Conducting a Paranormal Investigation 101 (A Beginner’s Guide)

Updated May 18, 2021
girls sitting on the pavement of a road

Many people who are curious about ghosts want to try their hand at a paranormal investigation. Whether you're interested in ghost hunting for the thrills or you want to join a paranormal investigation team, there are some simple steps you can take to investigate ghosts and hauntings.

Find a Haunted Place

Chances are, you've heard of a haunted place, and you're super curious about it. This is often the first thing that drives people to paranormal investigation. Fortunately, you'll find all kinds of opportunities for paranormal investigation, as there are possible hauntings in most states. If you're just getting started, it's best to begin with a public place that's haunted where you can easily access it during its normal hours. You can investigate during the day or night, and in the dark or in the light. In fact, it's best to investigate in conditions that are most similar to when people are experiencing the activity.

Edinburgh Castle

You can also work with the location's owners to perform a more formal investigation after hours. That way, you can investigate when there aren't a bunch of people there in order to avoid scene contamination. If you plan to do this, ask permission and schedule a time for your investigation. Always be truthful about your desire to conduct a ghost investigation when arranging a time with owners, and follow any rules the owner gives you about investigating the location. Never trespass or enter a location illegally to perform an investigation, no matter how enticing it seems.

Find Someone to Ghost Hunt With

It's essential you never investigate the paranormal alone. Always take at least one other person with you, both for personal safety and because having someone else along can help you verify and critically think about any experiences you have.

Woman Messaging Friends Using Smartphone

Dress Appropriately for Your Paranormal Investigation

What you wear to a paranormal investigation can affect your experience and the quality of the evidence you gather. Therefore, keep the following in mind:

  • Wear comfortable clothes that don't make a lot of noise because it may create false positive audio data.
  • Dress in light layers so you can remove or add them as needed as temperature changes.
  • Don't wear jingly jewelry, squeaky shoes, or clothing that makes noise from rubbing, such as corduroy pants or a nylon jacket.
  • Wear comfortable, supportive, close-toed, soft-soled shoes that tread quietly, such as sneakers or hiking boots. Skip heels, flip flops, sandals, or platforms.
  • Wear a watch or bring some kind of timing device that records the time to the minute. Your cell phone will work for this purpose.
  • Wear something with lots of pockets so if you take equipment, you have places to store it so your hands are free.
  • If you wear corrective lenses, be sure to take them with you.
  • Don't wear scent, such as perfume, scented lotions, scented hair products, clothes washed with scented pellets, or essential oils. All of these can interfere with your sense of smell.
  • If you are going to be in a decrepit building or crawling around attics and basements, take filtration masks and gloves to protect you from airborne pathogens from rodent droppings, dust, mold, and other particles.

Gather Paranormal Investigation Supplies

On the day of the investigation, gather what you need. Many people feel they need a bunch of expensive paranormal equipment to investigate ghosts, but you don't. The earliest paranormal investigators didn't use technology at all and relied only on their five senses and a notebook to record anything they noticed. This is a great starting point.

Diary With Pen By Plant On Wooden Table

Along with a writing pad and a pen or two to record your impressions, you may also wish to bring other equipment depending on where and when you are investigating. None of this equipment is required to investigate, but many people use it to gather evidence.

  • One of the easiest types of paranormal data to collect is audio evidence that may contain potential electronic voice phenomena (EVP). If you'd like to try your hand at this, take an audio recorder with you or use an audio recording app on your phone.
  • If you will be entering dark spaces, bring a flashlight. Any handheld flashlight or head lamp will work.
  • Some people like to see if they can capture evidence on camera. A point and shoot digital camera or even a cell phone camera will work here, or you can bring a video camera or point of view video camera (such as a GoPro) if you wish to remain hands-free.

Do a Baseline Walk-Through

Arrive at your location at the pre-established time. When you get there, walk through the entire space you plan to investigate.

  1. Observe with your five senses as you walk through.
  2. Do not look at equipment, write anything down, or talk as you do this.
  3. The goal is to be as aware as possible of all of your surroundings without distraction.
  4. When you have finished your walk-through, note your impressions in your notebook.
  5. If you are worried you won't remember all of your impressions, stop several times during your walk to record it in your notebook.

After your initial walk-through, move through the space again with any equipment you plan to use.

  • Take baseline images by photographing or video recording the space, and/or record your walk-through on your audio recorder.
  • If you are using recording equipment, create a date and time stamp as soon as you turn it on by saying, "This is (name) at (location) on (date) at (time)."
  • Do the sensory observational walk through separately from your equipment walk-through.
Woman Making Notes Outside City

Set Up Equipment

If you are using equipment like a video camera system or set recording devices, put them in place. As you turn each on, speak to the camera or recorder and say:

  • Date
  • Time
  • Location of the investigation
  • Location where you've set the recorder or camera

Pick a Spot and Observe

Now, find a spot where you'd like to settle in, sit quietly, and observe. You can do this room by room if you're in a building, or in sectors if you're in a large outdoor space.

  • Plan to sit for at least 30 minutes to an hour in each location.
  • Don't chat, listen to music, eat, smoke, vape, chew gum or drink while you're in a spot observing.
  • The lights can be on or off.
  • Sit quietly and notice what's happening around you.
  • Have your notebook or investigation log open in front of you. When you observe something, write the time you observed it to the minute, the location, and what you observed. This can involve any of the five senses.
  • If you have an audio or video recorder, turn it on and place it nearby. Make sure you identify vocally the date, time, place, and specific location within the place ("Karen and Andy, January 29, 2019, master bedroom at the Smith residence at 10:47 AM") as a time stamp for each device.
  • If you are audio or video recording, don't whisper and try not to shuffle around.
  • If you do make a noise, such as a sniff, foot shuffle, cough, or whisper, identify it aloud so it is marked on the recording. For example you might say, "I just shuffled my foot," or "I unzipped my jacket."
  • If you do notice something anomalous, see if you can identify a natural cause for it. For example, if a door opens, look for drafts, see if it was poorly latched, or something similar.
woman sitting on the floor

Take Photographs

Continue as above until you've covered each area or room of the location you are investigating.

