Data collection is an important part of how we understand the world around us. A systemic method of collecting and measuring information from different sources, data collection allows us to generate answers to relevant questions. With the help of advanced data collection software, it has become easier to collect data from anywhere and any time. Mainstream data collection methods have evolved over the years, turning the basic process into a sophisticated science with lots of possibilities.
The following are eight commonly used data collection methods in research:
1. Solid predictions
Many of the data collection methods in research are based on making educated and accurate predictions. In addition to understanding the current state of things, data collection also allows us to make predictions about upcoming phenomenon and trends. How we collect data will depend on the subject matter and the type of study being conducted.
Depending on the researcher’s research plan and design, there are several ways data can be collected. In general, there are some broad categories and best practices that can help us better understand how data is collected. Here is an overview.
2. Surveys and questionnaires
Surveys and questionnaires are popular data collection methods in research. Typically, information gathered in this way will focus primarily on individual or group experiences regarding a particular phenomenon. This type of data collection can be done in a few different ways, the most common being web-based questionnaire and paper-based questionnaire (printed form).
The results of this method of data collection are generally easy to analyse and can therefore yield fruitful results quickly. Surveys and questionnaires can also be administered in large numbers and are cost-effective. The problematic aspect is that answers may be dishonest, or the respondents could lose interest midway. Further, due to the nature of this methods, questionnaires and surveys can’t produce qualitative data.
3. Literature sources
This is usually the data collection method that a researcher uses to begin familiarizing themselves with a subject. Using publicly available, published texts, one can begin to understand the existing body of data that exists about a certain topic. This form of secondary data collection can use textbooks, government or private companies’ reports, newspapers, magazines, online published papers and articles. Compared to primary methods of data collection, it is inexpensive and relatively accessible.
4. Research interviews
Interviews, on the other hand, are a way of collecting qualitative data in which the results are based on intensive engagement with respondents about a particular study. Interviews can take place in a range of different settings and can be structured, semi-structured, or completely unstructured and informal. Interview can be conducted in person, over the phone, or online.
A broad term that encompasses a few different approaches, reporting is, by definition, the process of gathering and submitting data to be further subjected to analysis. The key aspect of data reporting is that it must be scrupulous to convey accurate data, because inaccurate data reporting leads to uninformed decision making. Reporting tools enable the researcher to extract and present data in charts, tables, and other visualizations so users can find useful information.
Many sources of data can be used for reporting, including Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) reports, government reports, business reports, and hospital records. The pros of this method are that it can lead to a useful general picture and informed decision making. Unfortunately, not all reports are fully accurate or were carried out carefully, and in that case the results may be affected by bias.
To collect data by means of observation, participants must be monitored in a specific situation or environment at a given time and day. Basically, researchers observe the behaviour of the surrounding environments or people that are being studied. In some cases, the observation takes place in a controlled environment, in which the researcher uses a standardised procedure of observing participants or the environment.
Natural observation, as the name suggests, is when participants are observed under completely natural, unaltered conditions. In some cases, the researcher will themselves become part of the group which is being studied, this is called participant observation.
7. Documents and records
Unlike other forms of secondary research already mentioned, this is the process of examining existing documents and records of an organisation for tracking changes over a period of time. Documents that lend themselves well to this method of data collection include call logs, email logs, databases, minutes of meetings, and staff reports.
Imagine that a business or organization is trying to determine why a certain product or service has many bad reviews, they can look into records of their products or services and recorded interaction of employees with customers in order to find answers.
Data collection through experimental research is a method where the causal relationship between two variables are being examined. Typically, one or more of the variables will be manipulated, and the other is measured. Due to this dynamic, experimental research is mostly used to collect data based on cause and effect.
This type of data collection is most often used among medical researchers. Experiments use a quantitative research approach and need to be easily replicable in order for their results to have any real impact on the field being studied.