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Effective Tips and Tricks for Studying
No matter how old you are, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to studying. Whether you’re taking the biggest exam of your life or you know your teacher or professor is going to give a pop quiz soon, efficient studying is a great way to be prepared.
Create a Routine
One of the best things you can do for yourself, whether you’re in fifth grade or college, is to make studying a habit. One helpful way to do that is to find a way to incorporate it into your daily routine at the same time every day. Perhaps it’s after dinner or right when you get home from school. Find the time that works for you, and make yourself sit down to study and handle any homework you have at that time every day or on as many days as possible.
Break It Up
Everyone’s been there. You wait until the very last minute to study, and you do it all in one sitting. Not only is it exhausting, but you probably also don’t even remember half of what you study. This is why it can be better to break it up and do a little bit each day. If you have a big project coming up in a few weeks, break it down into steps, and take on one of the steps every other day until everything is complete. If you have plenty of reading to do, break it down into chapters or pages, and read one section each day.
Get Some Sleep
While it can be tempting to stay up all night studying before a big exam, you’re better off getting sleep. Your brain and memory function better when you’re rested, so you can retain more of the information and do better on your test. If you didn’t get a full night of sleep, consider napping briefly during the day to help catch yourself up on sleep.
Clear Your Mind
Before you sit down to study, make sure you have a clear mind and that you’re not focused on something else. Take a walk, listen to some music, read a book or do some stretches. Try meditation. Do whatever it takes to get your mind in the right mood for study time. Be sure to take breaks while you study too. Resting for five minutes every 30 to 60 minutes may help you retain the information.
Create the Right Environment
Finally, create a good study environment. It can be hard to pay attention when the TV is on or when you’re constantly receiving texts from friends. Turn off your devices. If you don’t do well with quiet, use a fan for background noise, or turn on a radio. You may find it more effective to study to music that doesn’t have lyrics. Make sure you’re comfortable and organized. You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of water and a few healthy snacks on hand if you’ll be studying for a while.
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How to Conduct Field Research Study? – A Complete Guide
There is a challenge in undergoing a research which involves a vast understanding of the environment and the study of subjects staying in that environment. Although the outcome of this study will help fill in the gaps evidently seen in the literature but the process involves a lot of planning. How does one plan such a humongous research study? In this article, we will discuss how to conduct a field research and what are the different methods used to streamline the field study !
Research is much more than performing the experiment and analyzing results. It involves gathering raw data and understanding the subject of research in its environment. These type of researches are more elaborate and are the reason for producing real information on a large scale.
Table of Contents
What is Field Research?
Field research is a process where data is collected through a qualitative method. The objective of field study is to observe and interpret the subject of study in its natural environment. It is used in the field of study of humans and health care professions. Furthermore, it connects theory and practical research study by qualitatively analyzing the data.
Why to Conduct Field Study?
Field study allows researchers to identify and observe the subjects and helps draw correlations between subjects and surroundings, and how the surroundings may influence the behavior.
It gives an in-depth information on subjects because they are observed and analyzed for a long period of time.
Field study allows researchers to fill the gaps in data which can be understood by conducting in-depth primary research.
How is a Field Research different from a Lab Research?
Different methods of field study research.
There are four main types of methods for conducting a field research .
1. Ethnographic Field Notes
This type of field work is particularly associated with field work that records and analyzes culture, society or community. Most commonly this method of research is used in social anthropology, societies and communities.
2. Qualitative Interviews
Qualitative interviews give researchers detailed information. This vast information is segregated in order to make inferences related to the sample group. This data is gathered by conducting interviews either informally, conversationally or in an open ended interview.
3. Direct Observation
Researchers gather information on their subjects through close visual observation. The researcher can record the observations and events as field notes holistically without a guided protocol. This form of research approach is termed as unstructured observation. However, in a structured observation the researcher uses a guide or set protocols to observe people and events. Furthermore, in direct observation the observer is detached and does not obstruct the research setup. It does not work as an alternative method for conducting field research , and rather works as an initial approach to understand the behavior of the research. This type of method is extensively used in fields of sociology and anthropology wherein the researchers focus on recording social life details in a setting, community, or society.
4. Participant Observation
In this research method, the researcher takes part in the everyday life of the members chosen for observation. This gives the observer a better understanding of the study. Additionally, these observation notes are a primary type of data which the researchers later develop into detailed field notes.
Steps to Conduct a Field Study
1. identify and acquire researchers of the field.
It is essential to acquire researchers who are specialized in the field of research. Moreover, their experience in the field will help them undergo the further steps of conducting the field research .
2. Identify the topic of research
Post acquiring the researcher, they will work on identifying the topic of research. The researchers are responsible for deciding what topic of research to focus on based on the gaps observed in the existing research literature.
3. Identify the right method of research
After fine tuning the research topic, researchers define the right method to approach the aim and objectives of the research.
4. Visit the site of the study and collect data
Based on the objectives, the observations begin. Observers/Researchers go on field and start collecting data either by visual observation, interviews or staying along with the subjects and experiencing their surroundings to get an in-depth understanding.
5. Analyze the data acquired
The researchers undergo the process of data analysis once the data is collected.
6. Communicate the results
The researchers document a detailed field study report , explaining the data and its outcome. Giving the field study a suitable conclusion.
Advantages of Field Study
The major advantage of field study is that the results represent a greater variety of situations and environments. Researchers yield a detailed data analysis which can be used as primary data for many different research hypotheses. Furthermore, field research has the ability to find newer social facts which the setting or community and the participants may be unaware of. Most importantly, there usually is no tampering of data or variable, as data is collected from the natural setting.
Disadvantages of Field Study
Various methods of field study involve researchers conducting research study and immersing themselves on the research field to gather data. This collection of data can be expensive and time consuming. Moreover, the information acquired is usually undertaken through observation of small groups and this may lack understanding and implications to the larger group of study.
Did you ever conduct a field research? How did you find the process? Which type of field research method did you use? Let us know about it in the comment below.
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What is Field Research: Definition, Methods, Examples and Advantages
What is Field Research?
