The 6 Main Types Of Scientific Observation

There are several types of scientific observation that vary according to the approach to the object of study, the number of researchers involved, the structuring of the research or the way in which the information is collected.

In all cases, scientific observation will always be characterized by being planned and methodical. It is the first phase of any investigation.

Scientific knowledge is characterized by coming from observation. All scientific fields admit the use of observation as a fundamental tool for collecting data and information.

Types of scientific observation and their characteristics

1- Simple or unstructured observation

Simple scientific observation is one in which the researcher limits himself to describing the data he obtains from his own inquiry. It is open, but also planned and methodical, and it is intended to obtain information about a specific event through observing its natural context.

Simple observation is exercised through the senses of the researcher. This is largely considered a disadvantage, as observer perception plays a primary role in the study, and the results may be biased.

In addition, the human senses have limits that can prevent all edges and approaches of the problem in question from being covered.

Given these limitations, unstructured scientific observation must have a methodological basis, including control groups in some cases, to guarantee the veracity of the data obtained.

Simple observation is usually the basis of an exploratory investigation .


Investigative investigations that seek to identify patterns of consumer behavior for a product, or habits of potential customers for a specific clothing brand, may be ideal for applying simple observation.

2- Systematic or structured observation

Systematic scientific observation is based on a more specific structure than simple observation. In this case, the specific aspects that will be observed are already clearly determined, which will even be categorized.

This type of observation favors the collection of data related to some phenomenon already identified and operationalized.

In structured scientific observation, systems are often used to account for data collected from research.


Studies that seek to identify the frequency of use of a specific product, or the number of young people of a certain age who listen to a certain musical genre, can be approached through systematic scientific observation.

3- Participatory or internal observation

In the case of participatory scientific observation, the observer is completely involved with his object of study. Through this type of observation, it is possible to obtain deep information about what is being investigated.

The researcher has the possibility to inquire more about the characteristics of the object of study, its motivations, ways of acting and other data that can only be known from an intimate approach. This type of observation allows us to capture both objective and subjective elements.

If the researcher is part of the item being investigated, it is considered to be a natural participatory observation.

On the other hand, if the researcher is an entity outside the object of study, it is an artificial participatory observation.

Participatory observation is open when the object of study knows that it will be observed from close by.

On the contrary, it is considered closed or covert when the object of study is completely unaware that it will be observed.


Studies on certain indigenous tribes. To really know and understand their ways of proceeding, their motivations and their habits, the ideal is for the researcher to carry out a participatory observation.

4- Non-participatory or external

Non-participatory observation refers to one in which the researcher remains outside the object of study.

This observation can occur directly, through the use of data collection tools, such as surveys or interviews.

It can also occur indirectly, without having any type of contact with the object of study, but based on other research, on archival information such as press articles, academic studies, statistical data, among other resources.


If a researcher wants to know the recreational activities of interest to a certain group of people, he can use the survey resource and collect the information provided by the object of study. In this way he would be exercising a non-participatory observation.

5- Individual observation

A single researcher participates in individual scientific observation, who has the task of carefully observing the object of study, recording the data collected from said observation and carrying out the subsequent analysis of a scientific investigation .

Individual observation can be applied in other types of research. The only condition is that the researcher be a single individual. This can bring the benefit of streamlining analytical processes and implementation of some procedures.

On the contrary, the participation of a single person could favor subjectivity, since there are no other researchers to generate debate about the problem to be investigated.

It is common to apply this type of observation when the object of study is manageable by a single person. If it is very broad, the participation of more observers is necessary.


An investigation that seeks to identify the reason why cats like to get inside boxes can be carried out perfectly by a single person, through individual scientific observation of a control group.

6- Group observation

In group scientific observation, several researchers intervene, who observe different phases or edges of the object of study and, later, share the results obtained, which are complementary to each other.

Another way to put group observation into practice is to allow all observers to analyze the same element of the object of study.

After this inquiry, the researchers debate to determine what data was found, thus avoiding subjectivity.

This type of observation is convenient when the object to be studied is very wide.


If you want to make a study of the main writers representing romanticism, several people can investigate. Each one can be in charge of a specific author or subject.

Or they could all analyze the works and then share the information obtained and the corresponding interpretations.


  1. “Social research techniques for social work” at the University of Alicante. Retrieved on September 4, 2017 from the University of Alicante:
  2. Del Prado, J. “Observation as a technique for psychosocial evaluations” (June 18, 2014) at IMF Business School. Retrieved on September 4, 2017 from IMF Business School:
  3. “The observational method” at the University of Jaén. Retrieved on September 4, 2017 from the University of Jaén:
  4. Benguría, S., Martín, B., Valdés, M., Pastellides, P. and Gómez, L. “Observation” (December 14, 2010) at the Autonomous University of Madrid. Retrieved on September 4, 2017 from the Autonomous University of Madrid:
  5. Francis, D. “Types of observation in the scientific method” in eHow in Spanish. Retrieved on September 4, 2017 from eHow in Spanish:
  6. Custodian, Á. “Methods and techniques of scientific research” (August 5, 2008) in Gestiópolis. Retrieved on September 4, 2017 from Gestiópolis:
  7. McLeod, S. “Observation Methods” (2015) in Simply Psichology. Retrieved on September 4, 2017 from Simply Psichology:
  8. Daston, L., Munz, T., Sturm, T. and Wilder, K. “The History of Scientific Observation” in Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. Retrieved on September 4, 2017 from Max Planck Institute for the History of Science:
  9. Honrubia, M. and Miguel, M. “Applied psychosocial sciences” (2005) in Google Books. Retrieved on September 4, 2017 from Google Books:
  10. “Social research technique” at the University of Palermo. Retrieved on September 4, 2017 from the University of Palermo:
  11. Fabbri, M. “Research techniques: observation” at the National University of Rosario. Retrieved on September 4, 2017 from the National University of Rosario:

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *