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“It’s okay, nobody can read it anyways”: Experiences of using stenography in ethnographic fieldwork
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Science and Mathematics Education. (UmSER)ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9667-2044
2019 (English)Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Most ethnographic fieldwork involves producing jottings: brief written notes that are taken during field observations and that later serve as a memory support for constructing detailed fieldnotes. In producing jottings, ethnographers face the challenge of recording as much detail as possible. The literature is replete with advice on whatto record, but there is less guidance on howto produce jottings as quickly and efficiently as possible. While many experienced ethnographers have developed their own systems of abbreviations, novice ethnographers may find it difficult to develop their own jotting system in parallell with their first fieldwork. A novice ethnographer myself, I faced this challenge as I prepared for my first ethnographic fieldwork last year. To address the challenge, I decided to learn stenography. In the literature, stenography is sporadically mentioned as one possible way of speeding up the production of jottings. However, there is a lack of concrete and detailed descriptions of how the use of stenography may affect ethnographic research. To address this lack, the aim of this methodological contribution is to describe and evaluate the use of a specific stenographic system, the Melin system, in the context of an ethnographic study in a first-year engineering program in Sweden.

In this study, the use of the Melin system of stenography facilitated the production of jottings by speeding up note taking and reducing wrist pain, thus allowing me to take more notes for longer periods of observation and to often include verbal quotes. However, I experienced difficulties in reading my own stenographic notes, which resulted in slower translation of jottings into detailed fieldnotes. The use of stenography had other important effects on the research: 1) The slower process of producing fieldnotes gave me more time to reflect on my observations while writing fieldnotes, thus facilitating continuous analysis in parallell with on-going fieldwork. 2) Stenography effectively rendered my jottings unreadable to anybody except myself. This allowed me to take notes without restrictions and it allowed participants to more comfortably talk about sensitive topics because “nobody can read it [the notes] anyways”. 3) It elicited interest and appreciation from research participants, thus contributing to initiate conversations and build rapport. 4) It made the research more enjoyable, which helped to mediate stress and anxiety during my first fieldwork experiences.

In this methodological contribution, I describe and evaluate the use of stenography for producing jottings in a concrete ethnographic research project. The results provide insights for ethnographers who find a need to develop the way in which they produce and use jottings. Specifically, the results help researchers to take more informed decisions about whether or not stenography may be a viable alternative. The results may be particularly valuable for novice ethnographers who, maybe for the first time, face the challenge of producing jottings quickly and efficiently.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019.
Keywords [en]
Ethnography, stenography, method, fieldnotes
National Category
Didactics
Research subject
didactics of natural science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-158209OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-158209DiVA, id: diva2:1305348
Conference
Oxford Ethnography and Education Conference, Oxford, Great Britain, 9-11 September, 2019
Available from: 2019-04-16 Created: 2019-04-16 Last updated: 2019-06-04

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CiteExportLink to record
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Cite
Citation style
  • apa
  • ieee
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  • vancouver
  • Other style
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  • asciidoc
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