RLO: Participant and non-participant observation - making the right choice

What is 'observation'?

Observation is an everyday activity. Looking for traffic when crossing a road, hunting for a bargain in the shops, or assessing a patient's respiratory rate all require us to observe.

In research, observation is 'a fundamental method of gathering data... The aim is to gather first hand information in a naturally occurring situation' (Burns and Grove, 1999 p358).

If we decide to use observation as a data collection method in qualitative research, what type of observation will be best? Do we observe an activity from a vantage point outside it, or do we become an insider, and observe while we also take part?