  • If you think you see something anomalous, take a photograph of the area where you saw it, but make sure you note on any recording devices that you just snapped a photo so you don't get a false positive on your audio, and note the time of and reason for the photo on your log.
  • If you are in the dark and using a flash camera, realize it will take several minutes for your eyes to re-adapt to the light conditions after a flash.
  • As a courtesy, when you take a flash photograph, warn the people you are with ahead of time by saying, "flash."
woman taking picture with instant camera

Conduct an EVP Session

If you have an audio recorder, you can conduct an EVP session in each space after about 10 minutes of quiet observation.

  1. Turn on your audio recorder or the recording app on your phone. Identify yourself to the recorder, saying something like, "This is Karen and Andy. It is January 29, 2019 at 11:25 AM and we are in the kitchen of the Smith residence beginning an EVP session."
  2. Introduce yourself aloud to any spirits that may be in the room saying something like, "My name is Karen, and this is Andy next to me. We would like to communicate with you. Although we may not be able to hear you right now, this device may be able to pick up your voice and we'll be able to hear your answers to our questions later."
  3. Ask questions. Leave at least 30 seconds to a minute between questions for the spirits to answer. This may seem like an excruciatingly long time, but it will help you avoid speaking over a spirit voice. Questions you may ask could be things such as, "Who is here with us?" "Tell me your name?" "What year is it?" "Do you live here?" and similar questions. Ask questions that require short answers.
  4. You can try listening back to your recordings in real time by playing back your recording after a few questions. Alternatively, you can continue with your session until you're done and then listen to the recording at a later date.
  5. At the close of the session, thank any spirits who have participated.
Recorder With Headphones

Wrap Up Your Investigation

At the close of your investigation, pack any equipment, make final notes in your notebook, and make sure you leave the location in the same condition you found it.

  • Do a final walk-through to see if you observe anything anomalous or different from when you came and record it in your notebook.
  • Make sure you haven't left anything behind.
  • Some people like to do a closing at the end of the investigation, thanking the spirits for allowing you in their space, telling them you're leaving, and asking them to remain where they are and not visit you. You might say something like, "Thank you for allowing us to visit you today. We are leaving now. Please stay here and don't come with any of us. If we are going to see you again, we will come to you. Thank you."
  • You can also offer a prayer of protection if you are so inclined.
  • When you get home, shower to remove any particles of mold or rodent droppings you have brought home with you and throw your clothes in the washing machine immediately for the same purpose. Clean any equipment, such as your cellphone, pen, notebook cover, and flashlight with disinfectant wipes for the same reason.
Couple holding hands at home

Review Your Data

Take some time to rest and process your experiences before you begin to review your data. Then, do the following. If you took audio recordings:

  1. Transfer any audio data to your computer using a program such as Audacity. Transfer the data in the least compressed format you can (usually raw data or .wav files).
  2. Listen to raw audio recordings on the computer with headphones.
  3. Keep a log of any anomalies in a notebook, noting the anomaly, the location on the recording of the anomaly, and the approximate time you captured it (which you can determine from the time stamp you made each time you turn on the recorder).
  4. Do not filter audio - leave it untouched.
  5. Clip any anomalies and place them in separate files.
  6. Have several people listen to the audio without you telling them what you think it says or sounds like and see if they hear the same thing you do.
  7. Check the time stamps of the audio anomalies against any occurrences you've noted in your notebook.

If you captured video recordings:

  1. Review video twice - once only watching the video with no sound, and once only listening to the sound with no images.
  2. Log any anomalies in the notebook noting the time, location, and the anomaly.
  3. Compare against audio logs and any occurrences you noted in your notebook during the investigations.
Woman watching videos on laptop

Review your photographs carefully, looking for any anomalies such as shadows or light anomalies. Compare time and location of these against the other data you've collected.

Follow Up

After you've investigated and reviewed evidence, complete some follow-up activities to help you get a better sense of what is happening in the location. Do these things after the investigation so you don't influence what you observe or your findings during your time at the haunted location.

  • Talk to people who have witnessed potential paranormal activity in the place you just visited. Compare your experiences with theirs.
  • Try to talk to several people who have had experiences there and ask careful questions about their experiences, recording what they say in your notebook.
  • Find other people who have investigated the same location as you and compare your data with theirs to see if you can find similarities or patterns.
  • Check public records and historical data of the location at local history museums or newspaper archives to see if you can find confirmation of the data you collected or experiences you had.
Serious woman talking to friend

Be a Thorough Paranormal Investigator

Paranormal investigation isn't exactly what you see on television. In fact, TV paranormal investigations are edited to capture only the most exciting bits and tell a compelling story. In truth, paranormal investigation is often tedious and time consuming, and it requires patience, excellent observational and communication skills, critical thinking, the ability to be well organized, and an even temperament. Sometimes the long hours yield nothing. At other times, they may provide bits of subtle evidence that could point to anomalous phenomena occurring in a specific location. It's not a hobby for everyone, but if you find your first investigation sparks your interest, you can continue to learn how to hone your craft as a paranormal investigator.

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Conducting a Paranormal Investigation 101 (A Beginner’s Guide)