Register Now to Beegin Your Journey!

Register Now For Free to Beegin Your Journey!

Register Now to Beegin Your Journey!Register for free

Field Study: Complete Guide with Examples

Field Study: Complete Guide with Examples
Elena Mitsiou
•  07.06.2024
Learn about the different types of field studies, real-life examples as well as a step-by-step guide on how to prepare and run your first field study without a hitch!

Field studies are a powerful tool in every researcher’s arsenal as they are deployed to make sense of how humans behave in a certain context within their natural environments.

More specifically, in this article, we will look at the different types of field studies, real-life examples as well as a step-by-step guide on how to prepare and run your first field study without a hitch! But first things first, let’s define what a field study is.

What is a field study?

A field study is a research method that revolves around observing the research subjects in their natural environment without any interference on the researcher’s part. One could think of field studies as the complete opposite of lab research where the subjects operate in a highly controlled setup.

Field studies are a powerful research methodology that can prove to be particularly effective when researchers are looking to understand the impact that the environment can have on the behavior of a subject, as well as the context within which the subjects are operating.

Field study research types

Field studies can take various shapes and forms, however, the main distinctive characteristic between all these types is whether they are observational or attitudinal. According to the Nielsen Normal Group, a field study can be on the spectrum of purely observational to purely attitudinal.

field study

1. Direct observation

The first field study type that we’ll explore is direct observation. In this observational study, researchers merely watch their subjects in their natural environments without interfering in any way.

This is a great method to gather unbiased data by removing the element of influence that a moderator can have on the insights. Direct observation is usually deployed in behavioral studies where researchers want to dive into the nuances of human behavior and decision-making.

2. Participant observation

Next up is participant observation! In this type of field study, the researcher is part of the group they are studying.

This approach helps the researcher deep dive into the intricacies of the objects’ behavior, giving them an inside scoop on the social interaction that occurs during the study.

3. Qualitative interviews

Qualitative interviews are in-depth discussions that the researcher has with the study’s participants with the main goal of collating insights into the lived experiences and any feelings or thoughts surrounding those.

This methodology is on the attitudinal end of the spectrum and it can help researchers uncover perceptions as well as motivations surrounding human behavior or decision-making.

Qualitative interviews, also known as user interviews, are widely used in market research and within the UX research field.

💡Pro Tip

Want to include user interviews in your UX research?

Try UXtweak’s Live Interviews! Seamlessly schedule, recruit, conduct, and analyze your all user interviews.

⬇️ Learn more about the feature and be the first to try it!


4. Case study

A case study is a methodology that involves examining a specific group of subjects or a subject to understand in depth a particular case or topic.

A case study can consist of interviews, secondary research, other type of records, and more. Case studies have applications in different fields such as business and psychology.

5. Ethnography

Ethnography is a method that revolves around the study of a particular ethnic group or culture, with the researcher interacting with them over a long period.

This is a methodology that is both attitudinal and observational, offering hence a holistic research approach and rounded insights into the group that is being studied. Ethnographic studies have applications mainly in anthropology or sociology.

Field study examples

field studies

Here are some real-life field study examples and their applications in various fields:

UX research

User experience researchers can tap into the power of field studies to better understand how a digital product or service is used within a particular context.

For instance, user researchers might want to understand how customers interact with the automatic check-out points at a supermarket and identify any sticking point in a process that involves both physical and online interaction.

Using field studies in this context can help them understand the nuances of this interaction on a deeper level than in a lab setting.

Market research

Market research is yet another field where these types of studies have applications. For example, a market researcher might want to explore how the buying and decision-making processes might be affected by the physical space within which the subject exists.

The researcher in this case might want to study the subject in a retail setting, to better understand whether the position of the product on a shelf or any marketing promotions have an impact on the shopping habits of the customers. .

Anthropological research

Last but not least, field studies have applications in anthropology as those methodologies can prove extremely valuable when trying to understand the culture of an ethnic group.

For instance, researchers might be curious to know more about indigenous societies in the Amazonian in South America, so this would entail doing some fieldwork in the area to interact and observe those tribes in their daily lives.

Preparing for a field study

field study

Before you dive head straight into your first field study, you need to remember that preparation is key. Here is a handy step-by-step guide to follow in the lead-up to your study:

1. Defining the objective of the study

Start by clearly defining the goals and objectives of your study. Make sure to pinpoint specific research questions. This will help you stay on track and ensure that you collect meaningful data.

To define your goals you can take advantage of the SMART framework, according to which the goals of your study should be specific, measurable, achievable relevant, and time-bound.

2. Creating a hypothesis

Once your research questions are polished, it is time to develop your hypothesis. A hypothesis is essentially an assumption about the topic you are researching.

The results of the study will either approve or disapprove your hypothesis. Setting the right hypothesis is the alpha and the omega of your study as it will be your north star throughout the study.

