Chapter 13: Unobtrusive Research: Qualitative And Quantitative Approaches

13.2 Weaknesses of Unobtrusive Research

While there are many benefits to unobtrusive research, this method also comes with a unique set of drawbacks. Because unobtrusive researchers analyze data that may have been created or gathered for purposes entirely different from the researcher’s aim, problems of validity sometimes arise in such projects. It may also be the case that data sources measuring whatever a researcher wishes to examine simply do not exist. This means that unobtrusive researchers may be forced to tweak their original research interests or questions to better suit the data that are available to them. Finally, it can be difficult in unobtrusive research projects to account for context. In a field research project, for example, the researcher is able to see what events lead up to some occurrence and observe how people respond to that occurrence. What this means for unobtrusive research is that while it can be difficult to ascertain why something occurred, we can gain a good understanding of what has occurred.

The weaknesses of unobtrusive research include the following:

  1. There may be potential problems with validity.
  2. The topics or questions that can be investigated are limited by data availability.
  3. It can be difficult to see or account for social context.

The strengths of unobtrusive research include the following:

  1. There is no possibility for the Hawthorne effect.
  2. The method is cost effective.
  3. It is easier in unobtrusive research than with other methods to correct mistakes.
  4. Unobtrusive methods are conducive to examining processes that occur over time or in the past.


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