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Health E-Learning and Media Team
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5. Field notes

While observations and interviews may be video or audio-recorded, data from observations are usually collected using fieldnotes. Field notes are the researcher's documentation of events, conversations and behaviours observed in the field, and the researcher's reflections on them.

Where and when field notes are documented will depend on the setting, the researcher and the participants being observed. For example, whilst taking fieldnotes during a ward round may be appropriate, writing whilst a health care professional is trying to calm an agitated patient may not be.

Some participants will be comfortable with data being recorded in fieldnotes during the observations, but others may not be. In these cases fieldnotes should be made outside of the field to avoid discomfort.

Sometimes researcher's write memos or keywords discretely in the setting that can be used as prompts for detailed field notes completed immediately after each period of data collection. Full field notes should include as much detail as possible including when, where, who and what occurred, and any factors that prompted the event or behaviour.

Some researchers use audio recorders to capture their observations and reflections immediately after leaving the setting. These do however, increase the volume of transcription to be completed.

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