[Air-L] Field notes best practice?

James Robson james.robson at gtc.ox.ac.uk
Mon Jul 8 09:57:09 PDT 2013

Hi Katie,

Your study sounds really interesting.

I'm just (hopefully) coming to the end of my doctorate where, like you, I conducted an ethnography and spent a year in 3 communities.

I think it depends on how closely linked your communities are.  If they form part of a single network with users interacting across all three spaces, then a single document would probably be best.  On the other hand, if you're essentially doing 3 ethnographic case studies in independent communities, then it's potentially a little different.

My study (on teacher communities) was more akin to the latter and I started using using three separate documents.  However, it became fairly irritating flicking between them and I was never quite sure where to put my more reflexive thoughts about the whole process.  Therefore I quickly started using just one document but had 4 colours within it - one colour for each community and one for general reflexive thoughts and emergent analysis.

I found this more user friendly and pretty useful as it provided a more holistic narrative of the whole research process, while easily allowing me to separate out the different communities if I wanted to for analysis.  It was a good way to keep track of my cross-community thoughts and helped with reflexive insight - ie it helped me see where some of my experiences in one community might potentially influencing the way I behaved in another.

I don't know if it's best practice but I found the single-document-multiple-colours approach really helpful.

Good luck with your fieldwork

From: air-l-bounces at listserv.aoir.org [air-l-bounces at listserv.aoir.org] on behalf of Katie Derthick [derthick at u.washington.edu]
Sent: Monday, July 08, 2013 5:19 PM
To: air-l at listserv.aoir.org
Subject: [Air-L] Field notes best practice?

Hi everybody. I'm about to embark on my dissertation research study, which
will include year-long ethnography at 3 different communities. I'm
wondering what will be better for me: to have one long field notes document
where entries for each community simply appear one after the other, or
three separate documents, one for each community. In the end, I'd like to
be able to paint a picture of each community, but also make claims about my
overarching research goals.

I appreciate any advice or insight you have to offer! For the record, I'm
studying the relationship between values, meditation practice, and
technology use, and looking at a monastery, a meditation center, and a
virtual org.


Katie Derthick
PhD Candidate
Human Centered Design & Engineering
University of Washington
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