. You must choose two sites outside of your own religious tradition. (The greater the difference between your own religious tradition and the two you choose, the easier your observation will be.)

    You must be present for the entire service/event/etc at both sites. Observe the number and characteristics of the people attending. What kinds of rituals do they observe? What kind of behaviors do they exhibit – passivity, emotional, stoic, etc? Is there any obvious hierarchy in the congregation? Are children present? These are only a few suggestions about what to observe … if you prepare, you'll notice many others once you're onsite.

  2. Attend one entire City Council, County Commissioners or local school board meeting. (I might accept a type of meeting other than the three listed but only with prior approval. Too, if you just happen to attend a meeting that adjourns fairly quickly, you'll have to choose another meeting.) Observe the people who attended, as well as their behavior and speech. In your field notes, document the presence and manifestations of behaviors that take place during the meeting, describe what kinds of people are present (i.e. locals, professionals, politicians, females, males, ages, ethnicity, etc), the physical setting of the room and the seating arrangements. Make note of the issues discussed, the importance ascribed to each by those present, whether or not people appear to change allegiance/loyalty/groups/etc as the issues change and so on. These are only a few suggestions about what to observe … if you prepare, you'll notice many others once you're onsite.

  3. Choose a site with a relatively common social situation that has a standard script (the things all people say in certain situations) for brief social interactions and can be replicated across locations. For example, you might observe food order lines, dentist waiting rooms, grocery store checkout lines (express or normal, not both), college information desks or so on. Make sure you choose a situation found in two different locations (e.g., two different dentist offices). If you choose this option, there are things you must pay attention to when choosing your two sites. (a) Choose sites that have a good deal of traffic. I used dentist offices as an example but it is unlikely that there would be much to observe in most dentist offices. (b) Your two sites don't have to be from the same company / industry but they must be comparable. You can choose two different Wal-Mart stores or two different corner markets but not one Wal-Mart and one corner market, the size difference is too great.

    After getting permission to do so from the owner or manager, unobtrusively observe one site for one hour at two different times of day. Repeat the process in the other location. For example, observe Dentist A's waiting room from 8-9 and 3-4 on Tuesday and Dentist B's at the same times on Wednesday. (The times at the two sites don't have to be identical but should be comparable.) Note details about the setting and costumes (e.g., location, number of people present, lighting, background noise, dirty clothes), physical and demographic features of the main actors, non-verbal behaviors (e.g., personal space, territoriality, gestures, eye contact, tone of voice) and verbal exchanges. Focus on particular aspects of social interaction – greeting or departure rituals, exchanges of money, the waiting process, etc. These are only a few suggestions about what to observe … if you prepare, you'll notice many others once you're onsite.

  4. We define field research as activities that take researchers out of the lab / classroom and into the larger world of human interaction. That larger world now also includes the internet. People who have little human interaction in the physical world may have very high levels of interaction in the online world. And all of that interaction is developing its own patterns, manifestations and etc. That means online social interactions are something worth studying.

    Choose two online sites in which you've spent some amount of time (Worlds of Warcraft, Second Life, specific Yahoo groups, live chat/webcam sites, dating/swinging sites with components for online interaction (chat, forums, etc.). You may choose something new as long as you are familiar with that kind of site both technically (how it works and how interaction happens) and socially (what kinds of interaction happen and what kinds of tools are available to react to others – ignores, bans, smacks, weapons, etc). If you choose this option, there are things you must pay attention to when choosing your two sites. (a) Choose sites and times with a good deal of traffic. (b) Your two sites don't have to be the same but they must be comparable. For example, Worlds of Warcraft and Modern Warfare are comparable, while Worlds of Warcraft and a dating site are not. (c) Your sites must have some kind of mechanism for interacting with and viewing the interactions of others – voice or video chat, written real-time forums, avatars, etc.

    As with #3 above, you must observe one site for one hour at two different times of day and then repeat the process on the other site. If you know a site very well, resist the temptation to make up field notes based on what you remember from past sessions. Spend the required time on the site, looking at it from a different perspective and you'll notice things you didn't notice before. Be careful that you don't get so involved participating that you stop observing … study now, play later. Too, be careful not to make assumptions when recording your observations. Since nothing is "real" online, we tend to assume all sorts of things about the people with whom we come into contact. Don't do that. Record only what you observe. Other than that, the things you want to watch for are the same as interactions in the physical world. And if you prepare, you'll notice many others once you're onsite.


