Basics of Research Process

Ethnographic Research Study, Methods and Examples

Ethnography research
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Ethnography study  is a research method used in social sciences. It involves studying people in their natural environment. Researchers observe and interact with a group over a period of time to understand behaviors, and social interactions. The research can involve interviews, surveys, and direct observation. Your goal is to gain a deep understanding of how the group lives and sees the world.

If you’re here, you probably know that researchers should rely on ethnographic study to obtain accurate results. Indeed, as a qualitative research, it offers a far more realistic representation of human interactions than any other method. 

On the other hand, if you don’t know the tricks of ethnographic methodology, you are more likely to fall into the trap. It’s like throwing darts blindfolded. So, our paper writers have prepared this guide and ethnography examples to make sure that you never fail.

What Is Ethnography Research: Definition

Before we discuss the writing process, let’s first sort things out and define ethnography. Ethnography is a qualitative type of study where researchers examine a specific community in its natural environment through direct observation. In a nutshell, in this type of research you will examine or communicate with people in their local setting. 

Ethnographic research method allows participants to feel comfortable while experiencing their authentic culture. Thus, it is perfect for studying things as they are. 

The second meaning of “ethnography” is a written work that ethnographers complete after studying a community and gathering information about it. Sometimes, it may take years to collect necessary data about some group of people, especially when it comes to a tribe. For example, Claude Lévi-Strauss spent several years in different parts of Brazil before writing his notorious ethnographic work Tristes Tropiques (‘The Sad Tropics’). 

Now that you know what ethnographic research is, let’s move on to the goals of study.

What Are The Goals of Ethnography Study?

As long as you are familiar with the ethnography meaning, let us look at this study’s main goals. 

The primary purpose of ethnographic research is to get a whole picture about some community by observing how individuals interact in their natural environment. Ethnographers also use this research method to gain insights into culture and traditions of distant tribes. Besides just trying to understand distant and diverse societies, ethnographies also focus on our involvement in different cultures.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Ethnography

All qualitative research methods have their own advantages and disadvantages, and ethnography is not an exception. While being the only method that offers a hands-on approach to learning the interactions within any social or cultural group, this study is rather time-consuming. It’s important that you consider all pros and cons before selecting this research method.

Ethnographic Research: Main Advantages

Ethnographic research can benefit in many ways. Advantages of ethnography include:

  • Direct observation of some community.
  • Hands-on experience of any culture.
  • Comprehensive picture of any social group.
  • Flexibility and wide scope of study.
  • Accurate information about local traditions and practices.

So if you are seeking to learn about some community in an empirical way and communicate with the representatives directly, opt for ethnography. 

Ethnographies: Main Disadvantages

Main disadvantages of ethnography are as follows: 

  • Long duration of study.
  • Potential ethical issues.
  • High overall cost and many resources.
  • Difficulty to access or build a natural environment.
  • Geographical boundaries and geopolitical factors.
  • High tendency to bias due to subjectivity.

As you can see, a major disadvantage of ethnography is its time-consuming process. It is not an option if you need the results yesterday. Besides, this method requires thorough preparation and a considerable amount of expenses for a trip that may last years. This creates a high price label that not every novice researcher can afford.

Ethnographic Research Approaches

As a method of anthropology, ethnology has several peculiarities which define a researcher's approach. You will have to choose between such approaches:

  • Open or closed setting.
  • Overt or covert study.
  • Active or passive monitoring.

These techniques depend on the nature of study and the way you want to observe your participants. Let’s look closer at each of these approaches.

Ethnographic Study: Open vs. Closed Settings

The setting of your ethnography research is a location where you observe your subject group. An environment may have some boundaries or no limits at all. In other words, it can be either open or closed. 

Intuitively speaking, an open setting is an environment without any borders or restrictions. It’s often called a public setting since you can access it easily. For instance, you may consider a local park or neighborhood because this setting doesn’t restrain you.

  • Open setting



Easy to access 

Difficult to identify a specific group out of public

Has no boundaries 

Closed settings have restricted access. Generally, such environments are private and can block researchers from studying a social group. To access an open setting an ethnographer should get a special permission. For example, it can be an educational institution, a company or an organization.

  • Closed setting



Easy to define a subject group

Difficult to obtain access

Smooth integration with a setting

Has formal limitations

Overt vs. Covert Ethnography Research Methodology

Ethnography research methodology implies particular procedures a researcher chooses in order to study a cultural or social group. Participation in ethnography – overt or covert – plays an essential role in choosing a setting and methods. 

Overt ethnography is a research where participants are aware they are being examined. An overt method is considered ethical since the group’s members know the research is taking place and give their consent. To access a community, you need to directly explain your presence and be honest about your intentions.

  • Overt ethnography



More ethical

Harder to access

No need to fit in the group

Biased results due to participant’s awareness

Covert ethnography is a study where people have no clue they are being observed. Usually, to obtain access to such community, an ethnographer should pretend to be an actual group member. Though a covert method involves deception, it allows to avoid reactivity. The participants behave naturally, so the results will be more accurate.

  • Covert ethnography



 Easy to get access

Ethical issues

No reactivity

Hard to repeat

Active vs. Passive Observation

The results of ethnographies also depend on the level of researcher’s involvement – active or passive. It is a context that defines your level of activity. 

