There are several methods of data collection with personal observation being one of the most commonly used techniques. However, like any other technique it also has some advantages and disadvantages that are explained below in detail.
The strongest point of this technique is the fact that it offers direct contact to the subject. The researcher does not have to rely on self-report, such as questioning people about their behavior in a particular situation.
The researcher is not only dependant on answers but gets the opportunity to observe the phenomenon and record behavior or results accordingly. This way the problems associated with self-report are completely eradicated.
For example: in a questionnaire a respondent may not always give accurate answers. It has been proven that many people tend to twist their answers going with what they seem more favorable and not their true opinions. This problem, known as social desirability set, is one of the biggest drawbacks of the questionnaire technique.
This problem is not there in personal observation because the researcher holds a lot of control. He or she can twist questions accordingly and gauge the respondent’s behavior. Such personal observations are of great help in achieving results.
Flexibility, Applicability and Diversity
This technique offers a lot of flexibility and is applicable in a vast range of contexts. It can be tightly structured or may be completely informal. The ease of flexibility allows better applicability as it may be applied in various fields and give correct results.
The researcher is in great control and can handle the conversation if it flows elsewhere. Additionally, there is an additional benefit of clearing confusing in case there is ambiguity.
Complementary with Other Options
Many people believe that triangulation (using multiple techniques at once) gives better results. This becomes a big strength of personal observation because this technique goes in perfect sync with other techniques and gives near perfect results.
As mentioned above, no technique is without any disadvantages. Like any other method this one also has some disadvantages that are highlighted below.
One of the biggest disadvantages of this practice is the fact that this is very time consuming, especially in comparison to other methods such as questionnaires. This is one of the reasons why people find this technique impractical. This is not feasible for researchers with limited resources in hand.
This technique suffers the risk of observer bias, which results in an unreliable outcome. This is a condition in which the observer records what he or she wishes to record instead of what actually happens.
Another disadvantage is the observer effect, which though is named after the observer, has more to do with the subject. This is due to the fact that often people tend to behave differently in the presence of an observer than they would otherwise. This problem results in not so accurate answers.
To enjoy main benefits one should try to minimize the disadvantages by minimizing risk and controlling other factors.