II. Observer Instructions

PICTURE OF ETHNOGRAPHIC RESEARCHERRealize that your initial contact with a group / site can influence your observations. Remain conscious of the need to stay objective and detached.

Keep your field notes with you at all times, even when you're not certain you'll have a chance to take notes.

If possible, take occasional sketchy notes in the field and rewrite them later, filling in the details. If you can jot a few notes at the time that's great but be careful that you do not disrupt or call attention … when in doubt, wait it out!

If you do attract attention, try to avoid telling people you are observing them. You should never lie to people but even if they are aware that you are conducting some form of research, you can be vague if questioned about specifics.

The sensitive nature of what you write in your field notes may include what people don't want revealed about themselves or their group. Field notes are for your eyes only.

The most important aspect of ethnographic research is the field notes so it is extremely important that you are able to record everything possible. Other than a few hastily jotted notes in the field, record most of your notes immediately after leaving the site.

At the beginning of your research, you'll probably be certain you can wait until the next day or that evening or even a couple of hours to record your field notes. Even a couple of hours later you will have already forgotten some of what you observed and will likely be unsure about some of the rest.


For research purposes, memory gaps can be a disaster. For assignment grade purposes, the fewer observations you record, the less likely you'll do well.

CAUTION: For those of you who want/need a good grade on your project … if you wait so long to record your observations that you cannot remember what you observed in the detail and quantity required, you must repeat the observation and start over. Too, If you choose a site that does not have enough interaction for you to make the observations you need, you must choose another site and start over. (Do not plan on receiving a passing grade on your project if you turn in scanty field notes with the excuse that "my sites didn't have much to observe.")

The recording process will take quite a bit longer than the actual observation (usually three to five times as long), so plan to allocate enough time immediately following the observation period to write up your notes. If you plan on 1 hour onsite this afternoon, schedule at least 4 hours total to ensure you have time to record your observations immediately after.


III. Field Notes

A. Formatting

Every ethnographic researcher has his/her own preference concerning how to set up field notes … there is no single correct way. For this course, however, I want you to use the format described below in this section.

Format your own field notes pages using the information below or look for the blank field notes pages later in these instructions.

Field notes should use the following format.

  1. On the top of the 1st page of each set (the notes for one session) include:

  1. your name

  2. date and time on which the observations were made, signified by DTO

  3. date and time on which the field notes were written / recorded, signified by DTR

  4. specific location at which the observations were made (Wal-Mart is not specific … record which one, where the store is located or etc)

  1. You must number all pages … it's so easy for field notes to become jumbled and so difficult to figure out which page goes where!

  2. Take plenty of blank field note pages with you. In the field, don't worry about being neat, just complete. (Make sure you can read what you wrote!)

  3. You must type all of your field notes before submitting them for a grade. You may single or double space them and use your choice of fonts. However, you must type them in the same format as used in the field. You are welcome to use the form I provided below – just download it to your computer. You may also create your own as long as it is comparable to the form provided.

  4. Divide field notes pages, into 3 columns labeled Descriptive Notes, Analytical Notes and Process Notes.

Descriptive Notes Column – Descriptive Notes / Observational Notes

Record your observations in the Descriptive Notes column on the left side of the page. DNs are the most important of the three types of notes since everything else depends on your observations. Too, assuming you are doing a good job recording your notes, you should have page after page of NDs in the left column and far fewer notes in the right and center columns … the reason I make the left column larger than the other two.

Record a thick description with sufficient detail for any reader to see the setting in his/her mind even without having been there. Describe what you saw and heard in as much detail as possible. Those details include who, what, when, where and etc of the people you're observing.

Record everything … Things that don't seem important may turn out to be significant.

  1. specific facts, numbers, details of what happens at the site

  2. information about those you're observing including who they are, their age, gender, ethnicity, roles, where they were in the group placement, etc

  3. sensory impressions – sights, sounds, textures, smells, tastes

  4. the actions people take … what they're doing

  5. descriptions of activities

  6. verbal behaviors … what they're saying

    1. Use direct quotes as much as possible. Identify the speaker for each quote. If you can’t get full quotes, try to catch key words and phrases so you can go back later to reconstruct the conversations in your expanded field notes. Note the participants' voice pitch, emphasis, expression, etc but be careful to record only what you see and hear. (If John's voice rose to a higher pitch, that's what you record. You don't record that John sounded scared.)

