Understanding Basic Methods of Data Collection in Research

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Data is information that is systematically collected by the researcher during the course of research to answer a research question.

Data collection refers to the procedure of gathering and measuring items or units of data using standard validated techniques for the purpose of discovering and forming new theories and insights in the field of research and/or validating existing research.

There are two main types of data- Primary Data and Secondary Data and each has different methods and sources. Let’s jump right into it and begin by discussing Primary Data:

Primary Data:
Primary data refers to raw or original data directly from the source. This data can be collected quantitatively or qualitatively depending on the type and purpose of research. Let’s discuss the most common methods used to collect primary data.

1. Interviews:
This method of data collection requires direct interaction between the two parties involved: the interviewer and the respondent. There are three main types of interviews:

(i) Structured Interview:
This type of interview employs a detailed, standardized schedule. A fixed set of questions is posed to all respondents in a fixed order. It has significantly higher credibility and reliability than unstructured interviews but lacks flexibility.

(ii) Unstructured Interview:
Although this type of interview is more time consuming, it allows for greater flexibility than Structured Interview. When it comes to unstructured interviews, the interviewers must be adept at maintaining the focus on the key components of the research to be able to collect relevant data.

(iii) Semi-structured Interview:
As the name suggests, semi-structured interviews involve a balance of structure and flexibility. Although there is a list of core topics and questions, the interviewers are allowed to pose additional questions to any of the respondents based on their answers in order to gather supplementary data.

Interviews are sometimes considered as verbal questionnaires and conducted in two main ways:

In Person: Both parties are required to be present in the same physical space for an in person interview. This is one of the oldest and most traditional ways to conduct an interview where the interviewer and the respondent are seated face-to-face.

On Call: Both parties are required to possess access to an electronic device (ex: cell phone, smartphone, laptop, tablet, etc) and connection (telephone plan, cable, dial-up, WiFi, etc) for this type of interview. These interviews were initially conducted only over standard audio calls but with the advancement of science and technology during the past decade, video calls have become increasingly common as well.

2. Focus Group Discussions:
Just like interviews, focus group discussions can also be conducted in person as well as online. Here, a group of carefully selected participants who have a special interest, knowledge or experience regarding a particular issue or topic are gathered together to answer a series of questions posed by one or more moderators. The moderator/moderators facilitate the discussion and put forth ‘guiding’ questions that are designed to probe for in-depth information. With the increase in focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, focus group discussions are often held to gather data from people belonging to marginalised and minority communities.

Although conducting a focus group discussion is less time consuming than conducting multiple one-on-one interviews, it is possible that participants in a focus group may be influenced by each other’s answers and opinions. There is also the added concern of risking the privacy of participants.

3. Self-Administered Questionnaire:
Although the terms ‘questionnaire’ and ‘survey’ are often used interchangeably, they do not possess the same meaning. Survey refers to the entire process of collecting, interpreting and analysing data in order to reach a proper conclusion whereas a questionnaire is a part of survey and simply refers to a set or list of questions designed to collect the required data.

Self-administered questionnaires are usually sent to the respondents via postal services(print form) and in more recent years, via email and other online social platforms(digital form). The respondents are required to fill out these questionnaires at their discretion without receiving any intervention from the researcher.

There are two types of questions used in questionnaires-
1. Open-Ended Questions:
These questions allow the respondents to describe their own opinions, relate particular experiences and to explain their answers in great detail. But as with most other items in this article, flexibility comes at the cost of losing structure and direction.
Some examples of open ended questions are listed below:
-What was your worst experience with a teacher?
-How would you describe your childhood?
-Tell me about a problem you face on a regular basis.

2. Close-Ended Questions:
These questions restrict and/or channel the answers of the respondent in a particular direction in order to maintain relevance and focus of the data collected. Close-ended questions present a list of options and the respondent must select the option that most corresponds with their experience/opinion. Further sub categorisation and close-ended questions can be classified into the follow basic types:

(i) Dichotomous Questions – include only two options such as YES or NO, TRUE or FALSE and AGREE or DISAGREE.

(ii) Multiple Choice Questions– include multiple options as alternative answers. Sometimes the respondents are allowed or even encouraged to select all options that hold true in their view.

(iii) Rating Scale Questions: used to gather qualitative data about a particular topic by asking the respondent to provide a ‘rating’ within a fixed minimum and maximum range.

(iv) Rank Order Questions: used to gather data about a particular topic by allowing respondents to evaluate multiple row items in relation to one column and asking them to rank the row items.

Most questionnaires use a combination of open ended and close ended questions for optimum and effcient data collection.

Secondary Data:
Data collected by someone else, for a purpose other than the researcher’s current project, undergoes statistical analysis to become Secondary Data. In simple words, this data is derived from pre-existing information and not directly from the source.

Let’s discuss the two main forms of secondary data and the sources and tools used to gather them:

1. Print Data
This data has been published in print form and is available in the form of physical documents and copies. The researcher can access newspapers, magazines and books through stores and public libraries. The rise of science and technology led to a fall in the collection of print-based data since all kinds of information began to be available online. Still, certain printed texts and publications from previous decades hold immense value with regards to secondary research since their findings became the foundation and basis for further research and developement.

2. Digital Data
Unlimited data can be gathered online through articles, reports and papers published online by government and non-government agencies, NPOs, journals, etc. Papers published in peer-reviewed and scholarly journals are considered to be one of the most credible sources of secondary data collection due to their value within academic circuits. Data can also be gathered via television programs and documentaries and radio interviews and reports.

Ultimately, research seeks to find an answer to a question and selecting the tools and methods used to gather the data required to answer said question depends on a number of factors. As long as the researcher has a clear purpose and a clear focus, proper data collection will be possible keeping in mind the type of data being used.



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