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Fieldnotes refer to various notes recorded by scientists during or after their observation of a specific phenomenon they are studying. Fieldnotes are particularly valued in descriptive sciences such as ethnography, biology, geology, and archaeology, each of which have long traditions in this area.

Emerson (1995) defines fieldnotes in ethnography (a term referring generally to descriptive writing in anthropology, and also to subfield of sociology) as 'accounts describing experiences and observations the researcher has made while participating in an intense and involved manner'. A key source, containing case materials about fieldnote writing -- for example, about the relationship between fieldnotes and memory, and about the interconnections among field research process, fieldnotes and post-fieldwork ethnographic work -- is the 1990 collection edited by Roger Sanjek, Fieldnotes: The Making of Anthropology.

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Example fieldnotes


Field notes are one means employed by qualitative researchers whose main objective of any research is to try and understand the true perspectives of the subject being studied. Field notes allow the researcher to access the subject and record what they observe in an unobtrusive manner.

However one major disadvantage is that field notes are recorded by an observer and are subject to (a) memory and (b) possibly, the conscious or unconscious bias of the observer.

Further reading

  • Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, Linda L. Shaw, Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, University Of Chicago Press, 1995, ISBN 0-226-20681-5
  • Roger Sanjek, Fieldnotes: The Making of Anthropology, Cornell University Press, 1990.

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