    2. specific words, phrases, summaries of conversations and insider language

  7. participants’ nonverbal behaviors -- expressions, movements, locations, postures, eye contact, touch, etc.

  8. the artifacts present in the site – which are being use and which are not?

  9. context, location, setting, timing – important components of describing your setting

  10. the spatial arrangements of and interactions in the site

    Draw a MAP OF THE SETTING and describe it in enough detail so that I will be able to visualize the place in which you made your observations. Be sure to locate yourself on the map and the location of the main people in the situation.

Analytical Notes Column – Analytical Notes / Theoretical Notes

Analytical Notes, the center column of your field notes, concern analysis, interpreting what you saw. This is different from your descriptions of your observations. (You observe that "the girl is smiling" and so describe it that way in your field notes. At some point you may interpret her smile as meaning happiness and might write that interpretation – "the girl is happy" – in the center column.)

NOTE: As an observer you need to constantly add more and more to your Descriptive Notes. (What haven't you described yet? What have you missed?) But you add to your Analytical Notes only as things occur to you. One day you might think "aha! When those people did that it was an example of ___." At that point find the place where you described that action in the left column of your field notes and jot your idea next to it in the center column.

 There are a number of things that are part of analysis and that you should record in the center column.

  1. preliminary connections based on what you've learned

  2. potential conclusions based on what you've learned

  3. key / emerging themes, patterns or concepts you noticed in your observations

  4. speculations and assumptions about what you observed

  5. sociological interpretations - analyze your fieldwork and any outcomes in relation to sociological terms or concepts.


deviance and social control



social processes

social norms and values

status and role

social institutions (family, religion, economics, etc)



social and cultural change



  1. questions to help focus your observations on subsequent visits

  2. questions about people or behaviors at the site for future investigation

Process Notes Column – Technical Notes / Methodological Notes and Reflection Notes / Personal Notes

I label the right column Process Notes because there are two different kinds of notes that  you might record there but they both deal with processes of sorts.

As with Analytical Notes, record Process Notes only when they occur to you.

  1. METHODOLOGICAL Process Notes concern questions, reminders, etc that deal with some aspect of your research process, your methodology or your methods. The focus is on the research process here, not on substantive findings.

    1. the way your research focus developed and potentially evolved

    2. any ethical issues you encountered

    3. assumptions or biases that might have colored your descriptions of what you saw

    4. the amount of data you collected

    5. the usefulness of ethnography and assessment of its beneficial or problematic aspects

    6. issues or problems you had

    7. what you would do differently next time in technical terms

    8. your success (or lack of it) at capturing “everything”

    9. anything you missed

    10. things you tended to focus on and why

    11. emerging themes or patterns concerning methodology or the research process

  2. PERSONAL Process Notes are about what you learned of a personal nature.

    1. personal responses to your observations and/or recording field notes

    2. your experiences in completing fieldwork

    3. what you would do differently next time on a personal level


B. Recording Field Notes

Complete your field notes as soon as possible after leaving the field site … immediate completion is the norm. Even though we may not think so when we're observing, we are all likely to forget important details unless we write them down very quickly.

Rush to start recording your notes but slow way down to finish them. Field notes must be detailed, specific and comprehensive – a thick description. That will never happen if you try to rush through completing them.

Remember that for every 1 hour of observation, you need to schedule at least 3 additional hours to complete your field notes (a total of 4 hours minimum).

ONE PIECE OF ADVICE: A little farther down the page is an Ethnography Resources section. I strongly urge you to look at some of the examples of field notes at the very least. The other links are important as well but if you don't look at all of the links I've provided, at least look at the field notes examples. I think the instructions above will be easy to follow if you do.


C. Preparing Field Notes

When you begin your fieldwork, use the links below to download the Word and/or PDF version of the field notes form and save it to your computer. Print as many copies as you need for your hand-written field notes. If you have a set that requires more pages than the downloaded forms include, simply print more and renumber the pages by hand.

I will not accept hand-written field notes. YOU MUST TYPE ALL FIELD NOTES BEFORE SUBMITTING THEM. Once you've completed your fieldwork, open the form on your computer and type in the contents from your hand-written forms. If you choose to type your field notes as soon as you collect them, that's fine … just save the form you're typing to a different filename than the one used for the blank form.

It is perfectly acceptable to add to your descriptive notes when you type them IF you are certain your memory is accurate. However, don't start second-guessing yourself. Usually the field notes you write immediately following your observations are the most accurate.

