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How to Conduct a Paranormal Investigation for Beginners

Karen Frazier
girls sitting on the pavement of a road

You don't have to be a part of an established paranormal team or have a ton of paranormal equipment to have your first ghost investigation. As a beginner, all you need is your curiosity about ghosts and spirits, a buddy or two, and a potentially haunted location, and you can conduct a basic paranormal investigation so you can get a sense of what it might be like to pursue ghost hunting more actively.

Step One: Find a Potentially Haunted Location

There are thousands of potentially haunted locations you can investigate including some near where you live. Some of these places, such as hiking trails, hotels, and battlefields, may be open to the public and allow you enough freedom to investigate the public spaces during regular operating hours as long as you aren't interfering with other visitors. You may be able to find such places among LoveToKnow's ghost and haunting articles, which discuss haunted locations in virtually every state.

Edinburgh Castle

Do Careful Research About Haunted Places

Other locations, such as private residences, museums, and old or abandoned buildings may be closed to the public, or they may require permission to investigate. It's up to you to research your location carefully, contact the property owners, and obtain permission to conduct a paranormal investigation there. Even if you're investigating a public place, such as a hotel, it's probably best to discuss your plans with management so they are aware of what you are doing and can alert you to any activities that aren't allowed.

Don't Trespass

Whatever you do, do not enter any non-public location without permission or visit a public location after hours. Doing so is a trespassing, and it's against the law. Even if a building looks decrepit and abandoned, you must have permission to enter the premises or you are trespassing. If you are granted permission to investigate, follow the owner's rules exactly. If you're investigating a public location such as a hotel, be considerate of other guests and stay in public areas. Only photograph or record guests and employees with their permission.

Schedule a Time

Once you have permission, schedule a time to investigate the property. It is a common misperception this needs to occur at night. It doesn't. Try to investigate the paranormal during the time of day when the activity is reported. This can be in the light of day or the dead of night. If you plan to investigate a public place with regular operating hours, then you'll need to schedule during open hours or outside of quiet times.

Step Two: Phone (or Text) a Friend

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

Step Three: Gather What You Need

On the day of the investigation, gather what you need. Many people feel they need a bunch of expensive paranormal equipment to investigate the presence of 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 good starting point.

Diary With Pen By Plant On Wooden Table

Consider the Climate and Dress Appropriately

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 do 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.

Bring Snacks and Hydration

Bring some light snacks such as nuts or seeds and some bottled water. Remember if you bring it, you need to either toss it in an appropriate trash receptacle or take it away with you.

  • Plan to have one bottle of water for every two hours you plan to investigate.
  • Don't eat or drink during your active investigation times; only eat on breaks away from the area you are investigating.
  • Always wash your hands before eating, particularly in old buildings, and use hand sanitizer so you don't accidentally ingest anything dangerous you may have touched during your investigation.

Don't Mix Your Spirits

Never bring alcohol or other intoxicants on an investigation.

  • You need to approach paranormal investigation with a clear mind, so refrain from consuming any intoxicants before the investigation including alcohol, narcotic pain medications, tranquilizers, or any other drugs.
  • If you smoke or vape, try to avoid doing so for the duration of the investigation or only smoke or vape on breaks outdoors and well away from where any investigation is occurring.

Bring the Basics

It's essential you bring at least 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.

  • 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. Make sure you have emptied the recorder of data before you start and have some extra batteries on hand.
  • 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.
  • If you will be on a hiking trail or in the woods, bring a compass, a map, and a GPS device (or the apps on your smartphone that do the same thing).

Step Four: Do an Initial Walk-Through

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

  • Observe with your five senses as you walk through.
  • Do not look at equipment, write anything down, or talk as you do this.
  • The goal is to be as aware as possible of all of your surroundings without distraction.
  • When you have finished your walk-through, note your impressions in your notebook.
  • 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

Step Five: 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, 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 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

Step Six: 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.
  • 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

Step Seven: 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. 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. At the close of the session, thank any spirits who have participated.
Recorder With Headphones

Step Eight: 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

Step Nine: Review Your Data

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

Review Audio Data

If you took audio recordings:

  • 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).
  • Listen to raw audio recordings on the computer with headphones.
  • 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).
  • Do not filter audio - leave it untouched.
  • Clip any anomalies and place them in separate files.
  • 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.
  • Check the time stamps of the audio anomalies against any occurrences you've noted in your notebook.

Review Video Data

If you captured video recordings:

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

Look Through Photographs

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.

Step Ten: 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 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.

How to Conduct a Paranormal Investigation for Beginners