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What is an observation schedule?

Updated July 20, 2017

Observation schedules are one of many essential analytical devices that scientists can use to turn multifaceted and complex visual observations into usable research data.

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An observation schedule is an analytical form, or coding sheet, filled out by researchers during structured observation. It carefully specifies beforehand the categories of behaviours or events under scrutiny and under what circumstances they should be assigned to those categories. Observations are then fragmented, or coded, into these more manageable pieces of information, which are later aggregated into usable, quantifiable data.


Observation schedules are utilised primarily in the fields of education, psychology, speech and language therapy, learning and behavioural therapy and market research. Schedules can range from exceedingly complex multiple-page examinations to simple tally sheets. Types of observation schedules include event sampling, time sampling, interval recording, rating scales and duration recording.


One of the most widely known and sophisticated observation schedules is the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), which systematically tests for telltale signs of autism in its subjects. Other notable examples include the Modified-Classroom Observation Schedule to Measure Intentional Communication (M-COSMIC) and the Flanders Interaction Analysis Categories.

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About the Author

Cari Coleman has been a writer since 2004. She's written articles for the "Sinclair Lewis Society Newsletter," developed brochures for "Mid-Central Community Action" and produced a book for Elisavietta Ritchie. Coleman has a Master of Arts in English from Illinois State University. Currently she's working on a short-story collection entitled "Midnight Snacks."

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