It is not only acceptable to add to your analytical and process notes as you type your observations, I encourage it. Review the sections on Analysis and Process above as a reminder of those things included in the analytical and process columns. Look at the course concepts listed in the Analysis section above and, if it helps, review the discussions of those concepts in the course Margin Notes. Keep those things in mind any time you review or type your observations. As you notice things dealing with analysis or process, include those in the appropriate column.

Although field notes are not in an essay format and must fit into a form's columns, you must still pay attention to spelling and grammar when typing them. Complete sentences are not necessarily required but don't assume you can use one or two words as shorthand for a longer thought and I'll understand your meaning. As always, I value conciseness and quality but, for this assignment, there's no way around the importance of quantity. Too, as is always the case, misspelled words that occur more often than very occasionally greatly distract from your content. To get a better idea of what your field notes should look like, look at some of the examples of field notes in the Ethnography Resources section below. Most of the examples are hand-written but they demonstrate the appropriate content for field notes.


Blank Field Notes Form [Word Doc]   DOWNLOAD BUTTON - FIELD NOTES FORM WORD DOC                           Blank Field Notes Form [PDF]   DOWNLOAD BUTTON - FIELD NOTES FORM PDF


Ethnographic Field Notes

(This is a descriptive example only, not a blank form.)

Descriptive Notes

Analytical Notes

Process Notes

statements bearing on events

experienced through watching and listening

contain as little interpretation as possible

are as reliable as the observer can construct them

each represents an event deemed important enough to include

the Who, What, When, Where and How of human activity

represent self-conscious, controlled attempts to derive meaning from any one or several observation notes

observer and recorder thinks about his/her experiences and assigns whatever meaning he/she feels fits the situations and concepts

might be thought of as observational notes on oneself and the research process

an operational act completed or planned

an instruction to oneself

a reminder

a critique of one's own tactics

timing, sequencing, stationing, stage setting or maneuvering


IV. Ethnography Resources

Links to Field Notes Examples

Each of the examples below is a little different than the others. Use them as examples of content, not as examples of formatting. For formatting, use my specific instructions.

Field Notes: The Study Of Gym Activity

Example Field Notes Transcript

Louisiana Folk Life Field Notes Example

Alex's Sample Field Note 1

Alex's Sample Field Note 2

Guinea Field Notes Example (slow to load at times)

On Writing Field Notes (several examples throughout the article)

Urban Sociology – Chalmette La

How To Write Field Notes (a number of examples interspersed through out article)

Links to Help with Field Notes

The following links will take you to sites / pages that offer advice on field notes. Feel free to incorporate anything you want as long as it doesn't conflict with my specific instructions.

Observation and Field Notes

How To Write Field Notes

Symbolic and Interpretive Anthropologies (explanation of thick description halfway down the page)

On Writing Field Notes

Workbook For Descriptive Observations (see list of things to record beginning on page 7)

Clarke's How To Write Field Notes

Field Notes In Ethnographic Research

Tips for Writing Thick Descriptions

How To Write Field Notes

A Sample of Recorded Ethnographic Observations

Links to Ethnography Paper Examples

The following links are to examples of ethnography papers (and a few observation papers), not field notes. You will not write a paper for your project but I thought these examples might give you some ideas for your projects.

Examples from Ohio State's Sociology 101 (several examples including professor's remarks)

What's Behind a Snip?

Ethnography and Performance

Field Notes Analysis (scroll down to page 11)

Qualitative Field Research

Links to Articles on Ethnography

IU Library Collection

Writing Guides

Qualitative Research Methodologies: Ethnography

Guide for Ethnography

How to Write an Ethnography

Practical Ethnography: A Guide to Doing Ethnography in the Private Sector

Researching the Social: an Introduction to Ethnographic Research

A Synthesis of Ethnographic Research


Special Email Instructions (NOT THE SAME OLD EMAIL!)

As you know, I never accept emails with attachments. For this assignment, I have to make an exception since it would be impossible for many of you to copy-and-paste page after page of field notes into an email and still maintain the formatting. Including the map would be an even bigger problem. So, for this assignment only, you are going to email your work by attaching it to your email.

To minimize the risk, I'm going to be very specific about what you need to do and insist that you follow my directions.

  1. When you're ready to complete your field notes, use the links above to download the Word and/or PDF version of the field notes form and save it to your computer. (One note of caution: Unless you have Adobe Acrobat you probably won't be able to type into the PDF version of the form. Use the Word version instead.)