3. Defining the length of the study

Field studies are normally executed over an extended period compared to other types of research studies. Make sure to determine from the early stages the length of your study taking into consideration the complexity of your research questions and any variable parameters such as seasonality.

4. Choosing between participant vs non-participant observation

At this stage, you will also need to decide whether your study will involve interaction with the participants or not. This is a crucial element of your study as it is set to have a major impact on both the data collection methods used and the insights gathered. As a rule of thumb, non-participant observation minimizes the risk of biased findings.

5. Recruiting a Participant Group

Now you need to start thinking about recruiting participants for your study. Ensure that those are representative of your targeted audience and choose the right channels to source them. Make sure to consider all relevant demographics to ensure meaningful and relevant insights.

6. Ethics and Consent

Last, but not least, make sure that you have taken into account all the ethical considerations involved and that you have gained informed consent from the study participants.

Take time to go through the study with the participants including elements such as its purpose and the type of data that will be collected. Transparency and clear communication with the participants should be at the top of your list so clear any doubts or grey areas before the study is kicked off.

How to conduct a field study

field study

Now you are ready to kick off your first field study:

1. Develop a study plan & protocol

Start by creating a detailed roadmap of your study to ensure that all the necessary elements are addressed. Here is the place to add your objectives, your hypothesis but also the methodologies that you will be using to collect your data. Timelines should also be present in your plan as well as some contingency plans.

2. Gather necessary equipment

Next up is gathering the necessary equipment for the field study, This can take the form of recording software, cameras, laptops, and anything else you have identified as important for you to carry out your study. Make sure to thoroughly test your equipment beforehand to ensure that it functions as expected.

3. Take field notes on the spot

One of the main advantages of the field study is that the researchers have the unique opportunity to observe or interact in real time with their subjects. Ensure that you fully capitalize on that by recording all the observations real-time. Using a systematic approach to this will help you keep on track and make meaningful consistent notes.

4. Analyze gathered data

Once you are happy with the data that you have collated it is time to synthesize and analyze your data. Identify patterns and take into consideration both your qualitative and quantitative data before drawing any conclusions.

5. Share Your findings

Last but not least, present and share your findings with the relevant stakeholders. Ensure that your reports and presentations have actionable insights and well-explained data.

Conduct UX Research with UXtweak!

The only UX research tool you need to visualize your customers’ frustration and better understand their issues

Register for free

Advantages of field research studies

Here is a list of the top advantages that field research studies have to offer:

1. Contextual problem understanding

One of the most distinctive advantages of field studies is that they allow for a deep understanding of the context within which a behavior or an interaction occurs. By observing subjects in a natural setting, researchers can understand the nuances of that natural environment and their effect on the subjects.

2. Holistic view on the research objective

Field studies allow for a more rounded view of the research objective. This can be proven to be invaluable in a research environment with multiple variables and complex interactions.

3. Higher empathy with participants

These types of studies also permit enhanced empathy with the participants of the study. Empathy is a crucial element of every research study as the researcher will need to be able to build trust and rapport with the subjects to ensure rich unbiased data.

Disadvantages of field studies

However, field studies do have a few limitations as well:

1. The observer effect

The ‘observer effect’ is one of the main disadvantages of the field study methodology. This means that the presence of the moderator can potentially influence the participant’s behavior resulting in biased insights.

2. Costs of the study

The demands of a field study are massive when it comes to budget, time, and resources. This is why researchers who decide to engage in this type of study will need to plan meticulously beforehand.

3. Logistical challenges

Field studies might also have a lot of logistical challenges, like traveling abroad, gaining consent for access to different environments, and navigating cultural differences. Researchers need to plan these to ensure that the study can be completed.

4. Data management

Collecting and managing data can be another hurdle when it comes to conducting field studies. These studies often generate huge volumes of data which can be daunting to synthesize and analyze.

In a nutshell

Whether you are a market researcher, a UX researcher, or an anthropologist, field studies are one of the most powerful research methodologies out there! Among other advantages, field studies can offer in-depth insights inclusive of the context within which the subjects operate.

These types of studies require meticulous planning and a generous budget so think thoroughly and plan carefully before conducting one!

And if you need help conducting research and are looking for a good all-in-one tool to handle the research, recruitment and analysis for you – UXtweak‘s got your back. 

Conduct UX Research with UXtweak!

The only UX research tool you need to visualize your customers’ frustration and better understand their issues

Register for free

FAQ: Field Study

What is a field study?

A field study is a research methodology where the researcher observes or interacts with a subject or a group of subjects in their natural environment, intending to gather unbiased data on human behavior.

Why is a field study important?

Among other reasons, field studies are mainly important because it is one of the few research methods out there that allow for a holistic understanding of the subjects, inclusive of the context and the environment within which they operate.

What is the difference between a field study and a case study?

A field study is a research methodology that revolves around observing or interacting with subjects within their natural environment. On the other hand, a case study is an in-depth rounded examination of a subject or a group, which is composed by data from different sources or studies.

Share on socials |

Read More