Observational writing can be applied to many fields and subjects. You may find it working its way into general writing courses as well as disciplines that require some form of qualitative research. In essence, observational writing is a form of 'direct investigation' as it looks to analyze the precise details of an event, person, area, situation, concept, or phenomena.
In other words, observational writing attempts to provide the reader with a sensory experience that allows them to see the subject 'as if they themselves were present.' In addition, it also works to bring a new and crisp interpretation to light (for instance, taking a common occurrence, such as animals in their habitat and presenting it in an unexpected or alternative manner).
Different forms of observation
There are many reasons to conduct an observation. To begin, a distinction should be made between observations that are done to compile information and the observations that are done to formulate an observational essay. In some cases a writer of a fictional story, poet, or even a news article writer
may decide to include some brief observations in their writing as means of adding interest to the piece or in some cases providing necessary evidence to prove a particular point. Likewise, a researcher, with a topic in psychology, may also include some bits of observation in the midst of conducting qualitative research. All of these examples fall under observations done to collect or compile information or data
The observational essay, on the other hand, is an essay entirely devoted to a particular observation of a person, place, event or object (rather than being one component of a larger project such as a research paper or news article). This type of writing follows its own set of guidelines and formatting.
Generally an observational essay will;
- Place the author as an outside observer
- Make a 'fresh' or new observation of the subject
- Include sensory details
- If an event provide the details of it step-by-step
- Be more than a compilation of notes, but engaging and interesting to read as well
- Provide some insight into the subject and or reflection on what has been observed
Though all of these descriptions may not apply to every observational essay
, they are a general guideline of what to expect when reading or preparing this form of writing.
Writing the observational essay
Step #1-What should you write about?
A suitable topic for an observational essay can range from a kid's playground in your local neighborhood to a colony of bees enjoying the morning sun; despite the selection, it's important to choose a subject that you are comfortable writing about and can see yourself having easy access to (without being overly involved or interfering with the subject).
For instance, with the example of a kid's playground, if you go to the playground with your own child or a friend's child you know that you will have an impact on that environment. And the same can be said for a bee colony-your mere presence may disrupt the activity of the bees present and therefore influence the results of the observation. Which leads us to the second step; choosing whether or not to be an outside observer (spectator) or an active participant in your observation.
Step #2-What is your role?
In most cases writers may find being a spectator as the most comfortable role to take on for the observational essay. This may be for several reason; one being, that as an observer you really get to concentrate on taking detailed notes at the moment, rather than recalling information later on (as would likely be the case if you were a participant). Though writing as a participant as well may occur in many situations where the choice is really unavoidable. For instance, if you wanted to write an observational piece on your brother's graduation or something of this nature, it would really be difficult to not get involved. Similarly. in some cases even if you have the option of being only a spectator, you must also factor in the possible influence you may have on the environment, event, or person being studied.
Step #3 Observe and take detailed notes
This is obviously one of the most important steps for this particular essay
(as your notes are your paper
for the most part). Its important to consider several factors when taking detailed notes, some of them include; mood, feeling, and sensory details such as smell and sound. Also the importance of providing clear and precise visual descriptions to make the reader 'feel as if' they were experiencing the event or observing the subject as you are observing is heavily stressed. *The exact order in which things occurred is also important when observing an event taking place.
Step #4 Reflect on your notes, elaborate, and organize
Reflection in some form usually has its place in an observational essay whereas reactions may or may not be included. The difference is that reactions may be limited to specific feelings and thoughts as it relates to something in particular that was observed, whereas reflections are generally more planned and poised in their presentations. Your reflections for instance, may look at the 'bigger picture' or connect what occurred (or what was observed) to larger concepts or ideas.
Secondly, elaborating on your notes is a good way to really get your paper started. Elaboration may simply include adding in a few questions that you may want to explore, or providing more details to an already existing description. You may decide to focus on your most memorable point of observation and provide a lengthy explanation of that and so on. Also at this point you should begin organizing your information; identify a few specific organizational structures, test them out, and see how each will work out for your essay
*Depending on the subject that is being observed, you may decide to describe the information in (a) the order that it occurred, (b) according to what you consider to be the most relevant or important issue, or you may decide to even (c) organize it in the form of a narrative. One of the biggest issues that will influence your organizational structure is mainly the subject that you've examined and the audience that you are preparing the essay for (Think-which structure will work best for them?).
Step #6 Start your first draft!
Now that you've done all the work and laid out all of the necessary information, you can begin to formulate your first draft. You may find it beneficial to also design an informal outline prior to writing your first draft, though this is not always necessary. Likewise, depending on how well you took to elaborating on your notes, much of your first draft should already be in motion. The only other issues that may need to be addressed are how you will unify the different items observed, transition paragraphs
and constructing a sound and engaging introduction to grab your reader's attention as well as set the tone for your essay.