Structured Observation

Structured observation (also known as systemic observation) is a data collecting method in which researchers gather data without direct involvement with the participants (the researchers watch from afar) and the collection technique is structured in a well defined and procedural manner. It allows researchers to collect data that couldn't be collected using typical research methods like surveys and interviews. Structured observation uses a coding method for data collection.

Coding is using previously determined specific behaviors or actions that qualify as manifestations of the behavior of interest. For example, a developmental psychologist is interested in helping behaviors in toddlers. They want to use structured observation so a coding method is developed. They identify which behaviors or actions qualify as helping behaviors (helping another child who has fallen or hurt themselves, sharing a toy or snack, finding a lost item for another, etc). Whenever the researcher observes one of these behaviors it is marked down. Coding allows for observations to be quantitative. The opposite of this is casual observation which is not structured and is informal with no coding. This is typically common in the initial stages of research when the methodology is still being developed.

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