Field research

What is Field Research?

Field research, field study or field work, is the process that allows obtaining data from reality and studying them as they are presented, without manipulating the variables. For this reason, its essential characteristic is that it is carried out outside the laboratory, in the place where the phenomenon occurs.

There are several types of field research, depending on the objective of the study. They can be investigations to explore a new or little-studied phenomenon, or to corroborate whether a phenomenon conforms to an established paradigm. Field research can also be done to describe or compare variables, etc.

Field research uses instruments such as files or statistical representations that, combined with techniques such as observation or survey, allow the data to be studied to be collected and analyzed.

One of its main advantages is that, when carried out in the place of the phenomenon, the data collected is more reliable. However, moving to the field can be costly for an investigation team.

Field research allows the generation of new knowledge by applying the scientific method, which is why it is considered essential both in the pure sciences and in the social sciences.

For example, when a group of biologists collects water samples from a lake to measure its level of contamination, they are doing field research.

Although the term field research is often related to collecting data in a natural setting, it actually refers to anywhere the researcher needs to go.

Characteristics of field research

Field research has certain characteristics. The location of the phenomenon under study is perhaps the most important, as will be seen below.

It takes place outside the laboratory

Field research is carried out in the place where the phenomenon is to be studied. That means "field" is actually any geographic location that is outside of a laboratory or space with controlled conditions.

Data is collected in the field

In field research, the data or samples are sought in the place where the study phenomenon takes place.

For example, if you are going to do an investigation on school bullying, you have to look for the data in a previously selected school.

Requires investment

Field research requires a certain level of budget or, failing that, sponsorships or financial aid from organizations or individuals.

If a group of biologists in Mexico City wants to investigate the butterflies of Michoacán, the expenses of that trip will be borne by the researchers or by the organization for which they work.

Field research design

The design of the field investigation is the planning of the way in which the phenomenon will be studied. The research design serves to determine the type of field work, the instruments and techniques to be implemented, and that is why it must be done before starting to address what is going to be studied.

The research design can be:

  • Experimental: refers to the manipulation of independent variables to analyze their effect on the group studied. For example, when a researcher alters the eating habits of wild rodents (independent variables) to compare them with another group of rodents that can feed normally.
  • Quasi experimental: used when study groups cannot be selected because they are already naturally formed.In this case, the manipulation of the variables is less and, therefore, the degree of reliability of the study decreases. For example, when doing research on the behaviors of adolescents from two countries with different languages.

Types of field research

Field research is done to study a new phenomenon, to measure it, to establish relationships between variables, etc. Depending on its objective, it is classified into 7 types:


It collects data on aspects of reality that have been little or nothing studied. The results serve to decide whether further research is necessary in the future.

For example, a group of teachers decides to investigate the bullying in a classroom and finds relevant data that leads them to extend the study to the rest of the school.


What this type of research seeks is to demonstrate whether the phenomenon studied adheres to a certain paradigm or model of reality. For example, a study to determine whether a group of pregnant women had cravings during the first trimester of pregnancy.


It is a type of field investigation that serves to identify variables that have not yet been measured. For example, a study that determines how many hours children 3 to 5 years of age spend in a certain place in front of the phone screen.


It is a type of field research that measures the relationships between variables that are apparently connected. For example, a study that relates the increase in muscle mass of people who consume protein supplements.


It is a type of research that explains the occurrence of a phenomenon from two or more variables.

For example, a study on domestic violence and poverty as causes of poor academic performance.


As its name indicates, it is an investigation whose objective is to compare a series of data. For example, a study comparing the eating habits of people who work in offices and those who work from home.


The objective of this type of research is to make a diagnosis of the phenomenon studied and then propose a solution. For example, the general manager of a company discovers that his method of shoe production does not work and makes a proposal to make more shoes in less time.

Field research instruments

The tools or instruments of field research are all the means required by the researcher to apply research techniques. They are classified into three types according to their function:

  • Sorting instruments: they are used to sort the research data based on a hierarchy or sequence. A list of questions, a catalog of images or a file with data from the interviewees are examples of this type of tool.
  • Classifying instruments: they are used to order data based on common characteristics, such as similarities, differences, characteristics. An alphabetized list of names, a statistical representation, and a comparison chart are examples of these instruments.
  • Diagrammatic instruments: use images or symbols to represent data. The most common example is a map, but it can also be a blueprint, infographic, or diagram.

Field research techniques

Field research techniques are all the mechanisms that allow collecting, analyzing and transmitting the data studied.

