Crafting the art of research observations: Ethical concerns, other dilemmas and solutions

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University of Essex


Dr Christina Gkonou is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Language and Linguistics. She is also Deputy Director of Education, Ethics Officer and Programme Leader for the MA in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. She convenes postgraduate modules on teacher education and development, and on psychological aspects surrounding the foreign language learning and teaching experience. Her main research area is language learner and teacher emotions. In her research, she adopts a qualitative, narrative-based approach to issues of participants’ emotions and identities mainly through observations of their behaviours, in-depth interviews and reflective documents. Alexandros Parginos is a final-year doctoral student in Essex Business School (PhD in Accounting) and GTA on a number of modules across all three years of undergraduate studies within EBS. His research is on corporate social responsibility and non-financial disclosures and adopts a purely qualitative approach to exploring decisions and behaviours taking place in the business world. This has been achieved through observations, interviews and questionnaires which focus on the perspectives of different stakeholders that matter for businesses.




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This course aims to raise awareness of an important data collection instrument, i.e. observations, which much as it helps to gather data on behaviours as they happen in their natural settings, it is also highly subjective and deprived of any clear guidelines on how to use it. The latter often deters researchers from selecting it for their empirical studies. The course will encourage participants to reconsider their take on using observations for their projects and increase their confidence in using them.

This one-day course will centre on observations as a qualitative data collection instrument within a range of disciplines (e.g. humanities, social sciences). Observations offer valuable insights into how a phenomenon under investigation occurs in the ‘real world’, yet they are presented with a number of ethical complications and often generate messy data which are challenging for researchers to handle (Rose & McKinley, 2017). The course will comprise: 1) a theoretical part in which observations will be critically discussed by also considering the presenters’ experiences with conducting observations, and 2) a practical part during which participants will observe a conversation happening in class and apply the principles and techniques presented in the theoretical part. The course will address the following questions:

  • What are the pros and cons of researching through observations?
  • What ethical considerations should researchers make throughout the different research stages (e.g. when recruiting participants, when collecting and analysing data)?
  • How could the reliability and validity of observational data be increased and subjectivity minimised? Is a second observer really needed?
  • How could observational data be prepared for analysis/analysed?
  • How could researchers report on observational data?


By the end of the course, participants should be able to:

  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of research observations.
  • Understand how observational data could be collected and analysed.
  • Appreciate research ethics regarding observations.
  • Understand how reliability and validity of an observation-based project be increased.

Additionally, they will have made their first attempt to collect and analyse observational data during the practical stage of the course.


There is no requirement for students to have completed reading in advance of the course or already developed an observation schedule. However, it would be useful if they will have given some thought of what situations and type of participants they are likely to observe and what they would like to focus on during the observations.


Entry (no or almost no prior knowledge)


£150 - External students/ academics and commercial participants

Website and registration


East of England


Data Collection, Observation, Data Quality and Data Management , Qualitative Data Handling and Data Analysis

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