Overt Participant Observation – Advantages and Disadvantages

Overt Participant Observation

Are you a student of sociology and working on your final year research project? If yes, then you must have been aware of the different methods of research that sociologists use to study their research participants. Overt participant observation is one of the very useful methods being used in sociology to collect data about a population by observing it. This research method is the most ethical form of research where the participants know that they are being observed by the researcher.

However, the overt participant observation research method has some risks too. It means there are advantages as well as disadvantages to using this method. What are the untold pros and cons of this sociology research method? This is the question around which our whole discussion will revolve around. But, let’s start today’s topic by defining the overt observation method first and giving some of its examples in sociology.

What Is Overt Participant Observation?

Observation has been a very common research data collection method in sociology and other fields like psychology. As far as overt observation is concerned, in this type of research method, the researcher opens up with its population. It means that he approaches them, mixes with them, and studies their habits. One of the most important things during this process is that the research participants know that they are being observed and studied. The researcher communicates with them before the research starts and explains the research purpose, aims and objectives.

Examples Of Overt Participant Observation

  1. Eileen Barker, the writer of the book “The Making of a Moonie,” has used this research method to study the research participants. In her studies, she attended workshops to identify whether the members of the Unification Church were brainwashed to join it or if it all happened by choice.
  2. William F. Whyte, the writer of “Street Corner Society,” has also used overt participant observation to study the behaviour of a juvenile gang.

Advantages Of Overt Observation

From the discussion above, you now have a good idea of what this observation method is, and the examples given above must have strengthened your knowledge. As described earlier, there are many things that are associated with this research method. Some things fall in the category of advantages, and some fall in the category of disadvantages. So, now, let’s have a chat about the pros and cons of overt observation. First of all, let’s talk about the advantages, and then we will move on to the disadvantages.

1. No Problem With Access To A Certain Group

The first benefit of this observation method is that there is no access problem. It means that if you are open to joining a group, you can do so without having the usual qualifications, as in the case of covert observation. As it is informed observation, your qualifications do not matter a lot. As a researcher, you can be of any age, gender, or ethnicity. The research participants are going to welcome you to their club and answer the research questions diligently.

2. Easy To Generate And Record Data

Every research method aims at collecting relevant data about a population and data which is not hard to collect. The overt participant observation solves this problem and helps the researcher generate data easily. As the participants already know that they are being observed, there is no hindrance in the data collection and recording. The researcher can record the observations using a voice recorder, and the participants do not have any problem with it.

3. Digging Deep And Gaining Valuable Insights

Another advantage of the overt participant observation method is that it allows the researcher to dig more into the research population and gain valuable insights. Being a friendly observation strategy, it allows the researcher to be friends with the research participants. Sometimes, the researcher gets so mixed with the participants that he feels like a part of them. Whyte found out that he became so involved in the lives of gang members that he came to see himself as one of their members.

Disadvantages Of Overt Participant Observation

After discussing the advantages, let’s now shed some light on the disadvantages. A brief description of the disadvantages is as follows:

1. Time-Taking And Expensive

This observation method is a very time-taking and expensive process. To fully immerse in the environment of a population and study its habits can take several years. During this period, to sustain life, the researcher also has to spend a lot of money on his own and the research also. So, it is a potential drawback of this observation research method that you cannot conduct it if you are short on time and have very few expenses.

2. The Reliability Of The Data Is In Danger

It is one of the greatest disadvantages of overt participant observation. As your research participants know that they are being observed, they may act differently. This knowledge of their observation can make them act differently than normal. If they do so, then it is a big question mark on the reliability of your research results. If your research results are not reliable, it means your research is not good enough to be published. Hence, the reliability of your observation results is in danger.

3. Difficulty In Data Interpretation

Any social group has many things happening at the same time. In this chaos, as a researcher, how are you going to interpret the data correctly? So, it is the third major disadvantage of this research method. It makes it difficult to observe every person in the social group and what he is doing. So, there is a chance that significant evidence may be missed.


Overt participant observation is undoubtedly a useful research method in sociology that can create a realistic picture of the research participants’ behaviour. However, there is always a danger that the participants may act differently as they know about your aims and objectives. So, keep the above-mentioned advantages and disadvantages in mind and then decide about which method to go with.

Author Bio:

Emma Charlotte is the author of this article. She works with a top dissertation writing service UK, The Academic Papers UK as a research analyst. She loves to write guide articles to assist students in academic research.