  2. Open the form you saved to your computer and type in your notes. YOU MUST TYPE YOUR NOTES INTO THE FORM BEFORE SUBMITTING IT. Although your notes won't really be in an essay format and must fit into a form's columns, you must still pay attention to spelling and grammar. Complete sentences are not necessarily required but don't assume I'll understand your meaning if you just use one or two words as shorthand for a longer thought. As always, I value conciseness and quality but, for this assignment, there's no way around the importance of quantity as well. Too, as is always the case, misspelled words that occur more often than very occasionally greatly distract from your content.

  3. When you finish typing for the day or at the end of the form, save the document before closing it.

  4. To send your field notes, open a new email and type in my address and the correct subject line as always.

  5. Type some kind of message in the body – "My field notes and map are attached." or etc – so my software won't automatically assume your email is spam.

  6. Your email should have two and only two attachments – your typed field notes and your map.

  7. NOTE ABOUT THE MAP: There are several methods you can use to attach your map to your email.

    1. If you have a scanner (or all-in-one), scan your map into your computer as a PDF or JPEG file, which you can then attach to your email to me.

    2. Try your college. I'm fairly certain either the technology center or library has a scanner that students can use. Well in advance of the due date, scan your map into one of the computers and attach it to an email to your home computer. At home, save that attachment to your computer.

    3. If you have Paint (or a similar program) on your computer and know how to use it, draw your map on your computer rather than by hand.

    4. If you have a digital camera and Photoshop (or a similar program) on your computer and know how to use them, take a picture of the site, upload it to your computer and use your software to mark on the picture those things asked for in the assignment.

  8. If you make a mistake of some kind and need to resend your assignment, send me an email telling me that before you resend it. If I get a second email with attachments from you, I'll delete it unless you've warned me in advance. You don't need to wait for me to respond ... just send me an email first.


Project Submission Instructions

By the deadline shown in the Course Schedule on the main page of the syllabus:

  • Send your typed field notes and map as attachments to a new email (following the instructions above) to

  • Put your name on both.

  • Be careful to use the correct subject line on your email.

  • Late field notes and maps will lose one point per day late, including weekends and holidays.

A NOTE OF CAUTION: This is a 20-point comprehensive assignment ... the detail and thoroughness of your response should reflect that additional weight.

Proofread your work for spelling and grammar errors and make corrections where necessary.





Course EvaluationTo Do Note

While the benefit you gain from your courses is ultimately up to you, all faculty members take seriously the responsibility for facilitating student learning. Faculty members desire students’ honest opinions to help improve instruction and to help verify the positive aspects of instruction. Creating online courses is extremely labor-intensive and time-consuming and all online faculty members value thoughtful feedback.

I’ve modified a short face-to-face student evaluation for online student use and strongly encourage you to participate. The answers from each completed evaluation are electronically submitted to a results file that is never publically accessible. Because no login is required to complete the evaluation, it is impossible to identify who completed a specific evaluation. The only information associated with an individual evaluation (as a method of weeding out bogus evaluations) is the date and time it was submitted.

To begin, go to the Student Course Evaluation page and follow the directions. Take care to choose the correct course and semester. Too, remember that your course is an online course and should be compared to other online courses you've taken, not to face-to-face courses. If the course you are evaluating is your first online course, compare it to your realistic expectations of an online course.

The evaluation will be available at the link above two weeks prior to your final exam and will remain available for one week following your final.  The evaluation only takes about 10 minutes to complete but the feedback you provide will be invaluable … I really do use student feedback to help improve my courses!





Final Exam (20 points)To Do Note

The final exam has 40 multiple-choice questions. Each question is worth one-half point. There is a comprehensive review for the final on the Final Exam Review page, linked off of the main page of the syllabus.

The final exam is an online exam.  You must read the instructions for the final exam before taking it. The instructions are on the main page of your syllabus just below the Course Schedule.

Please note that students taking the final exam online must complete the exam by the deadline shown in the Course Schedule on the main page of the syllabus. The deadline gives you the maximum possible amount of time to take the exam but it allows NO margin of error since grades are due. If you miss that deadline, regardless of the reason, you will not be able to take a make-up exam. I strongly encourage you to take it early rather than risking damage to your grade by waiting until the last minute.



Copyright 1996 Amy S Glenn    
Last updated:   04/02/2017   0430

Creative Commons License