writing field reports field reports are set as assignments in a variety of disciplines and usually require the student

to combine theory and analysis with observation and practice. examples field report assignments include the following: a field report about a practice teaching session a field report about a court session observed a field report about the developmental stage of a child who has been tested a field report about some historical place or thing observed a field report about a work experience placement that forms part of the university course although the subject matter of all these kinds of field reports will vary considerably, there are similarities in them as they require both description of an observed person, place or event and an analysis of what was observed.

this type of report is intended to improve student understanding of key theoretical concepts of a course through observation of and reflection about real life practice. in addition, this type of report facilitates the development of data collection and observation skills and allows students to see how theory applies to real world practice. the function of field reports is to describe an observed person, place or event and to analyse that observation. we all observe people, interactions and events in everyday life; however, your job when writing a field report is more structured. when writing a field report you need to: systematically observe and accurately record in detail the varying aspects of a situation; constantly analyse your observation for meaning (i.e. what's going on here?, what does this mean?, what else does this relate to?); keep the report’s aims in mind while you are observing; consciously observe, record and analyse what you hear and see in the

context of a theoretical framework/s (glesne & peshkin, 1992). since field reports are used to combine theory and practice, they involve both description and analysis. it is important to be aware of and avoid the most common student error when writing field reports of presenting description without any analysis of what has been described or observed. field reports usually consist of the following elements: description - what you have seen or observed

description
your audience has not witnessed the situation, people or event you are discussing; thus, their only knowledge of it will come from your description. give them enough information to place the analysis that will follow into a context. remember, do not make the mistake of only including description. we all observe people, interactions and events in everyday life; however, your job when writing a field report is to systematically record in detail the varying aspects of a situation (glesne & peshkin, 1992). in many respects the description component of a field report is like a well written piece of journalism. in nearly every situation, the journalist looks to address the five ws. what: describe what you are observing. note what boundaries you imposed to limit the observations you made. what are your general impressions of the situation you are observing; for example, as a student teacher, what is your impression of the participation of the class; as a student engineer, what is your impression of an engineering installation; as a student nurse, what is your impression of a medical procedure? where: describe background information that sets the scene or context of the observation. when: record factual data about day and time. it may also be appropriate to include background information or events which impact upon the situation you are observing. who: note the participants in the situation. who are they in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and any other variables relevant to your study. record who is doing what and saying what. why: describe why you selected the particular situation to observe that you did. unlike a newspaper or magazine article, however, you are required to

take your report one step further and place what you have seen into a theoretical framework and provide an in-depth analysis of the significance of your observations. analysis - strengths and weaknesses, reflection or evaluation of observations in light of theory and key concepts of your course or the broader context of your discipline.

analysis
you have provided the reader with a description of the situation, people or events you observed. you also need to provide an evaluation what you have observed and let the reader know how these events and observations relate to theory, key concepts of your course or the broader context of your discipline. you should have kept in mind the theories and issues you encountered in your course when making your observations. part of your task in analysis is to determine which observations are worthy of comment and evaluation, and which observations are more general in nature. it is your theoretical framework that allows you to make these decisions. you need to show that you are looking at the situation through the eyes of an informed viewer, not a lay person. be careful to base any evaluations or conclusions you make in your analysis on what you have observed. do not manipulate what you have observed to fit into a predetermined theoretical framework. below are some questions that you might find useful to ask yourself when analysing your observations. you may like to print the list of questions out for future use. what is the meaning of what you have observed? why do you think what you observed happened? what evidence do you have for your reasoning? what events or behaviours were typical or widespread? how were they distributed among categories of people? do you see any connections or patterns in what you observed? why did the people you observed do it that way? what are the implications of this? do you agree with this method? did the stated or implicit objectives of what you were observing match what was achieved? what were the relative merits of the behaviours you observed? what were the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches you observed? do you see connections between what you observed and the key concepts in your course and what you have read? how do your observations fit into the big picture of this topic area such as the whole education or justice system?

have you learnt anything from this? what education, research or professional value did you get from this field work? did the allocation of resources impact on what you observed? e.g. were there too many children in the class, was the court list overcrowded? how have your observations changed your perceptions of the field and professional practice? (adapted from james, scoufis, farrell & carmichael, 1999; mcnabb; may, 1997). remember it is the analysis that is the most important, and most often overlooked, component of your field report. appendix - information that supports your analysis but is not essential to its explanation i.e. full transcripts of observation, maps, court session details. information that is not essential to explain your findings, but that supports your analysis (especially repetitive or lengthy information), validates your conclusions or pursues a related point should be placed in an appendix (plural appendices). sometimes excerpts from this supporting information (i.e. part of the data set) will be placed in the body of the report but the complete set of information ( i.e. all of the data set) will be included in the appendix. examples of information that could be included in an appendix include figures/tables/charts/graphs of results, statistics, questionnaires, transcripts of interviews, pictures, lengthy derivations of equations, maps, drawings, letters, specification or data sheets, computer program information. there is no limit to what can be placed in the appendix providing it is relevant and reference is made to it in the report. the appendix is not a catch net for all the semi-interesting or related information you have gathered through your research for your report: the information included in the appendix must bear directly relate to the research problem or the report's purpose. it must be a useful tool for the reader (weaver & weaver, 1977). each separate appendix should be lettered (appendix a, appendix b, appendix b1, appendix b2, appendix c, etc). the order they are presented in is dictated by the order they are mentioned in the text of the report. it is essential to refer to each appendix within the text of the report; for example,
for the manufacturer's specification, see appendix b

or
appendix c contains the yoy shareholder account growth rates. the rates are high. the increasing growth rate of accounts will significantly affect the valuation of the company.

field reports usually do not have a specific format: you may choose to have separate sections for the description and analysis parts of your report or to have paragraphs that combine these two types of writing i.e. an event is described and then its theoretical significance is analysed. how you choose to format your report will be determined by the task that you have been set, the observations that you make, the theoretical perspective that is driving your analysis or your course’s particular guidelines. while standard academic writing tends to be objective and impersonal, the language used in field reports can be simpler, more direct and personal. personal pronouns such as i and we can be used. it may also be appropriate, depending on your task, to record your subjective impressions and feelings (mcnabb). an example of this if you are observing a court hearing might be ‘how did the language used by each side make you feel?’ an example if you are reflecting on a practice teaching session might be ‘how did you react to the behaviour of the class?’ *********************************************************

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