What are Field Notes?

Field notes refer to various notes recorded by scientists during or after their observation of a specific phenomenon they are studying. Field notes are particularly valued in descriptive sciences such as ethnography, biology, geology, and archaeology, each of which has long traditions in this area. Emerson (1995) defines field notes in ethnography (a term generally referring to descriptive writing in anthropology and the subfield of sociology) as ‘accounts describing experiences and observations the researcher has made while participating in an intense and involved manner.

A key source containing case materials about fieldnote writing—for example, about the relationship between fieldnotes and memory and the interconnections among field research process, fieldnotes, and post-fieldwork ethnographic work—is the 1990 collection edited by Roger Sanjek, Fieldnotes: The Making of Anthropology. Field notes are one means employed by qualitative researchers whose main objective is to understand the actual perspectives of the subject being studied. Field notes allow the researcher to access the subject and record what they observe unobtrusively. However, one major disadvantage is that field notes are recorded by an observer and are subject to (a) memory and (b) possibly, the conscious or unconscious bias of the observer.

How are Field Notes Related to UX?

In user experience (UX), field notes can be used to document observations made during user research and testing, such as user behaviors, attitudes, and emotions.

Field notes can be an essential tool for UX researchers as they can provide a rich, detailed account of user behavior and interactions with a product or service. They can also help researchers to capture observations that may not be easily quantifiable or recorded in other ways, such as nonverbal communication or subtle changes in user behavior.

Field notes can be used in a variety of ways in UX research, including:

  1. Capturing user behavior and interactions: Field notes can help researchers to document user behavior and interactions with a product or service in detail, including any issues or challenges they encounter.
  2. Identifying patterns and trends: By reviewing and analyzing field notes, researchers can identify patterns and trends in user behavior and use this information to inform design decisions.
  3. Enhancing user research: Field notes can supplement other forms of user research, such as interviews or surveys, to provide a complete understanding of user behavior and attitudes.
  4. Providing context for user research findings: Field notes provide context for user research findings, such as the cultural or social norms shaping user behavior.

To effectively use field notes in UX research, it is essential to review and analyze them regularly and to use them to inform design decisions and iterative testing. Maintaining accurate and detailed field notes is also essential, as they can be an important data source for future research.

Tips for Writing Useful UX Field Notes

Here are some tips for writing helpful UX field notes:

  1. Write regularly: Make a habit of writing field notes regularly during user research or testing sessions. This helps ensure that observations are captured accurately and promptly.
  2. Be detailed and specific: Write detailed and specific observations rather than generalizations or interpretations. This helps ensure that the field notes accurately capture the user experience.
  3. Focus on behaviors and interactions: Field notes should focus on behaviors and interactions rather than opinions or attitudes. This can provide a more objective account of the user experience.
  4. Record nonverbal communication: Be sure to record any nonverbal communication or cues, such as facial expressions or body language, as these can provide important insights into user behavior.
  5. Use relevant descriptions: Use relevant and descriptive language to capture the user experience accurately. Avoid jargon or technical terms that may be unfamiliar to readers.
  6. Keep the notes organized: Logically organize field notes, using headings and subheadings as needed. This helps make the notes easier to review and analyze later.
  7. Review and analyze field notes regularly: Regularly review and analyze field notes to identify patterns and trends in user behavior. Use this information to inform design decisions and iterative testing.