What is scientific observation?

By Ainne Thompson / On / In Research

Scientific observation is one of the most important methods of research, and formally defined as the examination of a fact or phenomenon with an express purpose, to be able to collect data systematically and apply them to the study in execution.

Scientific observation seeks to establish relationships between the object analyzed and what is intended to know or verify it. For this, the researcher uses his five senses, and can use elements and machinery that expand their analysis capacity and provide more data quality and quantity.

Characteristics of scientific observation


Scientific observation always pursues an objective, in relation to the study that frames its action. Unlike other observations, in the scientific the researcher seeks to know parameters, factors or specific data in a previously identified object.


Scientific observation has a previous planning. It does not occur spontaneously, but is carried out with a prior control of the conditions, or with a prior preparation by the researcher. This planning, in addition, responds to a systematic methodology, thus being able to reiterate the observation if necessary.


Another characteristic of scientific observation is that its results, observations or collected data can be recorded systematically, either in an explicit quantitative or qualitative way. The results of the observation, in general, are not free of interpretation, but specific and specific.

Controlled methodology

Scientific observation, when planned, allows obtaining valid and reliable data and knowledge. Especially research conducted in controlled environments, the phenomena observed will not change if the observation is repeated, and can be taken as valid with only one presentation in many subjects of study.

It has steps and order

When planned and have a specific goal, the scientific observation is done in steps: first its objective is defined, the necessary material is prepared, the scenario is created or searched, the data recording methodology is chosen, it is carried out, analyzed their results, and they are informed or applied in the specific project or framework.

You must define your scenario

Scientific observation has specific scenarios, which determine how the methodology and instruments (including previous skills or knowledge) that are necessary for its realization will be. They can be defined from the topic or object to analyze:

They can be systematic or unsystematic (for scenarios, themes and terrains unknown or known, respectively).

They can be natural or artificial (depending on the situation or object: whether it needs to be a controlled or created environment, or to be observed in the natural environment without modification or intervention whatsoever – for example: Gesell camera observation and observation of the fighting technique in a wild pack).

Your modalities

According to the object of study, the end and its scenario (field or laboratory, structured or unstructured, individual or group, and other details), scientific observation chooses its most appropriate modalities:

  • Participants or non-participants (with or without the presence and / or interaction of the researcher)
  • Direct or indirect (depending on the possibilities and the necessary environment for the correct analysis, for this instrumental is used: from measuring rules to microscopes, or other elements that expand their capacities or allow to obtain data that the own senses could not obtain – radio frequencies, infrared, analysis of microorganisms and particles or other-.)


There are several types of scientific observation, which must be defined together with its main objective:

  • Descriptive: The researcher does not interfere in any way, but the data records are as they are presented.
  • Inferential: The researcher may or may not interfere, but his records are made after an interpretation on his part.
  • Evaluative: The researcher interferes with both observation and data records – for example, analyzing in controlled situations and inferring results, as in a psychiatric investigation.


Despite its indisputable efficiency capacity, scientific observation also has limitations regarding its scope and possibilities. For example:

  • It can not (or is very difficult to be) done in large populations or in too long time frames.
  • It can not be definitive when evaluating living organisms or susceptible to non-controllable phenomena in natural environments (for example: in society, by climate, etc.).
  • When performed by a human researcher, it can present failures in the interpretation of data.
  • In many cases, the results are not evaluable or quantifiable.
  • In controlled scenarios, the results are not always applicable to all cases (for example: observation of the development of cells in a laboratory may not be reflected in living organisms).


Scientific observation has many advantages over other methods of analysis:

  • It can interact with other analysis methodologies.
  • It allows a direct experience between the researcher and the object (first hand compilation).
  • It can be done remotely, out of time or in experimental conditions.
  • It facilitates the collection of very detailed data and applied directly according to the subject of study.