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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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