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Glossary » observational study

observational study

watching people’s behavior to find patterns and design-relevant activities. For instance, observing people working in an office environment to determine their work processes and computer usage patterns.

Casual observation can be used to gain a basic understanding of a situation quickly and at minimal cost. Systematic observation attempts to categorize and quantify observations through a structured approach to data collection. Observation offers the opportunity for detailed descriptive analysis of what people do. Observational researchers are often particularly concerned with minimizing observer bias and achieving good inter-observer reliability.

Observation is not a particularly good method in general for determining people’s opinions and beliefs (instead, use interviews and surveys), and is not particularly strong evidence for determining why something is happening (instead, use an experiment), though in both cases observational studies may provide extremely useful insights.