As a qualitative research method and product, ethnography can be distinguished from three other ways of investigating and writing: quantitative research, public policy research, and journalism. The kinds of guiding questions which are addressed through these kinds of research are importantly different from those which can be addressed ethnographically.
- Quantitative research usually arrives at percentages (of people who believe certain premise or do a certain thing) or otherwise counts instances of a phenomenon, and as such deals less descriptively with a larger number of cases than pure ethnography does. One of its main methods is widely distributed surveys or questionnaires. For example: Which birth control methods are most widely used in Los Angeles, and how are birth rates affected over a five year period?
- Policy research, which might be performed either qualitatively or quantitatively or both, is generally geared towards providing information that helps policy makers decide how a certain phenomenon might be understood in terms of better or worse social outcomes. For example: What kinds of access do women in Los Angeles have to what kinds of birth control, and is this appropriate from public health, religious, and cultural standpoints? Should government do something to affect this situation, and if so what and how?
- Journalism attempts to provide objective (not interpretive) outsider news information in a quick, timely manner, often against a deadline. Journalists write for the kinds of audience that the newspaper, magazine, or other publication which hires them attempts to reach. General questions regarding culture are not usually considered crucial to the endeavor as they are in ethnography. For example: What is newsworthy about current family planning for the particular group(s) who are likely to read my story?
Reading ethnographic accounts can help us to become more accustomed to the kind of research method and research product that ethnography is as well as teach us how we can approach a certain question or issue ethnographically.