Skip to main content
Health E-Learning and Media Team
18% Complete

2. What is fieldwork?

Fieldwork is an integral part of qualitative research. Originating in anthropology and sociology, fieldwork has become a recognised method in health sciences in recent years. Fieldwork involves going into a natural setting to understand people within that context i.e. understanding people in their everyday natural setting. A field worker is comparable to a child who learns by observing and engaging in the activities within their environment.

Fieldwork can be used to gain an understanding of people's experiences within a context, how a culture works/influences health care practices and the multifaceted relationships within the work environment. For example, if you want to research how care is delivered and received in a secure mental health unit, the most reliable way to do this is to observe the environment itself and the experiences of individuals within it.

Fieldwork is not itself a research methodology, rather there several research methodologies and methods in qualitative research that utilise fieldwork. These include, but not limited to ethnography, discourse analysis and conversation analysis.

This resource will focus predominately on ethnography and observations, but many of the principles of fieldwork are universal to the other methodologies too.

Click on each title to see a definition and how fieldwork might be used to support this methodology.

Build your Research Protocol Sheet.


    a study of peoples and cultures within their natural setting.

Direct Observation:

    visually engaging with the natural setting within which the study is being conducted.

Qualitative interview:

    an interactional style of data collection where an interviewee is offered the opportunity to expand on thier views, beliefs, and experiences.

Participant Observation:

    a form of observation where the researcher participates in the activities of the group or culture that is being observed

Case study:

    an intensive exploration of a single individual, group or unit and involved in-depth investigation of the data relating to several factors
Document Top