Using direct observational methods to study the real lives of families: Advantages, complexities, and conceptual and practical considerations
Whether describing jobs, families, or work-family processes, research on the interface between work experiences and family life has relied almost exclusively on participant-report measures in which the respondent describes the self or another target, such as a spouse. These methods offer an obvious advantage to researchers in that they are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. But there are shortcomings, and direct observational methods offer an alternative. This chapter focuses on the use of direct observational methods to address research questions in the work-family field, particularly their use in the assessment of families. We begin by discussing sources of error in participant reports and then move to a discussion of key issues involved in designing a direct observational study and in making sense of the data. Throughout, we distinguish between naturalistic designs and approaches that incorporate greater researcher control over what is observed.