Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Medium of Field Notes

When looking at the limitations of a field study, both the way I saw the experience (in avatars, or different aspects of my personality) as well as the medium I used to record my findings had a significant impact on my project.  Field notes was an extremely important medium I used. They are the delight of all field study students. Field notes are an interesting medium to look at, but with my computer luck I got to experience the joys of doing both written and typed notes. The way that I physically recorded my field notes actually changed a lot of what I documented. I think it is safe to say that “field notes” can be interpreted (and implemented) a lot of different ways. There is not one single answer.

Typed Vs. By Hand Field Notes: Compare and Contrast

Details- By typing up field notes I was able to record a lot more of the details that happened in the day than I did with handwritten notes. The most obvious evidence for this is that my typed field notes were much longer than my handwritten ones.

Corrections- I am the world’s worst speller. Spell check is a good friend of mine. I was also given the freedom to go back and insert ideas that I had forgotten or reorganize my thoughts if something made more sense typed somewhere else. Once I had to do notes by hand I lost that freedom. I could not go back, so I ended up with a lot of writing in the margins and PS’s. In general it was less linear than typed notes.

Easier- Because typing is easier than hand writing, certain activities like interviews were much better to do on a computer. They would have taken me a week to write up if I would have conducted the interviews after my computer crashed. It was easier on my hand, and I noticed that when I was hand writing notes I wrote less in my diary that night.

Dependency- Typed field notes were frustrating when the power was out more often than not. I was also limited in where I could do my writing. I could not take it out for risk of theft and weather. Once I was hand writing notes I could take them anywhere and work on them anytime without anxiety. And, as my experience taught me, a computer is a rather unreliable and unpredictable piece of equipment. You cannot trust that it will last the whole trip.  You can always depend on a pen or pencil.

Interesting- Field notes are supposed to be descriptive, which makes for good data, but terrible re-reading. While I was able to get a lot of detail, I wrote down everything because I was not sure exactly what data would be valuable later. So there are a lot of entries about what I ate for breakfast, the color of a kids shoes, etc. Handwritten notes tended to have more of a theme to them because they carried a certain tone, kind of like my diary.

Speed- Because I can type faster than I can write, my fingers tend to go a little faster than my brain. There are a lot of half formed thoughts, a lot of stupid sentences, and it tends to be wordy when I am typing. Handwritten notes on the other hand had shorter sentences, more concise thoughts, and contained less monotonous details or filler words. Handwritten notes also tended to feel less formal than typing.

Pictures- Unlike jottings, you do not have the liberty to draw or diagram when you are dealing with a computer. When I was handwriting I was free to explore those options. Handwriting itself is also more intimate to look at than Times New Roman.

Twi- There are certain letters in the Twi language that could not be typed on a computer, which was frustrating when it came to practicing. It was much easier to record Twi phrases once I was hand writing my notes.

Personality- Field notes as a medium in general are limited because while some personality does seep through (and did more with my project than with the typical field study student), there is a filter that is in place because someone else is meant to read it. Those are the types of things that get mediated through a diary.

Cover: This is the opening page to the 310 typed up (transcribed the handwritten notes) pages of daily field notes over 91 days.

Coding: Here you can see how I have color coded my notes to try and make sense of my data. I look at different mediums, avatars, literature, language, spending, etc to try and pull out similar themes and topics.

Normal Page: This is a very typical page in my typed up field notes. You can see some of the coding I mentioned earlier and the questions I have asked myself in the margins. You can also see how I have numbered my paragraphs on the inner margin to categorize my data.

Details: This page shows another sample of typed up notes. It shows a lot of detailed description that was part of typed notes, showing that these typed notes can get kind of wordy.

Handwritten Begins: Here is the first page of my transcribed handwritten notes. You will see some of my frustrations as well as some of my initial impressions of the benefits of handwriting field notes.

Shorter: As I was afraid of, handwritten notes tended to be much shorter than the typed up notes. Here is acknowledge that. The black smear is just where I have tried to conceal the contact information for my friends.

Last Page: This is the last entry I put into my handwritten field notes. You can see that the sentences are much shorter than in the typed notes and that it has more of a tone to it. It seemed to be between a diary and field notes when I would write my notes by hand.

(Data found in filed notes FN:1-5, FN:6:1, FN:7:15, FN:8:13, FN:9:7, FN:10:4, FN:14:1, FN:16:17, FN:16:9, FN:17:2, FN:18:1, FN:18:22, FN:26:6, FN:26:10, FN:33:17-19, FN:34:1, FN:35:5, FN:35:9, FN:35:12, FN:36:3, FN:40:27, FN:68:1, FN:68:4, FN:73:4-6, FN:74:1, FN:74:4, FN:75:1, FN:80:20, FN:87:14)

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