Ethnography research is a method used by professionals and academics alike to determine how people interact with each other in a specified environment. Different from simple observational research, ethnography requires that a researcher integrate him/herself into the environment, typically playing a role of someone in that environment. Ethnographic research can be done in any environment where people live, work, or otherwise interact.

Click on the diagram below to learn how to do the eight steps of ethnography research.


How to Do Ethnography Research

  1. Identify Research Question
    Determine what problem you are seeking to better understand. Develop a problem statement that raises questions you seek to know more about. The problem or question may be about nearly any topic that addresses people in a designated environment. You may be wishing to better understand things like culture, relationships, interactions, processes, or anything else that affect how people think and/or behave.
  2. Determine Location(s) for Research
    Identify the best place to conduct the participatory research. You may choose more than one location if the research question/problem warrants it. Select a location that will provide the best opportunity to observe, participate, take field notes, and understand how the people in that environment act, communicate, and think.

  3. Formulate Presentation Method
    Consider the most effect way(s) to obtain objective information. Will you be adopting a role of a person in the community or organization you are observing? Will you be covert or will others know you are conducting research? Recognize that if others know you are a researcher, they may act and respond differently. If they don’t know, on the other hand, consider the most ethical way to observe and collect data.

  4. Acquire Permissions and Access
    Because ethnographic research can be a bit intrusive, it’s usually necessary to obtain permission for access into the location you plan to research. Always obtain permission in writing. Let decision-makers know what your observational methods will be, how you plan to participate, how the information you collect will be used, and so forth. Being ethical and considerate is critically important.

  5. Observe and Participate
    Ethnography requires more than just observation. To research effectively, you will want to participate in the organization you are researching in some capacity. Determine the types of things you are looking for in regards to your question and problem and determine the most effective ways to collect notes. Be as objective as possible when observing and participating. Write running descriptions, things you remember, impressions and feelings, ideas that come to mind, and so forth.

  6. Interview
    To increase your understanding of behaviors and actions, interviews may be necessary. You may do these interviews immediately after witnessing something, at the end of a designated observation period, at the end of the day, or even at the end of the entire research period. Determine who is best to interview and what questions are critical to helping you understand your research question.

  7. Collect Archival Data
    Many organizations, communities, and cultures have other artifacts and information that you can use to assist in your data collection. Review things like papers, emails, physical artifacts, phone conversations, marketing collateral, websites, and other information-rich sources to enhance your understanding of the environment.

  8. Code and Analyze Data
    Code your data in a way that makes the most sense for your observations. Consider the following methods for analyzing and summarizing data: code and label things you saw and heard; sort for patterns; identify outliers; compare with theories; take note of reflective remarks.


  • February 8, 2018 at 2:20 am

    Should ethnography research be bound to a particular place?

    • February 8, 2018 at 10:28 am

      Hi Den,

      Great question. Technically, you could do research in more than one place. However, when you’re looking to learn about what variables influence behaviors, it gets far more complicated if you don’t keep to one space. Typically, it is best to keep to one place, do a study, then move to another place and do another study, and so forth. You’ll be looking at different things in each environment, so it will help you stay more focused and keep your research more reliable.


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