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HOW TO WRITE FIELD NOTES

The method I present here for making and coding field notes was developed and tested by the late Michael Kenny and me, between 1967 and 1971, when we ran those NSF- supported field schools in cultural anthropology that I described in chapter 12. Kenny and I relied initially on our own experience with field notes, and we borrowed freely from the experience of many colleagues. The method we developed—involving jottings, a diary, a daily log, and three kinds of formal notes—was used by 40 field-school participants in the United States and in Mexico and by others since then.

Two things can be said about the method I’m going to lay out here: (1) It works; and (2) It’s not the only way to do things. If you do field research, you’ll develop your own style of writing notes and you’ll add your own little tricks as you go along. Still, the method described here will help you work systematically at taking field notes and it will allow you to search through them quickly and easily to look for relations in your data. I wish I had used this method when I was doing my own M.A. and Ph.D. fieldwork—and I wish that computers and database management systems had been available then, too.

 
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