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Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes Paperback – Aug 15 1995


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (Aug. 15 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226206815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226206813
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #410,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

About the Author

Robert M. Emerson is professor emeritus in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Judging Delinquents: Context and Process in Juvenile Court, editor of Contemporary Field Research: Perspectives and Formulations, and coauthor of Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes.


Rachel I. Fretz is a lecturer in the Writing Programs unit at UCLA.


Linda L. Shaw is professor in and chair of the sociology department at California State University, San Marcos.

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Format: Paperback
Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes was written to fill a gap in ethnographic methods training - students are seldom guided through the process of turning notes jotted down as they do observation into publishable ethnographic documents. Not laden with academic jargon, the easy flowing text makes this book readily accessible to the undergraduate student - but the content is such that even an experienced ethnographer can benefit.
True teachers, Emerson, Shaw and Fretz (UCLA faculty) show just as much of the process as they tell. Step by step, readers are walked through the process of turning initial chicken scratches jotted down on scrap paper to publishable ethnographic documents. Rarely will you find more than a page between excerpts from real fieldnotes.
The authors recognize that every field situation is different and ethnographers rarely, if ever, find themselves in ideal situations for writing. Thus, they explain the tensions that constantly pull at ethnographers and also what things will become much easier as ethnographers gain experience. They discuss how to balance observing with writing, and demonstrate that how you write fieldnotes (what you emphasize, point-of-view used, quality of description, representing community members' voices) is just as important as what you write.
Redundancy might be a weak point, but overall the re-explaining of things in two or three different ways serves only to make the reader experience and assimilate the process of writing fieldnotes. Readers can then naturally employ the procedures rather than constantly referring to the book as a "checklist" when doing fieldwork.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone seeking to understand the worldview and customs of another culture, or doing social research within their own culture.
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Format: Paperback
"Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes" is the only title I have seen specifically looking at the process of how one goes about collecting and writing ethnograhpic data. The book begins with theoretical issues, then moves into jotting, full fieldnotes, and finally discusses how to analyze fieldnotes and write a full ethnography. In general it is an excellent treatment of the subject and provides very practical advice which is well-illustrated by samples collected by the authors and their students. The authros show a marked preferrence for interpretive and processual anthropology (there are frequent referrences to Clifford Geertz among others) so researchers and students with strong comittments to other approaches might not find it as useful as I did. If the book suffers from any shortcoming it is that at points the explanations become too wordy bogging the reader down somewhat. While this book would not be of much interest to the non-professional reader, I highly recommend it to anyone who is studying, practicing, or teaching ethnographic method. I found it very useful and practical.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 20 reviews
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
A "how-to" manual for turning observation into publication Aug. 6 2001
By Amy Schondelmeyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes was written to fill a gap in ethnographic methods training - students are seldom guided through the process of turning notes jotted down as they do observation into publishable ethnographic documents. Not laden with academic jargon, the easy flowing text makes this book readily accessible to the undergraduate student - but the content is such that even an experienced ethnographer can benefit.
True teachers, Emerson, Shaw and Fretz (UCLA faculty) show just as much of the process as they tell. Step by step, readers are walked through the process of turning initial chicken scratches jotted down on scrap paper to publishable ethnographic documents. Rarely will you find more than a page between excerpts from real fieldnotes.
The authors recognize that every field situation is different and ethnographers rarely, if ever, find themselves in ideal situations for writing. Thus, they explain the tensions that constantly pull at ethnographers and also what things will become much easier as ethnographers gain experience. They discuss how to balance observing with writing, and demonstrate that how you write fieldnotes (what you emphasize, point-of-view used, quality of description, representing community members' voices) is just as important as what you write.
Redundancy might be a weak point, but overall the re-explaining of things in two or three different ways serves only to make the reader experience and assimilate the process of writing fieldnotes. Readers can then naturally employ the procedures rather than constantly referring to the book as a "checklist" when doing fieldwork.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone seeking to understand the worldview and customs of another culture, or doing social research within their own culture. Even if your goal is not to do anthropology or to publish ethnographic documents, turning your experiences and observations into written text helps you to process things. Writing also helps you gain insights about the community you are working with by increasing your observational skills. You will not regret taking time to read Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
An Excellent Resource July 21 2006
By Grant H. Potts - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw have put together not only an excellent handbook for writing ethnographic fieldnotes, but an insightful study of the practical issues confronting anyone doing interpretative writing about culture.