Field research is defined as a qualitative method of data collection that aims to observe, interact and understand people while they are in a natural environment. For example, nature conservationists observe behavior of animals in their natural surroundings and the way they react to certain scenarios. In the same way, social scientists conducting field research may conduct interviews or observe people from a distance to understand how they behave in a social environment and how they react to situations around them.
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Field research encompasses a diverse range of social research methods including direct observation, limited participation, analysis of documents and other information, informal interviews, surveys etc. Although field research is generally characterized as qualitative research, it often involves multiple aspects of quantitative research in it.
Field research typically begins in a specific setting although the end objective of the study is to observe and analyze the specific behavior of a subject in that setting. The cause and effect of a certain behavior, though, is tough to analyze due to presence of multiple variables in a natural environment. Most of the data collection is based not entirely on cause and effect but mostly on correlation. While field research looks for correlation, the small sample size makes it difficult to establish a causal relationship between two or more variables.
Methods of Field Research
Field research is typically conducted in 5 distinctive methods. They are:
- Direct Observation
In this method, the data is collected via an observational method or subjects in a natural environment. In this method, the behavior or outcome of situation is not interfered in any way by the researcher. The advantage of direct observation is that it offers contextual data on people management , situations, interactions and the surroundings. This method of field research is widely used in a public setting or environment but not in a private environment as it raises an ethical dilemma.
- Participant Observation
In this method of field research, the researcher is deeply involved in the research process, not just purely as an observer, but also as a participant. This method too is conducted in a natural environment but the only difference is the researcher gets involved in the discussions and can mould the direction of the discussions. In this method, researchers live in a comfortable environment with the participants of the research, to make them comfortable and open up to in-depth discussions.
Ethnography is an expanded observation of social research and social perspective and the cultural values of an entire social setting. In ethnography, entire communities are observed objectively. For example, if a researcher would like to understand how an Amazon tribe lives their life and operates, he/she may chose to observe them or live amongst them and silently observe their day-to-day behavior.
- Qualitative Interviews
Qualitative interviews are close-ended questions that are asked directly to the research subjects. The qualitative interviews could be either informal and conversational, semi-structured, standardized and open-ended or a mix of all the above three. This provides a wealth of data to the researcher that they can sort through. This also helps collect relational data. This method of field research can use a mix of one-on-one interviews, focus groups and text analysis .
A case study research is an in-depth analysis of a person, situation or event. This method may look difficult to operate, however, it is one of the simplest ways of conducting research as it involves a deep dive and thorough understanding the data collection methods and inferring the data.
Steps in Conducting Field Research
Due to the nature of field research, the magnitude of timelines and costs involved, field research can be very tough to plan, implement and measure. Some basic steps in the management of field research are:
- Build the Right Team: To be able to conduct field research, having the right team is important. The role of the researcher and any ancillary team members is very important and defining the tasks they have to carry out with defined relevant milestones is important. It is important that the upper management too is vested in the field research for its success.
- Recruiting People for the Study: The success of the field research depends on the people that the study is being conducted on. Using sampling methods , it is important to derive the people that will be a part of the study.
- Data Collection Methodology: As spoken in length about above, data collection methods for field research are varied. They could be a mix of surveys, interviews, case studies and observation. All these methods have to be chalked out and the milestones for each method too have to be chalked out at the outset. For example, in the case of a survey, the survey design is important that it is created and tested even before the research begins.
- Site Visit: A site visit is important to the success of the field research and it is always conducted outside of traditional locations and in the actual natural environment of the respondent/s. Hence, planning a site visit alongwith the methods of data collection is important.
- Data Analysis: Analysis of the data that is collected is important to validate the premise of the field research and decide the outcome of the field research.
- Communicating Results: Once the data is analyzed, it is important to communicate the results to the stakeholders of the research so that it could be actioned upon.
Field Research Notes
Keeping an ethnographic record is very important in conducting field research. Field notes make up one of the most important aspects of the ethnographic record. The process of field notes begins as the researcher is involved in the observational research process that is to be written down later.
Types of Field Research Notes
The four different kinds of field notes are:
- Job Notes: This method of taking notes is while the researcher is in the study. This could be in close proximity and in open sight with the subject in study. The notes here are short, concise and in condensed form that can be built on by the researcher later. Most researchers do not prefer this method though due to the fear of feeling that the respondent may not take them seriously.
- Field Notes Proper: These notes are to be expanded on immediately after the completion of events. The notes have to be detailed and the words have to be as close to possible as the subject being studied.
- Methodological Notes: These notes contain methods on the research methods used by the researcher, any new proposed research methods and the way to monitor their progress. Methodological notes can be kept with field notes or filed separately but they find their way to the end report of a study.
- Journals and Diaries: This method of field notes is an insight into the life of the researcher. This tracks all aspects of the researchers life and helps eliminate the Halo effect or any bias that may have cropped up during the field research.
Reasons to Conduct Field Research
Field research has been commonly used in the 20th century in the social sciences. But in general, it takes a lot of time to conduct and complete, is expensive and in a lot of cases invasive. So why then is this commonly used and is preferred by researchers to validate data? We look at 4 major reasons:
- Overcoming lack of data: Field research resolves the major issue of gaps in data. Very often, there is limited to no data about a topic in study, especially in a specific environment. The problem might be known or suspected but there is no way to validate this without primary research and data. Conducting field research helps not only plug-in gaps in data but collect supporting material and hence is a preferred research method of researchers.
- Understanding context of the study: In many cases, the data collected is adequate but field research is still conducted. This helps gain insight into the existing data. For example, if the data states that horses from a stable farm generally win races because the horses are pedigreed and the stable owner hires the best jockeys. But conducting field research can throw light into other factors that influence the success like quality of fodder and care provided and conducive weather conditions.
- Increasing the quality of data: Since this research method uses more than one tool to collect data, the data is of higher quality. Inferences can be made from the data collected and can be statistically analyzed via the triangulation of data.
- Collecting ancillary data: Field research puts the researchers in a position of localized thinking which opens them new lines of thinking. This can help collect data that the study didn’t account to collect.
Examples of Field Research
Some examples of field research are:
- Decipher social metrics in a slum Purely by using observational methods and in-depth interviews, researchers can be part of a community to understand the social metrics and social hierarchy of a slum. This study can also understand the financial independence and day-to-day operational nuances of a slum. The analysis of this data can provide an insight into how different a slum is from structured societies.