During an active observation, you will join the group and experience its culture together with the participants. In this case, people won’t be anxious. However, interference may cause reactivity.

  • Active observation



Ensures a more relaxed setting

Disrupts normal activities

In a passive observation, researchers won’t interfere with the group and its normal functioning. The task is to observe what other people do. This method allows a more meticulous observation since researchers will have time to take notes.

  • Passive observation



Thorough observation

Member’s unnatural behavior

Now let’s get to the part we know you’ve been eagerly waiting for since the beginning of our article. It’s time to learn how to write ethnographic research.

How to Write an Ethnography Step by Step

Writing an ethnography won’t be a challenge if you follow our step-by-step guide that will keep you on track. From getting access to creating notes and interpreting the dynamics, we’ve got you covered. Here’re 4 clearly defined steps you should go through to ensure that your research time is efficient.

1. Get Access to Group for Your Ethnography

One of the most critical and often challenging things in ethnography is getting access to a group. How an ethnographer should solve this question primarily depends on the setting and the type of sociologist participation (overt or covert). Here’s what should be considered:

Overt ethnography

Covert ethnography

Open setting

Get to the setting and explain the presence

Fit in the setting by adopting a role reasonable for this context

Closed setting

Asking an authorized gatekeeper for permission

Obtain access as an actual member or by adopting a reasonable role

Ethnographies are long-term studies. This means you should not only enter the field, but also maintain your access to the community. Therefore, an ethnographer should put extra effort to ensure a constant immersion in the setting, especially if it’s a closed one. Be ready for unexpected changes and try to behave naturally.

2. Find the Informants for Your Ethnographies

Informants are people who understand your ethnography research  and can share valuable insights about the community. They can tell you about group members, places and conditions. As providers of information, they can explain what behavior and activities are acceptable within a target group. Besides, your key respondents can provide you access, interpret the results, or even help you cope with stress. 

However, it’s extremely important that you keep in mind 2 things:

  1. Your findings can be influenced by an informant’s subjective opinion.
  2. Some responses may be provided to please an ethnographer.

For this reason, you might want to find several respondents. This way, you will gain representative information about the entire population. 

3. Create Field Notes for Your Ethnographic Study

Field notes are detailed records that sum up what a researcher observed, heard or experienced during an ethnographic study. Taking notes of every single event or person can be quite tiresome. That’s why an ethnographer should first identify the main objectives of the study. With clear and good research questions, you will be able to determine what situations are significant and write down notes only when necessary. 

Still, sometimes people may interact in the way you don’t expect. It’s a qualitative study so you should be prepared for changes. Don’t get stressed, though. Adjust to the situation and be flexible.

4. Writing an Ethnography

Once you are done, the last step will be writing an ethnographic research report. Ethnographies come in different ‘sizes and shapes’ – you can write an article or even a whole book. 

There is no general structure you should follow when creating an ethnography. Some scientific reports just describe background information and briefly summarize the research. Meanwhile, other ethnographies are structured like other types of research. These reports contain an abstract, an introduction, methods, outcomes, discussion and conclusion. 

As for the content, ethnographies usually take the form of a narrative. Since you will be sharing your own experiences, opt for a more personal style of writing. And above all, remember that your representation of the group should be convincing. So, you should support your reasoning with evidence.

Ethnographic Research Examples

Here are several ethnography examples that can get you inspired:

  1. Observing a sports team during the training and actual game.
  2. Examining how employees work remotely and on site.
  3. Exploring the behavior of residents in a local park.

Feel free to use these examples to come up with a narrow topic for your study. And here’s an ethnography sample that you use as a guide during research or the writing process.

Ayurveda Discourse Community
Paper type:
Research Paper
5.35 MB

Final Thoughts on Ethnographies

Let’s wrap this up: ethnography research is a qualitative study where a sociologist observes some group of people in their natural context. Depending on the nature of research, you should plan your strategy and choose a proper approach. If you want to dig deeper into details, make sure you check links scattered through this article. This should give you some valuable insights into the tricks of research and paper writing.


Simplify! Entrust your ethnography to our research paper and thesis writing service and get your work done in no time. Our writers have solid experience and all necessary skills to seriously level-up your academic writing.

Ethnographic Study: Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the main focuses of ethnographic research?

The main focuses of ethnographic research are observation, understanding, interpretation and representation. You should be a careful observer and pay attention to practices within the group. In addition, you must be able to understand why people act in a certain way and interpret your findings to introduce this community.

2. What is ethnographic research strategy?

An ethnographic research strategy is a study that allows ethnographers to get a realistic picture about any social or cultural group. Typically, researchers use direct observation or personal interviews as methods to study a community.

3. Who uses ethnography?

Ethnography is often used by anthropologists, ethnographers and sociologists. Moreover, ethnographic studies quite often come in handy for marketers, business analysts and geographers.

4. What are the characteristics of ethnography?

The main characteristics of ethnography are: 

  • Naturalism: focusing on society in a natural setting.
  • Context: access to public or private space.
  • Various sources of information: key informants and participants.
Article posted on:Nov 21, 2022
Article updated on:May 12, 2023


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