Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigations

Karen Frazier
Male walking in a forest with fog

Since the advent of SyFy's Ghost Hunters on television in the early 2000s, paranormal investigation has become an increasingly popular pastime. However, what you see on television, such as Ghost Adventures, is more about paranormal entertainment than proper techniques for seeking evidence of ghosts. Let LoveToKnow's paranormal experts guide you through the information you need to become a top-notch investigator.

Decide Whether You Are Ghost Hunting or Investigating the Paranormal

While people use the terms ghost hunting and paranormal investigation interchangeably, each has different goals.

Ghost Hunting

Ghost hunting is for personal entertainment. As a ghost hunter, you go out and look for ghosts because you enjoy doing so. You may or may not have investigation protocols, but the thrill of the chase and the possibility you'll have an adventure are your primary motivators. If you find a location and get permission, you can usually put together a ghost hunt in a matter of hours because no other preparation is necessary.

Paranormal Investigation or Research

Paranormal investigation is a more serious pursuit in which you seek to gather credible evidence of ghosts using specific protocols and equipment. Compared to ghost hunting, paranormal research is more client-focused with the intent to help people better understand phenomena they have encountered as opposed to seeking ghosts for your own personal entertainment or edification.

Understand the Theories of Ghosts

No one knows for sure whether ghosts are real, but that is one of the primary things paranormal investigators and psychical researchers are trying to discover.

Familiarize Yourself With Paranormal Literature

For more than a century, organizations like the Society of Psychical Research and parapsychologists such as Loyd Auerbach have used social scientific protocols to try to better understand paranormal phenomena. They've published their findings in a variety of formats including educational articles and books. This body of research provides far more information about the nuts and bolts of paranormal investigation and the theories surrounding it than anything you will ever see on television, so it's important you educate yourself before you head out to try to find ghosts and spirits for yourself.

Understand Classifications of Paranormal Phenomena

As people report experiencing what they believe are signs of paranormal activity, parapsychologists have discovered several types of ghost sightings.

Girl having a nightmare
  • Spirits, ghosts, and hauntings are all terms used to describe various ways in which spiritual energy once tied to living people now dead might manifest in today's world.
  • Although frequently classified under the umbrella of paranormal activity, demons and demonic possession have nothing to do with ghosts; they are religious constructs best dealt with by the church and its representatives.
  • Poltergeists may also be mis-classified as ghosts or hauntings, but poltergeist phenomena, also known as "noisy ghosts," is most likely to come from a living person giving off bursts of psychokinetic energy that cause strange and sometimes violent phenomena such as doors slamming or objects seemingly moving on their own.
  • Much activity may also have real-world or logical explanations, such as hoaxes, misidentification of natural phenomena, mental illness, or an over-active imagination.

Develop Protocols

Before you step foot in a location where people have reported ghost sightings, it's important you develop investigation protocols you will follow during all of your investigations. You can refine your paranormal investigation techniques over time, but you need to go in with a basic plan of how you intend to conduct your investigation.

  • For each investigation, create a written plan based on personnel, location, claims, and equipment so everyone knows what to do and where to be throughout the course of the investigation.
  • Be flexible enough in your plan that, as things arise during an investigation, you can check it out thoroughly.
  • Decide whether you'll be working with psychics during your investigations.

Choose Equipment and Learn to Use It Properly

You don't need to use a ton of technical equipment (or any for that matter) to conduct a paranormal investigation. In fact, you and your observation skills are your most important piece of paranormal equipment. Sitting quietly, observing, and writing anything you note is the most important and basic type of paranormal investigation and one that has served researchers well for over a century.

Thermal Image of Heat Leak through Windows

Understand Your Equipment

However, some types of equipment are commonly used during paranormal investigations, and you may choose to use some of it in your own research. Whatever equipment you decide on, make sure you thoroughly understand how to use it and what it tells you. Read the manuals and do research to learn what data the equipment provides and how to interpret it.

Use Caution With New Tools

With the burgeoning interest in paranormal research, there's an influx of new tools aimed specifically at paranormal investigation and ghost hunting. Most of these, such as electronic voice phenomenal (EVP) generators, are experimental, and it's unclear if they work, how well they work, or what the data they supply truly means. It's also easy to fall into the trap of being so focused on dozens of blinking lights and squawking boxes offering questionable data that you just may miss observing phenomena appearing right in front of you. These devices may be fun to test, but don't rely on them as the main substance of your investigation.

Stick With the Classic Tools

Therefore, it's a good idea to take a targeted approach to the tools you use in paranormal investigation.

  • Choose classic audio equipment such as a digital voice recorder to capture electronic voice phenomena.
  • Use environmental sensors to record conditions, such as electromagnetic frequency (EMF) detectors and infrared thermometers. While these won't detect the presence of ghosts, they can help you better understand what baseline environmental conditions may be present during your investigation and how they change in the presence of possible paranormal activity.
  • Use camera equipment, such as a quality digital SLR camera, infrared video cameras, hand-held video cameras, or point-of-view (POV) cameras to try to capture paranormal photos.

Investigate Claims of Hauntings

Once you've clarified your goals and have all of your equipment and protocols in place, you're ready to head out on your first ghost hunt or investigation.