The book's primary focus is on how to effectively take and maintain fieldnotes. They appropriately begin at the ground by discussing how to take jottings and other quick notes, providing memory cues for the later write up of complete fieldnotes. Always keeping the focus on the task of writing, while balancing that with the task of honest and rigorous reporting, they give excellent advice for how to create a clear record of your field experience. While their focus is primarily on an ethnographic style of careful observation of interactions, their ideas remain useful to those with other theoretical concerns. Because they are always keeping an eye toward the end product of a finished, written document, this book also provides and excellent resource for how to use your fieldnotes in order to write a finished ethnography.

But this is not just an excellent book for ethnographic fieldworkers. Reading the book not only gave me solid ideas for my fieldwork, but also for the task of reading and note-taking around text-based and image-based culture. Additionally, I see this as an invaluable tool for someone engaged in more journalistic research, and for those of us who teach and tutor writing.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Little in size, Great the message Sept. 15 2005
By Jimmy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I had checked out several research methodology books to find out 'how' to keep fieldnotes. I had been looking for very 'practical' and 'down to earth' reference which can offer me the real examples and approaches of fieldsnotes. Although there were good research methodology books, I could hardly find the reference for 'fieldnotes'.

The content of this practical and theoretical guide to fieldnotes is quite satisfactory and now I think I know how to keep my own fieldnotes. The text size, however, is so small that I got tired of reading it. On the whole, I am satisfied with this little booklet (small in size but big in quality) and I would love to recommend this book to those who are interested in writing qualitative research articles.

Jimmy Lee, PhD Student, mmed, Florida State University
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Useful for students of ethnography Dec 26 2000
By Stephen Boyanton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
"Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes" is the only title I have seen specifically looking at the process of how one goes about collecting and writing ethnograhpic data. The book begins with theoretical issues, then moves into jotting, full fieldnotes, and finally discusses how to analyze fieldnotes and write a full ethnography. In general it is an excellent treatment of the subject and provides very practical advice which is well-illustrated by samples collected by the authors and their students. The authros show a marked preferrence for interpretive and processual anthropology (there are frequent referrences to Clifford Geertz among others) so researchers and students with strong comittments to other approaches might not find it as useful as I did. If the book suffers from any shortcoming it is that at points the explanations become too wordy bogging the reader down somewhat. While this book would not be of much interest to the non-professional reader, I highly recommend it to anyone who is studying, practicing, or teaching ethnographic method. I found it very useful and practical.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Not just for anthropologists March 20 2009
By E. M. Van Court - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I'm fully prepared for outrage from people in the social sciences, but... The title caught my eye for two reasons. First, I recently read a protracted rant by an anthropologist, and was interested in gaining a better understanding of his context. Second, I am a fan of Kipling's "Kim", and wanted a clearer understanding of an occult (to me) discipline practiced in colonial India of the Victorian era; ethnography. I was impressed by the depth of the writing and the broad utility of the concepts presented, and I achieved my primary goals of a better understanding of cultural anthropology and ethnography.

The structure of the book follows the process of writing an ethnography. Go to the field, listen, interview, and take notes. Several categories of notes are addressed, from the hasty single word memory aids to the detailed write-ups at the end of each reseach day. The multi-stage process from fragmentary notations to a structured final product is carefully described with an excellent balance between the needs of prose, the scholarly and analytical needs, and the ethical considerations towards the groups and individuals being researched. Although not specifically about the field work of observation, casual questioning, and interviews, considerable knowledge can be gleaned from a careful reading of this book.

Critical thinking, in the broadest sense, is encouraged throughout this book as is the precursor to critical thinking, meticulous and unjudgemental observation. The authors continually exort the reader to refrain from framing information within a conventional conceptual construct and to avoid categorization of people and activities.

Stylistic advice is clear and well thought out. Whether to write from first, third, or an omniscient perspective are all given due consideration and appropriate circumstances for each are discussed. Organizaton and themes are also carefully considered.

I whole-heartedly recommend this book for anyone in any discipline that involves observation of people, interviews, documentation of this fieldwork, and production of a report or publication.

E. M. Van Court


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