Do You See What I See? Challenges in Observational Archival Data Coding


There are many advantages to observational data collection. Directly observing behavior, within its social context, allows researchers to see real behavior in real time, while also avoiding the pitfalls associated with other methodologies (e.g., social desirability bias in surveys). However, conducting good observational research is more daunting than many researchers may initially expect. Each task within the study from creating a valid coding system, to reliably training observers, to analyzing the data will take much effort to maintain rigor. More importantly, one major complaint about observational studies is true: it is incredibly time-consuming. The amount of time that a researcher can expect to engage in the study, from beginning to completion, will likely be twice what is initially estimated. The “simple” creation of a valid coding system can take weeks if not months. Training of researchers is continuous not discrete. And, inter-rater reliability needs to be checked in various ways and often. In the end, observational research can provide answers to theoretical questions that other methodologies cannot, but you will work for it.

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