If the data is qualitative, that is, it cannot be measured, one of these techniques will be used:

  • Participant observation: it is to get involved with the phenomenon to be studied. For example, when the researcher participates in the activities of an indigenous community to understand their way of life.
  • Life stories: consists of the collection of biographical data of a group of people during a certain period. An example would be collecting stories from adolescents in Buenos Aires during the months of preventive isolation due to the coronavirus.
  • Open interview: these are questions in which the interviewee can express their points of view. For example, when an opinion poll is carried out on the situation in the country.
  • Discussion group: consists of bringing together a group of people to discuss a topic. The discussion is recorded to be analyzed later.

If the data are quantitative in nature, that is, they can be measured, one of these techniques will be applied:

  • Passive observation: the researcher does not get involved with the phenomenon to be studied. For example, when observing the behavior of animals in their natural habitat.
  • Closed interview: they are made up of a list of questions with limited answers. For example, when you can only answer "Yes" or "No".
  • Field experiment: study carried out with a sample that is under controlled conditions and a sample that is under normal conditions. For example, when comparing behaviors between laboratory rats and wild rats.

Advantages of field research

Field research allows the researcher to have direct contact with what he wants to study, and obtaining reliable data. These and other benefits are detailed below:

Direct contact with the phenomenon to be studied

The investigator has to move to the terrain where the event occurs. This allows you to have first-hand information.

If a group of scientists is going to study a polluted lake, for example, they have to go to the site to collect the water samples.

Data without bias

The data collected does not respond to the interest of the researchers, but rather to the nature of the phenomenon studied, which gives the research greater credibility.

For example, when studying an isolated tribe in the Amazon, researchers collect genuine data on the way of life of the community, since its members are not changing their customs.

Research adaptation

As the investigation progresses, new variables can be analyzed or other data obtained that help expand the available information.

A study on the eating habits of school-age infants can relate the type of diet to height, for example. This can reorient the investigation to collect data on the height and weight of each child, even though it was not contemplated at the beginning of the investigation to do so.

Disadvantages of field research

The money to cover the research and the possibility of analyzing the data in the wrong way are some disadvantages of field research, as described below:

It can be very expensive

Traveling to the scene, buying or renting equipment to collect the information, are aspects to take into account when planning the cost of a field investigation.

Data analysis errors

When it comes to qualitative data analysis, the biases or beliefs that the researcher has can influence the results of the study. Therefore, it is important that the people involved in the investigation maintain an objective position.

For example, if researchers have preconceived ideas about that community when studying the customs of an ethnic minority group, their beliefs are likely to interfere with the data analysis.

Takes time

Although it depends on the type of research, generally a fieldwork requires a reasonable amount of time to study the phenomenon, collect and analyze the data. Therefore, they involve a certain level of planning in their execution.

Field research examples

These are some examples that serve to see the impact of this type of research in the generation of new knowledge:

Grant Study on Happiness

In 1939, Harvard University began one of the longest and most ambitious studies known to date. For 75 years, they collected data on the lives of 700 volunteers to learn what factors influence people's happiness and success.

The results were published in 2012 by psychiatrist George Vaillant, leader of the research, and concluded that the key to happiness is emotional ties. The participants recognized that they were happy to have a network of family and social relationships to share good times.

Minnesota Twins Study

In 1979, the American psychologist and geneticist Thomas Bouchard began a study on twins who had been separated at birth and who had been raised with different families.

The research determined that approximately 70% of the IQ is genetic, since regardless of the parenting conditions, the twins developed similar levels of intelligence. In addition, they had personality traits as similar as those who had been raised in the same home.

Butterfly Study Heliconius

In 2012, a study by University College in London was published showing that butterflies of the species Heliconius they crossed each other to share genetic information that would help them survive.

The butterflies Heliconius melpomene, Heliconius timareta Y Heliconius elevatus they share distinctive features such as the color of their wings, which announces their unpleasant taste to predators. Inter-species hybridization was considered rare, but this study revealed that these butterflies use it as a survival strategy.

Study on gender perspective during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic

In September 2020, the United Nations Organization published a study on countries that implemented protection strategies for women in situations of violence during the pandemic. Argentina ranked first out of 206 countries.

Study on the brightest colors

In 2020, a study from the University of Cambridge showed that the brightest colors in nature were blues and greens. This is because they do not depend on pigmentation processes, but are formed from nanostructures that increase the intensity of their brightness, depending on their location angle.

The results of this research may have applications in the manufacture of more durable, intense color paints.

See also:

  • Field work.
  • Investigation.
  • Investigation project.
  • Investigation methodology.

Tags:  General Science Expressions-Popular