The ethnographic research design is often used in research when one desires to learn information about a culture or group. When applying ethnographic design, the researcher may wish to immerse his or herself into a situation or culture. Anthropologists have used this type of design when studying tribal people. The person may choose to live with the tribe and develops notes, videos, or recordings of the people as the tribal members continue their daily life activities. By living among the people, one has the advantage of gaining information through observation and sometimes participation in the culture.
The ethnographic research design is qualitative. The process requires one to observe without imposing one’s opinion on the behavior of the group. One must be an objective observer. Data is primarily collected through observation, but interviews may be conducted. Many other things are explored including, artifacts, documents, and the environment. The studies generally extend over a period so that the observer can become familiar with the patterns, rituals, and community roles. The design is often used when studying social trends, social behaviors, cultural norms, relationship roles, or practices.
A case example would be a researcher living among native people on an island. The individual would eat as the people do, and follow along with the events and activities in the community. However, some researchers prefer to observe a group without participating. An example of this would be a researcher observing refugees in a camp as the refugees become acclimate to their new life. One would look to determine what items the people brought with them, their general health and moods, their encampment structure, if leadership roles develop, and the group's adaptation to the camp. The results would be presented in narrations of the events and observations may be grouped into significant commonalities.