- U nderstand the impact of sports on a child’s development This method of field research takes multiple years to conduct and the sample size can be very large. The data analysis of this research provides insights into how the kids of different geographical locations and backgrounds respond to sports and the impact of sports on their all round development.
- Study animal migration patterns Field research is used extensively to study flora and fauna. A major use case is scientists monitoring and studying animal migration patterns with the change of seasons. Field research helps collect data across years and that helps draw conclusions about how to safely expedite the safe passage of animals.
Advantages of Field Research
The advantages of field research are:
- It is conducted in a real-world and natural environment where there is no tampering of variables and the environment is not doctored.
- Due to the study being conducted in a comfortable environment, data can be collected even about ancillary topics.
- The researcher gains a deep understanding into the research subjects due to the proximity to them and hence the research is extensive, thorough and accurate.
Disadvantages of Field Research
The disadvantages of field research are:
- The studies are expensive and time-consuming and can take years to complete.
- It is very difficult for the researcher to distance themselves from a bias in the research study.
- The notes have to be exactly what the researcher says but the nomenclature is very tough to follow.
- It is an interpretive method and this is subjective and entirely dependent on the ability of the researcher.
- In this method, it is impossible to control external variables and this constantly alters the nature of the research.
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Field research is a qualitative method of research concerned with understanding and interpreting the social interactions of groups of people, communities, and society by observing and interacting with people in their natural settings. The methods of field research include: direct observation, participant observation, and qualitative interviews. Each of these methods is described here. Terms related to these and other topics in field research are defined in the Research Glossary .
Participant observation, qualitative interviews.
Direct observation is a method of research where the researcher watches and records the activities of individuals or groups engaged in their daily activities. The observations may be unstructured or structured. Unstructured observations involve the researcher observing people and events and recording his/her observations as field notes. Observations are recorded holistically and without the aid of a predetermined guide or protocol. Structured observation, on the other hand, is a technique where a researcher observes people and events using a guide or set protocol that has been developed ahead of time.
Other features of direct observation include:
- The observer does not actively engage the subjects of the study in conversations or interviews, but instead strives to be unobtrusive and detached from the setting.
- Data collected through direct observation may include field notes, checklists and rating scales, documents, and photographs or video images.
- Direct observation is not necessarily an alternative to other types of field methods, such as participant observation or qualitative interviews. Rather, it may be an initial approach to understanding a setting, a group of individuals, or forms of behavior prior to interacting with members or developing interview protocols.
- Direct observation as a research method is most appropriate in open, public settings where anyone has a right to be or congregate. Conducting direct observation in private or closed settings -- without the knowledge or consent of members -- is more likely to raise ethical concerns.
Participant observation is a field research method whereby the researcher develops an understanding of a group or setting by taking part in the everyday routines and rituals alongside its members. It was originally developed in the early 20th century by anthropologists researching native societies in developing countries. It is now the principal research method used by ethnographers -- specialists within the fields of anthropology and sociology who focus on recording the details of social life occurring in a setting, community, group, or society. The ethnographer, who often lives among the members for months or years, attempts to build trusting relationships so that he or she becomes part of the social setting. As the ethnographer gains the confidence and trust of the members, many will speak and behave in a natural manner in the presence of the ethnographer.
Data from participant observation studies can take several forms:
- Field notes are the primary type of data. The researcher takes notes of his/her observations and experiences and later develops them into detailed, formal field notes.
- Frequently, researchers keep a diary, which is often a more intimate, informal record of the happenings within the setting.
- The practice of participant observation, with its emphasis on developing relationships with members, often leads to both informal, conversational interviews and more formal, in-depth interviews. The data from these interviews can become part of field notes or may consist of separate interview transcripts.
There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to direct and participant observation studies. Here is a list of some of both. While the advantages and disadvantages apply to both types of studies, their impact and importance may not be the same across the two. For example, researchers engaged in both types of observation will develop a rich, deep understanding of the members of the group and the setting in which social interactions occur, but researchers engaged in participant observation research may gain an even deep understanding. And, participant observers have a greater chance of witnessing a wider range of behaviors and events than those engaged in direct observation.
Advantages of observation studies (observational research):
- Provide contextual data on settings, interactions, or individuals.
- A useful tool for generating hypotheses for further study.
- Source of data on events and phenomena that do not involve verbal interactions (e.g., mother-child nonverbal interactions and contact, physical settings where interactions occur).
- The researcher develops a rich, deep understanding of a setting and of the members within the setting.
Disadvantages of observation studies:
- Behaviors observed during direct observation may be unusual or atypical.
- Significant interactions and events may take place when observer is not present.
- Certain topics do not necessarily lend themselves to observation (e.g., attitudes, emotions, affection).
- Reliability of observations can be problematic, especially when multiple observers are involved.
- The researcher must devote a large amount of time (and resources).
- The researcher's objectivity may decline as he or she spends more time among the members of the group.
- The researcher may be faced with a dilemma of choosing between revealing and not revealing his or her identity as a researcher to the members of the group. If he or she introduces him/herself as a researcher, the members may behave differently than if they assume that he or she is just another participant. On the other hand, if the researcher does not, they may feel betrayed upon learning about the research.
Qualitative interviews are a type of field research method that elicits information and data by directly asking questions of individuals. There are three primary types of qualitative interviews: informal (conversational), semi-structured, and standardized, open-ended. Each is described briefly below along with advantages and disadvantages.
Informal (Conversational) Interviews
- Frequently occur during participant observation or following direct observation.
- The researcher begins by conversing with a member of the group of interest. As the conversation unfolds, the researcher formulates specific questions, often spontaneously, and begins asking them informally.
- Appropriate when the researcher wants maximum flexibility to pursue topics and ideas as they emerge during the exchange
Advantages of informal interviewing:
- Allows the researcher to be responsive to individual differences and to capture emerging information.
- Information that is obtained is not constrained by a predetermined set of questions and/or response categories.
- Permits researcher to delve deeper into a topic and what key terms and constructs mean to study participants.
Disadvantages of informal interviewing:
- May generate less systematic data, which is difficult to classify and analyze.
