A research necessarily involves getting an insight into the behaviour and attitudes of people. It might be related to social, economic or cultural behaviour. Such observation is crucial for qualitative research.
Data collection essentially means the collection of information about people and places. The target group is selected for such observation according to the hypothesis or aim of the research. A method that is gaining popularity as an observation tool is Ethnography. It means the study of an ethnic group by the researcher. In this method, the researcher becomes a part of the group or participates in the activities over a period. The mode of data collection is, thus, observation, along with interviews, field notes and questionnaires.
The data collected are neither biased, nor coded at the time of compilation. It acts as a reflection of what the group under observation says and thinks. The researcher must try to be unprejudiced. The notes should not be affected by the personal thinking and attitudes of the researcher. The best ethnographic research is unbiased, true, moving and substantive. It must reveal a new side to the selected ethnic group, or find reasons for certain acts.
The groups, which were earlier cultural societies, may now consist of people working together, studying together, members of an association or those participating in a survey. The reason for this shift in the nature of populace covered under ethnography is that the application of the method has undergone a change. While earlier it was focused on cultural and social anthropology, today it is being widely used by media, communication researchers, marketers, managers and governments.
Ethnographers need to have a variety of skills; just being observant is not enough. They must be technically correct, and aware of the potential impacts of the study on the group. The findings that are portrayed by them must reveal facts and not assumptions. They must act as only the fact finders and refrain from giving their viewpoints as part of the notes. The revelation of facts must, however, be done keeping in mind the traditions, reservations and customs of the people involved.