Find Possibly Haunted Locations

It's probably easier to find haunted locations for ghost hunting than it is for paranormal investigation because as a ghost hunter, you don't need a client; you just need a location that may be haunted and permission to conduct your ghost hunt. For paranormal research, you'll need a client, although it can be helpful to conduct an investigation or two without a client first as a practice run to ensure your protocols work well and your team is a well-oiled machine.

Hand Shadow Reaching Door

Inform Potential Clients of Your Goals

If you're ghost hunting, inform possible clients of your goals so they can decide whether they're willing to allow you to seek ghosts in their location for your own personal entertainment or if they'd prefer to work with paranormal researchers.

Vet Possible Clients and Locations

Just because someone contacts you about performing a paranormal investigation doesn't mean it's the right investigation for you. One or two people on your team should be in charge of and involved in the vetting process, with all other investigators kept in the dark about paranormal claims so they don't enter into an investigation with preconceived notions. When vetting potential clients, take the following steps:

  1. Conduct a thorough client interview to determine what claims are being made and whether you feel there is something you can investigate.
  2. Have the client fill out intake forms including thorough questionnaires, permission to investigate, liability releases, and permissions for things like photography and recording.
  3. Have one or two team members perform an initial walk-through of the location to establish baselines, check for natural phenomena that may be mistaken as paranormal phenomena, and further vet the client before deciding whether the location and client is appropriate for your team.
  4. Discuss whether clients will be present during investigation and what participation they will have or any expectations you may have of them during the investigation.

If you decide to investigate, set up a date and time and provide the client with thorough information about what to expect, who will be there, what equipment you will use, and what your processes are so they understand exactly what to expect of you and what is expected of them during an investigation.

Investigate

The time you set should be at the client's convenience, but it's best to investigate at around the times the phenomena is reported. For instance, if it always happens during the morning hours, try to investigate on a weekend morning. Arrive at the agreed upon time and do the following.

woman stands in a misty underground tunnel
  1. Have two investigators walk through the location before the rest team enters to establish baselines of things such as sound files, environmental readings, or photographs.
  2. If you are working with a psychic, keep the psychic uninformed of any claims about the property. Have the psychic walk through with one member of the team, recording any observations he or she has in a notebook, video camera, or voice recorder. Do not share psychic findings with other investigators.
  3. Allow the rest of the investigators to enter the location. Use your plan to set up any equipment such as infrared video cameras or digital recorders that will run throughout your investigation.
  4. Leave the location completely (have clients leave as well) for 30 minutes to an hour and allow your equipment to run without anyone being there.
  5. Return to the location and conduct your investigation according to your plan. Date and time stamp everything including video, audio recordings, photographs, and any environmental readings you take so you can easily align time stamps during the review process.
  6. Have all investigators keep a written log. Record any unusual activity in the log with the time, location, who was present, and a thorough description of what happened.
  7. Clean up all equipment and return the location to exactly how it was before you arrived.
  8. Let the clients know what to expect during your review process and how long it may take. Set an appointment for follow-up once you've thoroughly reviewed the data you collected.

Review Your Data

You may have one or two team members dedicated to reviewing specific types of data, or you may have a few people who review all data. As you review, keep a log of anything unusual you notice.

Businessman using tablet and headphones
  • Listen to all audio data and record any audio anomalies that may be an EVP. Do not apply filters or manipulate the audio data in any way and allow different investigators to listen to potential EVPs and arrive at their own conclusions about what they hear.
  • Review video at least two times: once with the sound off only watching video, and once only listening to the video's audio. Record any anomalies in a log with the date and time stamp.
  • Review photographs thoroughly and look for any anomalies such as apparitions, shadows, or even orbs.
  • Compare time stamps from data to recorded data during the investigation and look for correlations among captured evidence.
  • Review the psychic log and compare it to any phenomena or evidence captured during the investigation.
  • Thoroughly analyze data, looking for logical explanations for anomalies that occur, such as understanding how orbs can be a photographic artifact or realizing how someone shuffling their feet may sound like a whisper on a recording.
  • While you likely trust members of your team, also look for signs of faked or mistaken evidence, such as fake ghost photos.
  • Research the history of the location to see if there are any correlations to the data you've collected.
  • Apply all of your critical thinking skills to understand your data and the correlations.

Share Evidence With Clients

Set up a time to return to your clients' location and explain your findings.

Businesswoman and client in discussion
  • Share any anomalies you've captured along with the circumstances under which they arose.
  • Demonstrate correlations among data.
  • Report all findings with the utmost integrity; if you don't know, say you don't know and never make anything up.
  • Share your opinion, but inform the client it is your best guess based on your experience as an investigator and not indisputable proof of a haunting or lack thereof.
  • Offer strategies moving forward if your clients remain uncomfortable, such as improving the energy of a situation, setting limits with any spirits that might be there, or thinking critically about something that has happened.

Follow Up As Needed

Depending on the outcome of your investigation, you may wish to offer follow-up services to your clients.

  • Share when follow-up is appropriate.
  • Tell them when and how to contact you.
  • If the situation remains ongoing, set up time for follow up or offer referrals to other services.

Basics of Paranormal Investigation and Ghost Hunting

If you're ghost hunting instead of working with clients, you'll likely pick and choose from the above to provide you with the best experiences. If your goal is to be a paranormal researcher, however, the above offers the basics of thorough and careful paranormal investigation. As you become more seasoned, you will continue to develop protocols that allow you to best meet your client's needs and your goals as a paranormal investigator.

Ghost Hunting and Paranormal Investigations