- The researcher might not be able to capture everything that the interviewee is saying and therefore there is potential for important nuance or information to be lost. For example, the researcher might not have a tape recorder at that moment due to the spontaneous nature of these interviews.
- Quality of the information obtained depends on skills of the interviewer.
- Prior to the interview, a list of predetermined questions or probes, also known as an interview guide, is developed so that each interviewee will respond to a similar series of questions and topics.
- Questions are generally open-ended to elicit as much detail and meaning from the interviewee as possible.
- The researcher is free to pursue and probe other topics as they emerge during the interview.
Advantages of semi-structured interviewing:
- Systematically captures data across interviewees.
- The researcher is able to rephrase or explain questions to the interviewee to ensure that everyone understands the questions the same way and probe (follow-up) a response so that an individual's responses are fully explored.
- Interviewee is allowed the freedom to express his or her views in their own words.
Disadvantages of semi-structured interviewing:
- Does not offer as much flexibility to respond to new topics that unfold during the interview as the informal interview.
- Responses to questions that have been asked in slightly different ways can be more difficult to compare and analyze.
- Interviewer may unconsciously send signals about the types of answers that are expected.
Standardized, Open-Ended Interviews
- Similar to a survey since questions are carefully scripted and written prior to the interview, which serves to minimize variability in question wording and the way questions are asked.
- The researcher asks a uniform series of questions in the same order to each interviewee.
- The questions are open-ended to capture more details and individual differences across interviewees.
- Particularly appropriate for qualitative studies involving multiple interviewers.
Advantages of standardized interviewing:
- All questions are asked the same to each study participant. Data are comparable across interviewees.
- Reduces interviewer effects when several interviewers are used.
- Standardization helps to facilitate the processing and analysis of the data.
Disadvantages of standardized interviewing:
- Does not offer as much flexibility to respond to and probe new topics that unfold during the interview.
- Standardized wording of questions may limit the responses of those being interviewed.
Both standardized and semi-structured interviews involve formally recruiting participants and are typically tape-recorded. The researcher should begin with obtaining informed consent from the interviewee prior to starting the interview. Additionally, the researcher may write a separate field note to describe the interviewee's reactions to the interview, or events that occurred before or after the interview.
See the following for additional information about field research and qualitative research methods.
- Ethnography, Observational Research and Narrative Inquiry (PDF)
- An Introduction to Qualitative Research (PDF)
The content on this page was prepared by Jerry West. It was last updated March 2019.
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Summary: Field research is conducted in the user’s context and location. Learn the unexpected by leaving the office and observing people in their natural environment.
By Susan Farrell
- Susan Farrell
on 2016-10-23 October 23, 2016
- Research Methods Research Methods
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It’s difficult to identify gaps in one’s own understanding . Reading and discussing issues with other UX professionals and subject-matter experts can help; but, especially when designing new things with new technologies and capabilities, it’s best to begin by taking an open mind to where the action is.
UX researchers are responsible for learning about users, their goals, challenges, and activities, and for bringing that understanding to the organization. Lab-based studies and analytics can help only to the extent that you ask the right questions and look in the right places for the right data. Studying users and tasks in context can inform design decisions and can put the focus on outcomes, not features . When you notice gaps in your knowledge or understanding, it may be time to get out of the office and investigate, watch, and learn.
What Is a Field Study?
Definition: Field studies are research activities that take place in the user’s context rather than in your office or lab .
The range of possible field-study methods and activities is very wide. Field studies also vary a lot in terms of how the researcher interacts (or doesn’t) with participants. Some field studies are purely observational (the researcher is a “fly on the wall”), some are interviews in which the questions evolve as understanding increases, and some involve prototype feature exploration or demonstration of pain points in existing systems.
Examples of field studies include:
- Flexible user tests in the field , which combine usability testing with adaptive interviews . Interviewing people about their tasks and challenges gives you very rich information. In an adaptive interview, you refine the questions you ask as you learn.
- Customer visits can help you better understand usability issues that arise in particular industry or business contexts or those that appear at a certain scale.
- Direct observation is useful for conducting design research into user processes, for instance to help create natural task flows for subsequent paper prototypes . Direct observation is also great for learning user vocabulary , understanding businesses’ interaction with customers, and discovering common workarounds — for example by listening in on support calls, watching people moving through amusement parks, or observing sales staff and customers in stores.
- Ethnographic research situates you in the users’ context as a member of the group. Group research allows you to gain insight into mental models and social situations that can help products and services fit into people’s lives. This type of research is particularly helpful when your target audience lives in a culture different from yours.
- Contextual inquiry is a method that structures and combines many of these field-study activities.
Field research is usually done with one of the following goals in mind:
- Gather task information. You can find out how people do things today and why they do them in particular ways, before proposing something new. Early design research can help prevent big mistakes when creating products and services.
- Understand people’s needs and discover opportunities for addressing them.
- Obtain data for journey maps , personas , use cases, and user stories . Field studies help you to understand your users in depth, so you can better describe them for your team.
- Test systems under realistic conditions . You can discover social defects and understand environmental factors before releasing products . Contextual research helps discover things you wouldn’t know to ask about, such as problems that crop up when new tools or processes are introduced into existing work practices.
When to Leave the Lab for the Field
Any of the following are good reasons for running a field study:
- You need big-picture insights. Field studies can be done at any time, but it often makes sense to do them before design (or redesign) begins, because such research can lead to fundamental shifts in understanding your users and can change what you would design for them.
- You don’t know enough about your actual or prospective users.
- You need to understand how people normally do their work and how they set up their environment to support their tasks . Watching people do particular activities can illuminate what people really do versus what they say they would do . Field studies that focus on specific tasks help researchers learn how to improve the experience of doing them.
- Cultural context: For example, your users may live in a different region or country.
- Context of use: Your customers may be using the interface or engage in a behavior of interest in a particular location or circumstance that is hard to replicate in the lab (for example, while walking, shopping, attending an event, riding the bus, or when it’s raining).
- You need to understand how groups of people behave , for example to find out how they collaborate, interrupt, and communicate, or to watch people use systems, workflows, and tools together. With many people in the mix, you can observe a wide range of behavior, knowledge, experience, and concerns.
- Your participants can’t travel to your location . For example, you may need to go where the users are when you’re conducting research with people with physical or transportation challenges, extremely limited availability (doctors or others who can’t leave work), or children at school.
- Lab research might bias your results , for example because the tasks can’t all be done in a lab, the lab context is too unrealistic, intimidating, or otherwise excludes people whom you want to observe. Familiar surroundings and normal equipment are often preferred because they come closest to natural user conditions.
- You need to work with systems you can’t access in the lab , such as B2B applications, specialized equipment (anything from bulldozers to battleships), or secure systems.
When You Might Want to Use Other Methods
If money were no object, we would probably all do much more field research. Unfortunately, field methods have not become cheaper at the same rate as other usability methods, and they can be challenging to budget or schedule. Field studies are still worthwhile, for example when you’re researching how and whether to make a new product, but it’s best to gather as much data as possible with cheaper methods. Beyond reasons of resource constraint, you might decide to stay out of the field in certain other cases.
Research in the Lab or Office
It’s sometimes best to conduct in-person research in labs, conference rooms, or other spaces that are not where people normally do the activity you want to study. For example: When what you are testing or researching is particularly confidential , sensitive, or private; when you have many observers for the research sessions; when you need to record but you can’t do that where participants work; when you’re testing systems or prototypes; or when the research focus is mainly on the usability of the system , rather than on people’s context, nature, and situation.
Remote, Attended Usability Research
UX researchers can get some of the advantages of both field and lab studies by conducting research live, using various audio–visual tools, with participants and facilitators each in their chosen locations. The remote, interactive approach can often be cheaper and faster than field or lab studies. Everyone avoids expensive and time-consuming travel to unfamiliar places. Being in your own space also offers comfort, familiar tools, and convenience.
A tradeoff with remote research is that you can’t see what the user’s camera doesn’t show you. That missing context is often important when you are trying to understand people and their environment.
Remote, attended studies make sense: When your participants are all over the map , and traveling to meet in person is too difficult or expensive; when it’s important to get some specific answers quickly and cheaply, and you already understand the people, tasks, and contexts in depth ; when you need to conduct sessions a few at a time , for example when testing early designs with only a couple of users for each iteration.
How to Plan a Field Study
Make a research plan .
Location. Decide where best to observe people in action . Go where your potential users are most likely to be found: workplaces, schools, shopping centers, airports, and so on.
Assistance. When applicable , work with an ally onsite . When visiting a business, for example, you might need help recruiting, scheduling, reminding, rewarding, and briefing participants. An onsite helper can escort you, introduce you, and help you with equipment or space issues. You may need to get permission in advance to conduct research in public or commercial spaces.
Participants . Study people who are representative of your target audience groups. Depending on the research method you use, you might need a professional recruiter or a team member to help you screen and schedule people.
Observers . Decide whether to allow stakeholders to watch. Although it’s often strategically important and desirable to involve stakeholders in observing user research , it’s not always possible with field studies.
Sometimes observers won’t fit in the space, or they would make the research situation too intimidating or otherwise create a weird situation for the users. When that happens, you won’t get to observe the most natural behavior and you might not get the candid information that you need.
On the other hand, with B2B site visits to customer companies, it’s common for stakeholders from both companies to want to be present for the research sessions to some extent. Sometimes outside researchers can’t be left alone with participants, so observers must be present. Observers often need a place to sit, talk, and work through issues raised in your debriefings. Observers may also need guidance in how to observe and how to help collect data , so they won’t behave badly .
When you encounter problems or behavior that you don’t understand around existing products or services, field studies can help you take a step back and find a new perspective, in order to correct your own mental models .
Doing research where people are can be crucial to understanding whether new products and services will help, hinder, or fall flat for the people you aim to assist. Set aside assumptions and allow insights to reframe what you’re creating and how that will affect the experiences of the people you’re designing for.
(We can come to your team and teach a full-day course on how to conduct ethnographic field studies in your UX projects.)
About the Author
Farrell joined All Turtles, an AI product studio, in 2017, where she leads UX Research and Strategy for chatbots and smart-device systems. She was previously an early member of Nielsen Norman Group, from 1999-2017, where she consulted with dozens of companies — multinationals, government, open source, and early startups — regarding website and mobile device usability, interaction design and information architecture. She conducted the User Experience Careers survey, co-authored the E-Commerce User Experience research series, conducted accessibility research for the Usability Guidelines for Accessible Web Design report, and contributed to many other NN/g research reports.
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Qualitative Study Design: Field research
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To understand attitudes, practices, roles, organisations, groups, or behaviours in their natural setting
In a way you have probably done field research before – when you’ve been in a doctor’s waiting room, or on an aeroplane. Field research is at its core about observing and participating in social behaviour and trying to understand it. Qualitative field research takes these natural skills and curiosities and refines them to address and answer a research question The “field” is vast, consisting of numerous people, activities, events, and words. When undertaking field research, the researcher needs to determine the exact activities or practices that are of interest to the researcher to answer their research question. Instead of the more artificial environment of an interview or survey, field research lets researchers observe subtle communications, cues, or other events that they may not have anticipated or even measured otherwise.
Field research is often referred to interchangeably as “participant observation”. Participant observation is a type of field research where the researcher is an active participant in the everyday life, habits, or beliefs of the field alongside members. An example of this might be where a researcher goes into a hospital and works alongside hospital staff. A contrast to this is “direct observation”, a type of field research where the researcher observes members in the field but doesn’t actively participate. An example might be a researcher who sits at a hospital cafeteria and observes staff who may not realize they’re being studied.
You may be wondering what the difference is between ethnography and field research. The two terms are often used interchangeably, so it can be a really blurred line! Ethnography is about making sense of culture – it’s about making a detailed overview of the social group and organising your information. Field research is going out into the field – so describing “how” you’re going to conduct research. Ethnographical research can be field research (as in, you’re studying the culture of a hospital by observing within the hospital), or field research can be ethnographic (you’re observing staff in a hospital to see how staff handle crisis intervention). It’s a fine line between the two, and even experienced researchers can be unsure of the difference (or even use the terms interchangeably, depending on discipline), so when in doubt, it is best to talk to your supervisor or an experienced researcher in this discipline
Different studies may benefit from different degrees of researcher involvement. Ultimately, the researcher needs to be sensitive to the impact their presence might have on the data and on participants – and also aware of any ethical requirements around this study type, such as informed consent, duties to report (such as if the researcher observes criminal activities), and confidentiality and privacy of participants.
