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Advantages & disadvantages of ethnographic research

Updated April 17, 2017

Ethnographic research is a method of study which involves the field observation and qualitative analysis of human behaviour. While ethnographic research can be applied to virtually any kind of sociological or anthropological subject of inquiry, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to using the method.

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There are various types of ethnographic research which may be employed to study human populations, beliefs and customs. Some of these include macro-ethnographic research, which entails studying a larger group of people; and micro-ethnographic research, which involves observing a smaller sample of humans and practices.


One of the more widely cited benefits of conducting ethnographic research is that due to the first-hand observation that is involved, usually conducted over an extended period of time, the research can provide extensive and in-depth findings about human behaviour. In addition, because ethnographic research relies on observation rather than examinations or predetermined tests, the research can evolve and explore new lines of inquiry.


Due to the fact that ethnographic research relies on observation, it often takes a longer period of time to produce thorough and reliable results. Also, because the research is reliant upon the observations of just one or a few people, the conclusions about what the human subjects were doing, saying or feeling could be altered by the observers' cultural bias or ignorance.

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About the Author

Kelsey Mowatt is an experienced writer who has contributed to various sports and news publications since 2003, including Beyond Robson, "Full Contact Fighter" and "Grappling Magazine." Mowatt holds a Bachelor of Arts in history and a Master of Arts-Integrated Studies in global change from Athabasca University.

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