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What is Qualitative Observation? - Definition & Example Video

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nissa Garcia

Nissa has a masters degree in chemistry and has taught high school science and college level chemistry.

There are various ways we can observe things. We often use numbers in our observations, but we can also make observations using our senses. These are called qualitative observations, and they are the focus of this lesson.

What Is a Qualitative Observation?

Let's say you are observing the leaf of a plant, and you write down these observations: the leaf is yellow-green in color, has spiky edges, a waxy surface, is very large, and smells bitter. This type of observation is what we call a qualitative observation.

Qualitative observation deals with data that can be observed with our senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. They do not involve measurements or numbers. For instance, colors, shapes, and textures of objects are all qualitative observations.

Examples of Qualitative Observations

Take a look at the photo of this tree:

Use your senses to list some qualitative observations. You can say that the twigs are angled and a bit twisted. The leaves are green and have pointed tips. The fruit is orange in color and somewhat oval. All these are qualitative observations using our sight.

Do you ever watch police dramas or crime-based TV shows? Detectives go to a crime scene, take pictures, and make observations that may very well be the key to catching the criminal. Using our senses, we can make qualitative observations of the photo of this crime scene:

The kitchen is in disarray, and the victim seems to have fallen to the floor from his or her wheelchair. By gauging the temperature of the skillet on the stovetop and the food lying around, we may get an idea of when the victim fell.

Have you ever seen a police line up? The witness may not have been very observant during the crime, so they might not remember exact descriptions, such as height and weight. However, they may have retained some qualitative observations that will help narrow down the suspects, like gender, nationality, hair color, and perhaps specific features, like a mole or birthmark. Other senses apply here, too; they may recognize the suspect's voice or any distinct odors coming from him.

Other qualitative observations that can be made include:

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