Observation, unstructured interviews
- Allows for observation in a natural setting
- Picks up on subtle cues
- Allows in depth exploration which contributes to a full appreciation of what’s being studied, including “whys” around human behaviour
- Requires a high degree of sensitivity by the researcher to the impact of the research and their presence on participants and on the data
- Risk of reactivity, where research subjects may alter their behaviour from what it would have been normally as a result of being studied
- Ethical considerations involved in insider research
- Possible loss of objectivity
How do student nurses integrate their training into care provision at end-of-life?
- Barber-Parker, E. (2002). Integrating patient teaching into bedside patient care: a participant-observation study of hospital nurses. Patient Education and Counselling, 48 ( 2): 107-113
- Shikuku, D., Milimo, B., Ayebare, E., Gisore, P., & Gorrette, N. (2018). Practice and outcomes of neonatal resuscitation for newborns with birth asphyxia at Kakamega County General Hospital, Kenya: a direct observation study, BMC Pediatrics, 18 (1), doi: 10.1186/s12887-018-1127-6
Babbie, E. (2008). The basics of social research (4th ed). Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth
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Field Research : Definition, Examples & Methodology
- August 19, 2021
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Table of Contents
What is field research.
Field Research is a method of collecting qualitative data with the aim to understand, observe, and interact with people in their natural setting. It requires specialized market research tools . The goal is to understand how a subject behaves in a specific setting to identify how different variables in this setting may be interacting with the subject. Field research is used most in the field of social science, such as anthropology and health care professions, as in these fields it is vital to create a bridge between theory and practice.
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Methods of Field Research
There are 4 main methods of conducting field research, and they are as follows:
Ethnography is a kind of fieldwork that aims to record and analyse a particular culture, society, or community. This method defines social anthropology, and it usually involves the complete immersion of an anthropologist in the culture and everyday life of the community they are trying to study.
2. Qualitative Interviews
The goal of qualitative interviews is to provide a researcher with a breadth of information that they can sift through in order to make inferences of their sample group. It does so through interviews by directly asking participants questions. There are three types of qualitative interviews; informal, conversational, and open ended.
3. Direct observation
This method of field research involves researchers gathering information on their subject through close visual inspection in their natural setting. The researcher, and in this case the observer, remains unobtrusive and detached in order to not influence the behavior of their subject.
4. Participant Observation
In this method of field research, the researchers join people by participating in certain group activities relating to their study in order to observe the participants in the context of said activity.
Steps to conduct Field Research
The following are some key steps taken in conducting field research:
- Identifying and obtaining a team of researchers who are specialized in the field of research of the study.
- Identifying the right method of field research for your research topic. The various methods of field research are discussed above. A lot of factors will play a role in deciding what method a researcher chooses, such as duration of the study, financial limitations, and type of study.
- Visiting the site/setting of the study in order to study the main subjects of the study.
- Analyzing the data collected through field research.
- Constructively communicating the results of the field research, whether that be through a research paper or newspaper article etc.
Reasons to conduct Field Research
The following are a few reasons as to why field research is conducted, typically via market research tools :
- To understand the context of studies : field research allows researchers to identify the setting of their subjects to draw correlations between how their surroundings may be affecting certain behaviors.
- To acquire in-depth and high quality data : Field research provides in-depth information as subjects are observed and analysed for a long period of time.
- When there is a lack of data on a certain subject : field research can be used to fill gaps in data that may only be filled through in-depth primary research.
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Examples of field research.
The following are real studies conducted using field research in order to answer questions about human behavior in certain settings:
- William Foote Whyte used participant observation in his 1942 study to answer the question “How is the social structure of a local “slum” organized?”. The study involved over 3 years of participation and observations among an Italian community in Boston’s North End.
- Liebow’s study in 1967 involved twenty months of participation and observations among an African American community in Washington, DC, to answer the question “How do the urban poor live?”.
- American sociologist, Cheri Jo Pascoe, conducted eighteen months of observations and interviews in a racially diverse working-class high school to answer the question “How is masculinity constructed by and among high school students, and what does this mean for our understanding of gender and sexuality?”.
Advantages of Field Research
- Can yield detailed data as researchers get to observe their subjects in their own setting.
- May uncover new social facts : Field research can be used to uncover social facts that may not be easily discernible, and that the research participants may also be unaware of.
No tampering of variables as methods of field research are conducted in natural settings in the real world. Voxco’s mobile offline research software is a powerful tool for conducting field research.
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Disadvantages of Field Research
- Expensive to collect : most methods of field research involve the researcher to immerse themselves into new settings for long periods of time in order to acquire in-depth data. This can be expensive.
- Time consuming : Field research is time consuming to conduct.
- Information gathered may lack breadth : Field research involves in-depth studies and will usually tend to have a small sample group as researchers may be unable to collect in-depth data from large groups of people.
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Module 2: Sociological Research
Field research, learning outcomes.
- Explain the three types of field research: participant observation, ethnography, and case studies
The work of sociology rarely happens in limited, confined spaces. Sociologists seldom study subjects in their own offices or laboratories. Rather, sociologists go out into the world. They meet subjects where they live, work, and play. Field research refers to gathering primary data from a natural environment without doing a lab experiment or a survey. It is a research method suited to an interpretive framework rather than to the scientific method. To conduct field research, the sociologist must be willing to step into new environments and observe, participate, or experience those worlds. In field work, the sociologists, rather than the subjects, are the ones out of their element.
The researcher interacts with or observes a person or people and gathers data along the way. The key point in field research is that it takes place in the subject’s natural environment, whether it’s a coffee shop or tribal village, a homeless shelter or the DMV, a hospital, airport, mall, or beach resort.
