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  Thursday, April 07, 2005

  Weblog as a research notebook (4): field notes are overrated

And something different:

In my opinion, field notes are the most overrated things since the Edsel. p.161

This is from The Professional Stranger: Informal Introduction to Ethnography by Michael Agar.

He talks about 1:6 observing/recording ratio, memory problems, how-to field note writing and researcher personal diaries. I need to read more to put it in the context, so just another quote:

[In contrast to field notes] a personal diary is a record of another sort. Diaries focus more on the reactions of the ethnographer to the field setting and the informants, the general sense of how research is going, feeling of detachment and involvement, and so on. It is just this sort of material that goes into "personal accounts," bringing the ethnographer's role more explicitly into the research process. Personal diaries would profit from more careful development as an ethnographic method in their own right. p.163

More on: ethnography 

  Weblog as a research notebook (3): my own experiences

In the previous post I discussed possible types of research notes for ethnographic research of blogging practices. This one is a reflection on research notes I have for my research (which wasn't designed as an ethnography).


  • when participating: link or quote in my weblog
  • when observing: adding to del.icio.us collection

process knowledge

  • when participating: indicators or summaries in my weblog
  • when observing: not documented

personal experience of observation/participation

  • I blog heavily on it, but not about all the things relevant (due to the lack of time or sensitivity)

emerging interpretations and ad-hoc analysis

  • I blog heavily on it, but not about all the things relevant (due to the lack of time or sensitivity)

coding and analysis

All kinds of issues with my research notes:

My data (artifacts) are not stored locally - there are obvious risks and unconviniencies involved.

Huge part of process knowledge is not documented. Of course, having experience and access to artifacts helps to recall and reconstruct, but relying on memory could be a problem.

Obviousely, I do not write down all things relevant (experiences, analysis). Wonder how different are those that I wrote and those I didn't. May be there are structural differences.

What is very different from other ethnographies (if looking at my reseacrh through ethnography lenses) - personal experiences and analysis are documented in public, feeding back to the blogosphere and influencing (see more on researcher influence in my research).

The bottom line: wonder if ethnographic lenses make sense for my research and what/how much I have to change if I adopt them.

  Weblog as a research notebook (2): types of notes

[Continued from Weblog as a research notebook (1): reading 'Life online' and del.icio.us as bookmarking history]

Next to the "Life online" I'm reading Virtual ethnography by Christine Hine (also: reviews) and Ethnography: Principles in practice by Martyn Hammersley and Paul Atkinson. The first one is a "difficult to read" introduction to ethnographic research online, but it also says a lot about ethnography offline and connections between those two. The second is much easier to read. I really enjoy it and I guess will order my own copy.

Hammersley and Atkinson distinguish between fieldnotes and fieldwork journals. Fieldnotes are documentaries of observations in the field, while fieldwork journals are about documenting researchers' emotions and involvement, as well as emergent interpretations and analysis of the data.

The distinctions are similar to reporting vs. reflecting styles of conference blogging. One is about documenting events as they are (although this is anyway subjective :), while another is about adding the next layer - emotions, associations, assumptions of what is behind the case and so on.

For the time being I'd like to leave online/offline connections aside and focus only on thinking about types of research notes one can make while studying blogging practices. I could think of several levels:

Artifacts. The nice side of studying online phenomenon is that interactions are documented digitally anyway - one could study weblogs, weblog posts, links between those, data of various tracking tools, etc.

Although artifacts alone may not be enough for understanding blogging. One may need to observe "interaction in action" rather than archives or participate actively to gain understanding of the phenomenon through personal experience. I discussed it in Archaeology and ethnography in weblog research (1) and (2), but found similar discussion and references in Virtual ethnography as well (pp. 22-25).

Next to that there is reflective meta-level: notes on emerging interpretations and ad-hoc analysis. And, at the later stage, some kind of coding and analysis.

Now to documenting those things:

  • artifacts - transcripts of "who blogged what when"
    • do not need to be documented - created by bloggers "out there" on the web
    • have to be found
    • may dissappear, so researcher may choose to have a copy locally (publicly, e.g. as a quote in own weblog, or privately, in whatever software)
  • process knowledge - "interaction in action", hidden or dissapearing aspects of weblog interaction (e.g. back channel communication or deleted posts)
    • partially documented by bloggers - in posts that include references to backchanneling or in summaries (examples are in this paper)
    • may be traced by weblog tracking tools
    • not necessarily documented fully and may need researcher's work to observe and write down
  • personal experience of observation/participation
    • definitely need researcher's presence and documenting work
  • emerging interpretations and ad-hoc analysis
    • researcher's work anyway :)
  • coding and analysis
    • something researcher does once data collection is over

Choices for documenting:

  • what? - pointers (links to relevant material) or full-text
  • how? - paper or digital
  • where? - one space (all types of notes together) or multiple spaces
  • for whom? - public (accessible for others) or private

[One more post follows]

  Weblog as a research notebook (1): reading 'Life online' and del.icio.us as bookmarking history

I'm reading through several books on ethnography, switching back and forth, thinking about all kinds of connections to my research. This post is a bit of reflection about research notetaking in ethnography and my uses of weblog in this respect.

I started to read from Life online: Researching real experience in virtual space by Annette Markham. I met Annette at AOIR 5.0 last year, but then I didn't anticipated that her work would be that relevant for me (my del.icio.us shows* that I was browsing through her papers while preparing for the conference). This time I picked up the reference to her book from autoethnography chapter by Ellis and Bochner. Funny - how much you need the "right moment" to see things in front of your eyes - how much your current mindset becomes  lenses that sift through the world around you.

Anyway, I got the book. I'm still getting used to the reflective ethnographic writing in it, so just two observations.

1. Having met the people behind the book makes reading experience totally different. I met Annette and talked to her briefly, but I also met one of her respondents, Terry Senft (later: found that book excerpt with Terry being interviewed by Annette is online). I have a sense of knowing Terry much better since I lurk in her blog (journal?) as well. I guess what changes the experience is not only the fact of meeting Annette and Terry, but observing them two interacting, sensing a close friendship between or knowing that Terry joins (joined?) Annette at Virgin Islands for half a year.

It's like discovering the roots of the relation while having a sense of what it came to be... Like reading a book from the end... Funny - I experienced similar feelings while reading my own weblog yesterday, seeing older posts in the light of knowledge of now - ideas and relations that grew out of those seeds.

2. (which is supposed to be the topic of this post :) I realised how heavily Annette relies on her research notes: visibly, by including them next to transcripts, and invisibly, by (I guess) using them to reconstruct the process of interviewing as well as emotions and thoughts around it.

I tried to put myself into her shoes, thinking of how I would write about my research this way, and realised that I'm in trouble.

I have a lot written down or captured in one form or another, but this is definitely not enough to reconstruct my experiences.

[And now I decide to continue in another post :)]

* Of course del.icio.us is not intended to be used as a trace of bookmarking history - there is no way to get permanent link to a page showing that I bookmarked Annette's homepage on 14 September 2004. Now the link is at http://del.icio.us/mathemagenic/people/3 or http://del.icio.us/mathemagenic/ethnography/2 or http://del.icio.us/mathemagenic/papers/10 - and all of these will change as I add more bookmarks on respective topics**.

** And while I was typing this I found out that there is a way to link to the evidence :) It's the history of bookmarks for Annette's homepage. Unlike other del.icio.us pages url pages are not separated by multiple screens (extreme example).

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© Copyright 2002-2005 Lilia Efimova.

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