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Using ethnographic field notes in the actual writing of a paper

A scholar from the global south asked me recently for references or some help on how to use ethnographic field notes in the actual writing of a paper, and how they should be reported (that is, how we can use the material we write in a fieldwork notebook in the actual writing of a manuscript). Interestingly, most of the work I’ve read on field notes is on “how to craft them” and “how to analyze them”, not on “how to report them” or how to use them to write a readable output. A couple of years ago, I published an editorial in the International Journal of Qualitative Methods (IJQM) that focused on how we as researchers can use field notes to prompt writing when we feel stuck. But still, that wasn’t what this researcher needed. So I promised I would write a Twitter thread, and afterwards, based on it, a blog post (this one).

Fieldwork in Paris (Oct 2018)

Me doing ethnographic fieldwork in Paris in 2018.

On developing an ethnographic sensibility and learning how to write field notes, I’ve found books most useful. What I want to make clear is that using excerpts from your interviews and ethnographic field notes is common in the actual writing of the ethnography. There are obviously different styles, and mine is not exactly like the anthropologists’, or some sociologists, but it is one approach in social science that might be of interest and use to researchers.

Including extensive quotations or fragments of field notes in a manuscript is quite common in qualitative research. Much like in quantitative work you present tables, graphs, equations, etc., qualitative (textual, visual) material is presented as evidence in qualitative papers.

These are obviously just a few examples of how you can use “in-line” textual excerpt insertions to provide qualitative material to the reader that functions as supportive evidence. I hope this post is useful to those of you engaging in, and writing fieldwork results.

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Posted in academia, qualitative methods, research, research methods, writing.

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