Figure 1. Sociological researchers travel across countries and cultures to interact with and observe subjects in their natural environments. (Photo courtesy of IMLS Digital Collections and Content/flickr and Olympic National Park)
While field research often begins in a specific setting , the study’s purpose is to observe specific behaviors in that setting. Field work is optimal for observing how people behave. It is less useful, however, for understanding why they behave that way. You can’t really narrow down cause and effect when there are so many variables to be factored into a natural environment.
Many of the data gathered in field research are based not on cause and effect but on correlation. And while field research looks for correlation, its small sample size does not allow for establishing a causal relationship between two variables.
BeyoncÉ and LADY gaga as sociological subjects
Figure 2. Researchers have used surveys and participant observations to accumulate data on Lady Gaga and Beyonce as multifaceted performers. (Credit a: John Robert Chartlon/flickr, b: Kristopher Harris/flickr.)
Sociologists have studied Lady Gaga and Beyoncé and their impact on music, movies, social media, fan participation, and social equality. In their studies, researchers have used several research methods including secondary analysis, participant observation, and surveys from concert participants.
In their study, Click, Lee & Holiday (2013) interviewed 45 Lady Gaga fans who utilized social media to communicate with the artist. These fans viewed Lady Gaga as a mirror of themselves and a source of inspiration. Like her, they embrace not being a part of mainstream culture. Many of Lady Gaga’s fans are members of the LGBTQ community. They see the “song “Born This Way” as a rallying cry and answer her calls for “Paws Up” with a physical expression of solidarity—outstretched arms and ﬁngers bent and curled to resemble monster claws.”
Sascha Buchanan (2019) made use of participant observation to study the relationship between two fan groups, that of Beyoncé and that of Rihanna. She observed award shows sponsored by iHeartRadio, MTV EMA, and BET that pit one group against another as they competed for Best Fan Army, Biggest Fans, and FANdemonium. Buchanan argues that the media thus sustains a myth of rivalry between the two most commercially successful Black women vocal artists.
Here, we will look at three types of field research: participant observation, ethnography, and the case study.
In participant observation research, a sociologist joins people and participates in a group’s routine activities for the purpose of observing them within that context. This method lets researchers experience a specific aspect of social life. A researcher might go to great lengths to get a firsthand look into a trend, institution, or behavior. Researchers temporarily put themselves into roles and record their observations. A researcher might work as a waitress in a diner, live as a homeless person for several weeks, or ride along with police officers as they patrol their regular beat.
Although these researchers try to blend in seamlessly with the population they study, they are still obligated to obtain IRB approval. In keeping with scholarly objectives, the purpose of their observation is different from simply “people watching” at one’s workplace, on the bus or train, or in a public space.
Figure 3. Who is the sociologist in this photo? It’s impossible to tell! In participant observation, researchers immerse themselves in an environment for a time. (Photo courtesy of zoetnet/flickr)
At the beginning of a field study, researchers might have a question: “What really goes on in the kitchen of the most popular diner on campus?” or “What is it like to experience homelessness?” Participant observation is a useful method if the researcher wants to explore a certain environment from the inside.
Field researchers simply want to observe and learn. In such a setting, the researcher will be alert and open minded to whatever happens, recording all observations accurately. Soon, as patterns emerge, questions will become more specific, observations will lead to hypotheses, and hypotheses will guide the researcher in shaping data into results.
Some sociologists prefer not to alert people to their presence. The main advantage of covert participant observation is that it allows the researcher access to authentic, natural behaviors of a group’s members. The challenge, however, is gaining access to a setting without disrupting the pattern of others’ beha vior. Becoming an inside member of a group, organization, or subculture takes time and effort. Researchers must pretend to be something they are not. The process could involve role playing, making contacts, networking, or applying for a job. Whenever deception is involved in sociological research, it will be intensely scrutinized and may or may not be approved by an institutional IRB.
Once inside a group, participation observation research can last months or even years. Sociologists have to balance the types of interpersonal relationships that arise from living and/or working with other people with objectivity as a researcher. They must keep their purpose in mind and apply the sociological perspective. That way, they illuminate social patterns that are often unrecognized. Because information gathered during participant observation is mostly qualitative, rather than quantitative, the e nd results are often descriptive or interpretive. This type of research is well-suited to learning about the kinds of human behavior or social groups that are not known by the scientific community, who are particularly closed or secretive, or when one is attempting to understand societal structures, as we will see in the following example.
Nickel and Dimed (2001, 2011)
Journalist Barbara Ehrenreich con ducted participation observation research for her book Nickel and Dimed . One day over lunch with her editor, Ehrenreich mentioned an idea. How can people exist on minimum-wage work? How do low-income workers get by? she wondered aloud. Someone should do a study. To her surprise, her editor responded, Why don’t you do it?
That’s how Ehrenreich found herself joining the ranks of the working class. For several months, she left her comfortable home and lived and worked among people who lacked, for the most part, higher education and marketable job skills. Undercover, she applied for and worked minimum wage jobs as a waitress, a cleaning woman, a nursing home aide, and a retail chain employee. During her participant observation, she used only her income from those jobs to pay for food, clothing, transportation, and shelter.
She discovered the obvious, that it’s almost impossible to get by on minimum wage service work. She also experienced and observed attitudes many middle and upper-class people never think about. She witnessed firsthand the treatment of working class employees. She saw the extreme measures people take to make ends meet and to survive. She described fellow employees who held two or three jobs, worked seven days a week, lived in cars, could not pay to treat chronic health conditions, got randomly fired, submitted to drug tests, and moved in and out of homeless shelters. She brought aspects of that life to light, describing difficult working conditions and the poor treatment that low-wage workers suffer.
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America , the book she w rote upon her return to her real life as a well-paid writer, has been widely read and used in many college classrooms. The first edition was published in 2001 and a follow-up post-recession edition was published with updated information in 2011.
Figure 4. Field research happens in real locations. What type of environment do work spaces foster? What would a sociologist discover after blending in? (Photo courtesy of drewzhrodague/flickr)
Ethnography is a type of social research that involves the extended observation of the social perspective and cultural values of an entire social setting. Ethnogra phies involve objective observation of an entire community, and they often involve participant observation as a research method.
British anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski, who studied the Trobriand Islanders near Papua New Guinea during World War I, was one of the first anthropologists to engage with the communities they studied and he became known for this methodological contribution, which differed from the detached observations that took place from a distance (i.e., “on the verandas” or “armchair anthropology”).
Although anthropologists had been doing ethnographic research longer, sociologists were doing ethnographic research in the 20th century, particularly in what became known as The Chicago School at the University of Chicago. William Foote Whyte’s Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum (1943) is a seminal work of urban ethnography and a “classic” sociological text.
The heart of an ethnographic study focuses on how subjects view their own social standing and how they understand themselves in relation to a community. An ethnographic study might observe, for example, a small U.S. fishing town, an Inuit community, a village in Thailand, a Buddhist monastery, a private boarding school, or an amusement park. These places all have borders. People live, work, study, or vacation within those borders. People are there for a certain reason and therefore behave in certain ways and respect certain cultural norms. An ethnographer would commit to spending a predetermined amount of time studying every aspect of the chosen place, taking in as much as possible.
A sociologist studying a tribe in the Amazon might watch the way villagers go about their daily lives and then write a paper about it. To observe a spiritual retreat center, an ethnographer might attend as a guest for an extended stay, observe and record data, and collate the material into results.
The Making of Middletown: A Study in Modern U.S. Culture
In 1924, a young married couple named Robert and Helen Lynd undertook an unprecedented ethnography: to apply sociological methods to the study of one U.S. city in order to discover what “ordinary” people in the United States did and believed. Choosing Muncie, Indiana (population about 30,000), as their subject, they moved to the small town and lived there for eighteen months.
Ethnographers had been examining other cultures for decades—groups considered minority or outsider—like gangs, immigrants, and the poor. But no one had studied the so-called average American.
Recording interviews and using surveys to gather data, the Lynds did not sugarcoat or idealize U.S. life (PBS). They objectively stated what they observed. Researching existing sources, they compared Muncie in 1890 to the Muncie they observed in 1924. Most Muncie adults, they found, had grown up on farms but now lived in homes inside the city. From that discovery, the Lynds focused their study on the impact of industrialization and urbanization.
They observed that the workers of Muncie were divided into business class and working class groups. They defined business class as dealing with abstract concepts and symbols, while working class people used tools to create concrete objects. The two classes led different lives with different goals and hopes. However, the Lynds observed, mass production offered both classes the same amenities. Like wealthy families, the working class was now able to own radios, cars, washing machines, telephones, vacuum cleaners, and refrigerators. This was a newly emerging economic and material reality of the 1920s.
Figure 5. A classroom in Muncie, Indiana, in 1917, five years before John and Helen Lynd began researching this “typical” U.S. community. (Photo courtesy of Don O’Brien/flickr)
As the Lynds worked, they divided their manuscript into six sections: Getting a Living, Making a Home, Training the Young, Using Leisure, Engaging in Religious Practices, and Engaging in Community Activities. Each chapter included subsections such as “The Long Arm of the Job” and “Why Do They Work So Hard?” in the “Getting a Living” chapter.
When the study was completed, the Lynds encountered a big problem. The Rockefeller Foundation, which had commissioned the book, claimed it was useless and refused to publish it. The Lynds asked if they could seek a publisher themselves.
As it turned out, Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture was not only published in 1929, but also became an instant bestseller, a status unheard of for a sociological study. The book sold out six printings in its first year of publication, and has never gone out of print (PBS).
Nothing like it had ever been done before. Middletown was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times . Readers in the 1920s and 1930s identified with the citizens of Muncie, Indiana, but they were equally fascinated by the sociological methods and the use of scientific data to define ordinary people in the United States. The book was proof that social data were important—and interesting—to the U.S. public.
Institutional ethnography is an extension of basic ethnographic research principles that focuses intentionally on everyday concrete social relationships. Developed by Canadian sociologist Dorothy E. Smith, institutional ethnography is often considered a feminist-inspired approach to social analysis and primarily considers women’s experiences within male-dominated societies and power structures. Smith’s work challenges sociology’s exclusion of women, both academically and in the study of women’s lives (Fenstermaker, n.d.).
Historically, social science research tended to objectify women and ignore their experiences except as viewed from a male perspective. Modern feminists note that describing women, and other marginalized groups, as subordinates helps those in authority maintain their own dominant positions (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, n.d.). Smith’s three major works explored what she called “the conceptual practices of power” (1990; cited in Fensternmaker, n.d.) and are still considered seminal works in feminist theory and ethnography.
Sometimes a researcher wants to study one specific person or event. A case study is an in-depth analysis of a single event, situation, or individual. To conduct a case study, a researcher examines existing sources like documents and archival records, conducts interviews, or engages in direct observation and even participant observation, if possible.
Researchers might use this method to study a single case of, for example, a foster child, drug lord, cancer patient, criminal, or rape victim. However, a major criticism of the case study method is that a developed study of a single case, while offering depth on a topic, does not provide broad enough evidence to form a generalized conclusion. In other words, it is difficult to make universal claims based on just one person, since one person does not verify a pattern. This is why most sociologists do not use case studies as a primary research method.
However, case studies are useful when the single case is unique. In these instances, a single case study can add tremendous knowledge to a certain discipline. For example, a feral child, also called a “wild child,” is one who grows up isolated from other human beings. Feral children grow up without social contact and language, which are elements crucial to a “civilized” child’s development. These children mimic the behaviors and movements of animals, and often invent their own language. There are only about one hundred cases of “feral children” in the world.
As you may imagine, a feral child is a subject of great interest to researchers. Feral children provide unique information about child development because they have grown up outside of the parameters of “normal” child socialization and language acquisition. And since there are very few feral children, the case study is the most appropriate method for researchers to use in studying the subject.
At age three, a Ukranian girl named Oxana Malaya suffered severe parental neglect. She lived in a shed with dogs, and she ate raw meat and scraps. Five years later, a neighbor called authorities and reported seeing a girl who ran on all fours, barking. Officials brought Oxana into society, where she was cared for and taught some human behaviors, but she never became fully socialized. She has been designated as unable to support herself and now lives in a mental institution (Grice 2011). Case studies like this offer a way for sociologists to collect data that may not be collectable by any other method.
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