Although participant observation is the main observational method referred to in texts, it is important that you understand the use of non-participant observation as well.

If non-participant observation is seen as ‘bird-watching’, then we also need to compare situations where the ’birds’ know they are being watched (overt) with situations where the ‘birds’ don’t know they are being watched (covert).

What do you think are the main advantages for the researcher of overt and covert non-participant observation?

Copy the table below and use it to list your answers.

Try to find 2-3 points for each box.

In doing so, you should answer each of the following questions:

  1. How much information is each one likely to produce?
  2. What kind and what quality of information?
  3. How good an understanding is the observer likely to gain as a result?
  4. How ethical is each method?
  5. How natural is the behaviour of the subjects likely to be?
  6. How reliable is the information?
  7. How valid is the information?


Advantages Advantages
Disadvantages Disadvantages

Now compare this with PARTICIPANT observation. Produce the same kind of table using the answers to the same questions.