Field Observation

THE GRAMMAR OF OBSERVATION
NOUNS

Sunstein & Chiserie-Strater, 2014, p. 173

Fieldwriters draw on an abundance of detail by making lists in their fieldnotes of actual people, places, and things that both they and their informants observe. Sometimes these lists appear in a final text.

NOUNS

Sunstein & Chiserie-Strater, 2014, p. 173

But each fall the grass at that memorial site gets trampled into mud, and the slim cemetery is overtaken for purposes of October profit by ghost tours. One year I snapped a picture of a large sign at the cemetery gates that read “Candle Lit Ghostly Tours,” flanked by a plywood and tent village that sold “gobbler” (turkey) sandwiches, root beer floats, fried dough, soup in a bun, coffee, foot- long hot dogs, ice cream, clam chowder, sodas, hot chocolate, chili, and French fries. A few feet across from this vending village, a patchwork of temporary tarp walls hid the sides of the colonial brick buildings in the area. Small-time entre- preneurs had erected sidewalk-scale haunted houses with such names as the “Witching Hour.”

VERBS

Sunstein & Chiserie-Strater, 2014, p. 173

Strong verbs assist all writers because they bring action to the page. A strong verb can capture motion in one word. The words walk, saunter, lumber, dart, toddle, slither, sneak, clomp, traipse, schlep, dawdle, and pace all refer to a similar action. Walk is the weakest word in the list, but it is the one that would most readily come to mind. Forcing yourself to find the right verb makes you look more closely at the action in your fieldsite so that you can describe it. Finding the right verb makes you a more accurate fieldwriter. But finding the right verb may not happen until you’ve drafted and redrafted.

VERBS

Sunstein & Chiserie-Strater, 2014, p. 173

Try what we call a “verb pass.” Scan through your text, and highlight or circle the tired, flabby, and overused verbs that flatten prose. Most often, these are forms of the verb to be or passive voice constructions. Excise these with no remorse. Substitute more precise and more interesting verbs to describe the actions you’ve observed. Haul the action forward with active, not passive, verbs. Locate focal points, metaphors, and cultural themes in your data to get ideas for new verb choices.

ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS

Sunstein & Chiserie-Strater, 2014, p. 174

Cultural assumptions can hinde inside the adjectives and adverbs fieldworkers use. When you write "The dinner table was arranged beautifully" or "The perky dog greeted me with a frenzied lick" or "The sultry atmosphere was warm and friendly" or "The dull, dirty apartment was crammed with cheap blue pottery," the qualifying words convey value judgment that are not verifiable because they belong to you. As a fieldwriter, let your reader make the judgment from the material you present. And let your informants and your other data contribute that material.

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