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A page of Robert H. Gibbs Jr.'s field notebook

Fieldnotes refer to qualitative notes recorded by scientists or researchers in the course of field research, during or after their observation of a specific phenomenon they are studying. The notes are intended to be read as evidence that gives meaning and aids in the understanding of the phenomenon. Fieldnotes allow the researcher to access the subject and record what they observe in an unobtrusive manner.

One major disadvantage of taking fieldnotes is that they are recorded by an observer and are thus subject to (a) memory[1] and (b) possibly, the conscious or unconscious bias of the observer.[citation needed] It is best to record fieldnotes immediately after leaving the site to avoid forgetting important details.

Fieldnotes are particularly valued in descriptive sciences such as ethnography, biology, geology, and archaeology, each of which have long traditions in this area.


There are two components of fieldnotes: descriptive information and reflective information.[2]

Descriptive information is factual data that is being recorded. Factual data includes time and date, the state of the physical setting, social environment, descriptions of the subjects being studied and their roles in the setting, and the impact that the observer may have had on the environment.[2]

Reflective information is the observer's reflections about the observation being conducted. These reflections are ideas, questions, concerns, and other related thoughts.[2]

Fieldnotes can also include sketches, diagrams, and other drawings. Visually capturing a phenomenon requires the observer to pay more attention to every detail as to not overlook anything.[3]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  • Michael R. Canfield, Field Notes on Science & Nature, Harvard University Press, 2011, ISBN 9780674057579
  • Robert M. Emerson, Rachel I. Fretz, Linda L. Shaw, Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, University Of Chicago Press, 1995, ISBN 0-226-20681-5
  • Roger Sanjek, Fieldnotes: The Making of Anthropology, Cornell University Press, 1990.

External links


  1. ^ Canfield, Michael (2011). Field Notes on Science & Nature. Harvard University Pres. p. 21. ISBN 9780674057579.
  2. ^ a b c Labaree, Robert V. "Research Guides: Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Writing Field Notes". Retrieved 2016-04-12.
  3. ^ Canfield, Michael (2011). Field Notes on Science & Nature. Harvard University Press. p. 162. ISBN 9780674057579.