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Home arrow Environment arrow Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches

The Log

A log is a running account of how you plan to spend your time, how you actually spend your time, and how much money you spent. A good log is the key to doing systematic fieldwork and to collecting both qualitative and quantitative data on a systematic basis.

A field log should be kept in bound books of blank, lined pages. Some of my students have been able to use PDAs with schedule-planning apps for their logs, but there’s something to be said for a big, clunky logbook, at least 6" X 8" in size so that you can see at a glance what your agenda is as you have that first cup of coffee in the morning.

Each day of fieldwork, whether you’re out for a year or a week, should be represented by a double page of the log. The pages on the left should list what you plan to do on any given day. The facing pages will recount what you actually do each day.

Begin your log on pages 2 and 3. Put the date on the top of the even-numbered page to the left. Then, go through the entire notebook and put the successive dates on the even- numbered pages. By doing this in advance, even the days on which you ‘‘do nothing,’’ or are away from your field site, will have double log pages devoted to them.

The first day or two that you make a log you will use only the right-hand pages where you keep track of where you go, who you see, and what you spend. Some people like to carry their logs around with them. Others prefer to jot down the names of the people they run into or interview, and enter the information into their logs when they write up their notes in the evening. Keep a file of 25-word profiles on as many people you meet as you can.

You can start by jotting profiles on index cards (one for each person you meet) and then moving the profile to your computer when you write your field notes. Before you go into any second or third interview, look up the key biographical information you have about the person (PDAs are perfect for this sort of thing). During the first couple of minutes of the interview, work in a comment that shows you remember some of those key bio-facts. You’ll be surprised how far that’ll take you.

Jot down the times that you eat and what you eat, and write down who you eat with and how much you spend on all meals away from your house. You’d be surprised at how much you learn from this, too.

After a day or two, you will begin to use the left-hand sheets of the log. As you go through any given day, you will think of many things that you want to know but can’t resolve on the spot. Write those things down in your jot book or in your log. When you write up your field notes, think about who you need to interview, or what you need to observe, regarding each of the things you wondered about that day.

Right then and there, open your log and commit yourself to finding each thing out at a particular time on a particular day. If finding something out requires that you talk to a particular person, then put that person’s name in the log, too. If you don’t know the person to talk to, then put down the name of someone whom you think can steer you to the right person.

Suppose you’re studying a school system. It’s April 5 and you are talking to MJR, a fifth-grade teacher. She tells you that since the military government took over, children have to study politics for 2 hours every day and she doesn’t like it. Write a note to yourself in your log to ask mothers of some of the children about this issue and to interview the school principal.

Later on, when you are writing up your notes, you may decide not to interview the principal until after you have accumulated more data about how mothers in the community feel about the new curriculum. On the left-hand page for April 23 you note: ‘‘target date for interview with school principal.’’ On the left-hand page of April 10 you note: ‘‘make appointment for interview on 23rd with school principal.’’ For April 6 you note: ‘‘need interviews with mothers about new curriculum.”

As soon as it comes to you that you need to know how many kilowatt hours of electricity were burned in a village, or the difference in price between fish sold off a boat and the same fish sold in the local market, commit yourself in your log to a specific time when you will try to get answers to your questions. Whether the question you think of requires a formal appointment, or a direct, personal observation, or an informal interview in a bar, write the question down in one of the left-hand pages of your log.

Don’t worry if the planned activity log you create for yourself winds up looking nothing like the activities you actually engage in from day to day. Frankly, you’ll be lucky to do half the things you think of to do, much less do them when you want to. The important thing is to fill those left-hand pages, as far out into the future as you can, with specific information that you need and specific tasks you need to perform to get that information.

This is not just because you want to use your time effectively, but because the process of building a log forces you to think hard about the questions you really want to answer in your research and the data you really need. You will start any field research project knowing some of the questions you are interested in. But those questions may change; you may add some and drop others—or your entire emphasis may shift.

The right-hand pages of the log are for recording what you actually accomplish each day. As I said, you’ll be appalled at first at how little resemblance the left-hand and the right-hand pages have to one another. You’ll get over it. Just keep reminding yourself that good fieldwork does not depend on the punctuality of informants or on your ability to do all the things you want to do. It depends on your systematic work over a period of time. If some informants do not show up for appointments (and often they won’t), you can evaluate whether or not you really need the data you thought you were going to get from them. If you do need the data, put a note on the left-hand page for that same day, or for the next day, to contact the informant and reschedule the appointment.

If you still have no luck, you may have to decide whether it’s worth more of your time to track down a particular person or a particular piece of information. Your log will tell you how much time you’ve spent on it already and will make the decision easier. There’s plenty of time for everything when you think you’ve got months stretching ahead of you.

But you only have a finite amount of time in any fieldwork project to get useful data, and the time goes very quickly.

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