Non-Behavioral Observation Research Paper

Content and Formating Guidelines for your Observational Research Paper.

The main components of your paper include: A Title page, Introduction, Method, Results, Conclusions (or Discussion), References, your diagram of the room layout and your observation notes/checklist. For the page count only the Introduction, Method, Results and Conclusions/discussion are counted.

Please refer to the link below for how to format your paper (this shows you how to set up your title page, how to use headers, etc).

The following is important information for you on what and how to write the various sections of your paper. Please read it carefully and refer to it when writing your paper. Organization and presentation is worth 5 pts.


:(This should be 1/2 to 1 page long.) 10 points

1. Introduce the question

. Try to be concise and stay focused on your question. Don't have a long, philosophical discussion of the general importance or wonder about a larger issue

Bad Example

: For centuries philosophers and scientists have marvelled and wondered at the processes that enable a single cell to develop into the complex, mulifaceted, unpredictable organism we call the child. How does this immobile blob transform itself into a sentient being that can move with dexterity around his ever changing environment?

Good Example

: Physical and motor development during the first 18 months includes a number of important milestones, such as sitting, crawling and walking. Of particular interest to developmental psychologists is how and when these motor skills develop and transform.

2. Discuss relevant research

. Describe research that addressed the question that you are looking at.

Example: When first learning to talk, around 12 months of age, infants' speech is characterized by single word utterances that can have many meanings, such as using "ball" to mean "there is the ball", "give me the ball", or "take the ball away" (Someone, 1954). By the time a child is three years old, they are talking in complex sentences, although they may make grammatical errors, such as saying "foots" instead of "feet" or "goed" instead of "went" (Pinker, 1986).

When citing research, one study must include a brief description of the method (what did they do and who did they do it to), the results (what did they find), and the conclusion (what did they infer). Each of these need only be 1 or two sentences. You don't need detail or numbers. For example: (in parentheses I indicate what type of material is presented)

(This is not a real reference)

In a study by Thelen (1990) 24 six-month-olds were either given stepping experience on a treadmill or in the water or were given no stepping experience. (this is the method) She found that the infants given stepping experience did not learn to walk any earlier than the infants with no stepping experience. (this is the result) Thus stepping experience by itself does not promote early walking. (this is the conclusion).

Two other studies must be presented but you only have to present their results or conclusions. For example: Infants who were given extensive training in stepping and balancing from six to 10 months of age did walk earlier than a control group (Adoph, 1999)

3. Introduce your study. Briefly state what your question is and how you will investigate it.

Example: In this study I will use an observational method to examine the differences between younger and older toddlers in their child-to-child and child-to-adult communication behaviors.

Method (less than 1/2 a page) ( 10 points)

Divide this section of your paper into subheadings: Participants & Procedure. Under procedure, include a reference to your notes and diagram of the space.


. This section describes the critical characteristics of the participants. If you only observed a specific subset of children include that information.

Example: Three infants between the ages of four and 7 months (younger infants) and three infants between the ages of 7 and 14 months (older infants) who attended the Cyert Center were observed.


. State how you conducted your observation - number of sessions, time of day, how you recorded the information.

Example: Children were observed through a viewing window for 30 minutes on two consecutive mornings (see room layout). On the first day the younger infants were observed and on the second day the older infants were observed. A behavioral checklist was used to record each instance of a listed behavior during the 30 minute period (See checklist).

OR Children were observed from a corner of the room for two 30-minute periods during the afternoon free play period, two days apart. Younger toddlers were observed on day one and older toddlers were observed on day two. All behaviors related to physical and motor activity were recorded and later categorized as fine or gross motor.

Results (depends on how extensive you were but between 1 to 1.5 pages) (15 points)

Present what you found. If you used a checklist and counted frequency of behavior you can report that - you don't have to report every item. You can group them or drop ones with very low frequencies. If you took notes, describe how the two groups were different or not. Address the questions that were listed under the question on the assignment description. Report the most interesting findings, even if it was that there were no differences between the two groups. But remember, your focus is the comparison of the two groups on the behavior of interest so make sure you compare them

Example: Older toddlers verbalized more often, had longer utterances, and talked to their peers more than the younger toddlers. Younger toddlers mostly used single word utterances and never had an utterance more than 4 words long. OR

Forty percent of the young toddlers utterances were single word compared to only two percent of the older toddlers. In contrast, 80% of the older toddlers utterances were five or more words compared to 6% of the younger toddlers.


(Use either Conclusion or Discussion). 10 points.

