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November 1, 2014 / Charlie McNabb

Fieldwork Literacy

Fellow social researchers: Remember the first time you performed fieldwork? Was the IRB process intuitive? Did you whip out an informed consent form with no trouble? Was it easy to find people to interview? Did you know how to write good fieldnotes and structure your interview and survey questions? When you got back home, did you find it easy to transcribe and analyze your data?

Probably not, right?

I’ve had a few students write me panicky emails from the field this past month. Students are required to take a methods course as part of their thesis, but sometimes they start their fieldwork before taking it. So there they are, trying their best to find people to interview, without a good grasp of methods best practices. Thinking back on my first fieldwork projects, I know I was very lucky to be working with folks who were kind and good-natured and laid-back (shout out to the Olympia jazz community!). My first interviews were so poorly structured! I had to actually go back and re-interview a couple of people because I just hadn’t thought it through and planned well.

I’ve been working with these students individually, but I’ve realized that I’m providing the same tips and resources over and over. So I’m putting together a guide that will hopefully cover the most common fieldwork challenges, some good methodology resources, and tips and advice with concrete examples.

I’m turning to you, my anthropology/folklore/sociology/history/etc community, to help me! What was the most challenging aspect of fieldwork for you when you were a novice? What is your go-to text or website for methodology resources? What advice would you give a new field researcher to succeed with their research?

Feel free to comment on this post, or email me if you prefer anonymity. And, of course, I’ll credit you on the guide if you want. Thanks, friends!

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