Planning ethnographic research

  1. Define a research problem. It might be an unexplained phenomenon or an unresolved issue.
  2. Select your methods. In this case, we presume that ethnography is a suitable methdology. You might also want to include other kinds of data (e.g. demographic statistics)
  3. Check the ethics of your approach.
  4. Do some preliminary fieldwork to find the best questions.
  5. Write a questionnaire and refine the questions.
  6. Have lots of interviews and make field notes.
  7. As you go, look for an overall pattern emerging in the information. When the pattern is clear, describe it carefully and ask whether it addresses the original research question. If it does, it is your conclusion. If not, identify the information you still need to reach a conclusion.
  8. You can finish holding interviews when you have can confirm the pattern, that is, no other conclusion is reasonable.
  9. Write it up as a report as you go; don't wait untill all your data is in. Analysis and description are usually mixed together rather than placed in separate chapters. Put another way, your information on a topic is mixed with your exposition and interpretation of your field notes.
  10. Proof-read and revise grammar, language style, typing, and layout. This usually takes several drafts.
  11. Finally, present the final report.


  1. If you have never read an ethnography before, try reading several. Look for those that have academic credibility (often recommended texts at universities) but are relatively easy to read.
  2. The phenomenon you are describing might need to be viewed in the light of knowledge of other cultures, especially cultures with points in common.
  3. New information often emerges during research and forces a change of direction. For example, you might want to re-interpret your main research question, or refine the operational project parameters. If so, consult your research supervisor about changes.