How do your findings relate to theories or previous research. Do they support or contradict previous work or our current theories? Do they support one theory and contradict another? Briefy summarize your result and then discuss its implication.

Example: I found that the younger toddlers primarily used single word utterances whereas the older toddlers used more complex and longer utterances. This is similar to the findings by Nelson (1986) and others. Furthermore, the high frequency of overregularizing verbs in the older but not the younger toddlers supports Pinker's view that over time children change from producing heard words only to applying abstracted grammatical rules to produce words (Pinker, 1987).

References. See the

Style page

In some cases, research requires traveling. Is this the case in your project? On the one hand, you might want to observe people in a natural setting: at their own home, in shops, in classrooms, or in offices. On the other hand, people might not be healthy enough to travel to your lab. Observational research can be carried out on-site, however, there are some factors you need to take into consideration, such as lighting conditions, camera position, and voice recording. Most importantly, is everybody on-site in agreement about the video recordings or the direct observations? Here you can read two examples of on-site observational studies involving elderly people as participants. No matter what kind of research question you wish to answer, performing on-site research has both limitations and advantages compared to lab studies. Read on to learn more!

  1. Measuring engagement in people with advanced dementia

  2. Measuring eating behavior in elderly people

Engagement in people with advanced dementia

In order to study behavior in residential care homes, researchers had to bring their lab to the premises. In addition to it being convenient for the participants, an on-site study enables researchers to take environmental factors into account.

Cruz et al. from the University of Aveiro and the research unit UniFAI (Portugal) designed a pilot study to measure engagement in meaningful activities, because engaging in activities improves the quality of life of those suffering from dementia. Engagement is explained as: “the act of being occupied or involved with an external stimulus” (Cohen-Mansfield et al. 2009). It is fundamentally different from just attending the activity. To measure activity instead of attendance Cruz et al. included behavioral observations in their study.  

This pilot study was conducted in Portugal, in a care home for elderly people. The researchers made use of video recordings allowing them to review the activities as often as necessary. They selected video recording over direct observation to ensure the capture of all important information. Cruz et al. described their on-site preparations:

In each session, researchers fastened the video camera to a top of a tripod and turned it on just before the session started. The camera was placed in a specific location in the room where it would not interfere with participants’ movements and enabled video recording of all participants, including their faces.

In order to observe behavior in a structured way, the authors described behavioral categories and designed an ethogram. For example, they coded verbal communication, interaction with objects, and engagement in the task. The Observer XT coding and analysis software enabled the researchers to calculate and compare frequencies and durations of specific behaviors. Only 4 out of the 13 residents, for various reasons, participated in the study. Although this is a small number, it gave the researchers the opportunity to test their on-site study design and the activity program. The full article, results of this pilot study, and recommendations for further research made by the authors can be found in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias.

Food intake in nursing homes

Several pilot studies were conducted in the Inside Consumer Experience research project. This consortium aimed to develop novel instruments and mobile services for the objective measurement of food selection and consumption in real-life contexts such as nursing homes or dance festivals. The pilot study presented here was carried out in two nursing homes in The Netherlands. One of the nursing homes was designated as the experimental location and the other as the control location. At both locations, the researchers installed thirteen cameras for recording behavior during dinnertime in order to assess food intake. A number of changes were implemented for the experimental group, such as a change in meal preparation with at least 60% organic products, more social interaction between participants and staff members, and the overall ambiance was improved (furnishing of the dining rooms, the way the meals were presented, etc.). The results from this pilot study showed that food intake increased in the experimental group. In this pilot study, the researchers could have invited people to a restaurant lab or to a University facility, however, inviting people to another facility simply would not have worked. Since the researchers wanted to measure the effect of changing situations on food intake in a real-life context, on-site research was the perfect answer to answering their research questions. To read more about pilot design and the results, please visit

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Also interested in lab studies? The research area of clinical communication has over the last thirty years grown both in the number of publications and in importance in health research. More and more elderly people are asked to participate. On-site research has both limitations and advantages compared to lab studies. Read on to learn more! Download the free case study and learn:

  • How to acquire rich and meaningful data in a lab
  • How to set up research in clinical communication
  • How to work with video, data acquisition equipment and analysis software


  • Cruz, J.; Marques, A.; Barbosa, A.; Figueiredo, D.; Sousa, L.X. (2013). Making sense(s) in dementia : a multisensory and motor-based group activity program. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, doi:10.1177/1533317512473194.
  • Cohen-Mansfield, J.; Dakheel-Ali, M.; Marx, M.S. (2009). Engagement in persons with dementia: the concept and its measurement. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry,17 (4), 299-307.

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