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All types of research involve some element of observation. It is not just observational studies that use observation. For example, when we use self report measures we observe the responses of the participants, when we carry out experiments we observe the behaviour of our participants and so on.

Observation studies are those where the researcher observes a situation and records what happens but does not manipulate an independent variable.

Observational studies therefore tend to be high in ecological validity as there is no intervention and if the observer remains undetected the method avoids problems with experimenter effects.

On the other hand observational studies are difficult to replicate.

There are a number of different types of observational studies including non-participant and participant observations, undisclosed observations and structured and unstructured observations.

A non-participant observation is a type of observational study whereby the researcher does not join in with the activity being observed.

A participant observation is a type of observational study where the observer is also a participant in the activity being studied.

An undisclosed observation is a type of observational study whereby the participants are not fully aware that they are being studied.

A structured observation is where the researchers design a type of coding scheme to record their behaviour. Structured observations generally provide quantitative data.

An unstructured observation simply involves the researchers recording the behaviour they can see. This can be difficult without the use of recording equipment (such as a video camera), can be difficult to analyse but does provide rich qualitative data.