Data Collection Methods

Data Collection Methods
“Data collection is the process of
gathering and measuring information on variables of interest, in an established
systematic fashion that enables one to answer stated research questions, test
hypotheses and evaluate outcomes.” –Wikipedia
task of data collection begins after a research problem has been defined and
research design/ plan chalked out. While deciding about the method of data
collection, the researcher should keep in mind two types of data viz., primary
and secondary.
Primary Data:
The primary data are those which are
collected afresh and for the first time, and thus happen to be original in
character. Primary data originally obtained through the direct efforts of the
researcher through surveys, interviews and direct observation. Primary data is
more costly to obtain than secondary data, but it is also more current and more
relevant to the research project.
for example, data collected by a student for his/her thesis or research
Secondary Data:
The secondary data are those which have
already been collected by someone else and which have already been passed
through the statistical process. Such data are cheaper and more quickly
obtainable than the primary data.
for example, Census data is being used to analyze the impact of education on
career choice and earning.
collection methods:
methods of collecting primary and secondary data differ since primary data are
to be originally collected, while in case of secondary data the nature of data
collection work is merely that of compilation. In below the different methods
of data collection, with the pros and cons of each method.
Collection of Primary
are several methods of collecting primary data like –
Observation method
Interview method
Questionnaires method
Schedule method
1.     Observation
The observation method is the most commonly used method.
Observation becomes a scientific tool and the method of data collection for the
In the word of P. V. Young, “Observation may be defined as
systematic viewing, coupled with consideration of seen phenomenon.”
 Under the observation
method, data from the field is collected with the help of observation by the
researcher in person.
The main advantage of this method is that subjective bias is
eliminated, if observation is done accurately. Secondly, the information obtained
under this method is current information. Thirdly, this method is independent
of respondents’ willingness to respond and as such is relatively less demanding
of active cooperation of respondents as happens in the interview or the questionnaire
However, observation method has various limitations. Firstly, it
is an expensive method. Secondly,
The information provided by this method is very limited. Thirdly,
respondents’ opinion cannot be recorded on certain subject.
Types of
Structure Observation:
When observation is done by preplanning e.g. characterizing style
of recording the observed information, standardized conditions of observation
and the selection of pertinent data of observation, then the observation is
called as structured observation.
Unstructured Observation:
When observation is
done without any thought or preplanning before observation then it is unstructured observation.
Participant Observation:
If the observer observes by making himself, more or less, a member
of the group he is observing so that he can experience what the members of the
group experience, the observation is called as the participant observation.
There are several merits of the participant type of observation:
(i) The researcher is enabled to record the natural behaviour of the group.
(ii) The researcher can even gather information which could not easily be
obtained if he observes in a disinterested fashion.
But there are also certain demerits of this type of observation
viz., the observer may lose the objectivity to the extent he participates
Non-participant Observation:
When the observer observes as a detached emissary (spy) without
making any connection with the community then it is termed as non-participant observation
5.      Disguised
When the observer is observing in such a manner that his presence
may be unknown to the people he is observing, such an observation is described
as disguised observation.
Controlled Observation:
When observation takes place according to definite pre-arranged
plans, involving experimental procedure, the same is then termed controlled
Uncontrolled Observation:
If the observation takes place in the natural setting, it may be
termed as uncontrolled observation. It is done to get spontaneous picture of
life and person.
2.     Interview
The interview method of collecting data involves presentation of oral-verbal
stimuli and reply in terms of oral-verbal responses. This is an oral-verbal
communication where interviewer ask questions to respondent through personal
interviews and, if possible, through telephone interviews.
There are different type of interviews as follows:
Personal interviews:
Personal interview method requires a person known as the
interviewer asking questions generally in a face-to-face contact to the other person
or persons. (At times the interviewee may also ask certain questions and the
interviewer responds to these, but usually the interviewer initiates the
interview and collects the information.) He has to be on the spot and has to
meet people from whom data have to be collected.
This method is particularly suitable for intensive investigations.
Structured Interview:
Structured interviews involve the use of a set of predetermined
questions and of highly standardized techniques of recording. Thus, the
interviewer in a structured interview follows a rigid procedure laid down, asking
questions in a form and order prescribed.  Analysis of data become easier in this method
because information is collected in prescribed manner.
Unstructured Interview:
Unstructured interviews do not follow a system of pre-determined
questions and standardized techniques of recording information.
interview is characterized by the flexibility of approach to questioning (the interviewer get the flexibility of asking questions. )
e.g. the interviewer is allowed much greater freedom
to ask supplementary questions or at times he may add or omit certain questions
if the situation so requires. He may even change the sequence of questions.
But this sort of time-consuming than structured interviews.
Unstructured interviews also demand deep knowledge and greater skill of the
interviewer. Besides, analysis of data is difficult because data is collected
in non-prescribed way.
Focused Interview:
Focused interview is meant to focus attention on the given experience of the
respondent and its possible effects. Under it the interviewer has the freedom
to decide the manner and sequence in which the questions would be asked. Such
interviews are used generally in the development of hypotheses and constitute a
major type of unstructured interviews.
Clinical Interview:
The clinical interview is concerned with
broad underlying feelings or motivations or with the course of individual’s
life experience, rather than with the effects of the specific experience, as in
the case of focused interview.
Non directive Interview:
case of Non-directive interview,
the interviewer’s function is simply to encourage the respondent to talk about
the given topic with a bare minimum of direct questioning. The interviewer
often acts as a catalyst here.
Despite the variations in interview-techniques, the major advantages
and weaknesses of personal interviews can be enumerated in a general way. 
of Personal Interview Method:
More information and at
greater depth can be obtained.
Interviewer by his own
skill can overcome the resistance, if any, of the respondents.
There is greater
flexibility under this method as the opportunity to restructure questions is always
there, specially in case of unstructured interviews.
Observation method can as
well be applied to recording verbal answers to various questions.
Personal information can as
well be obtained easily under this method.
The interviewer can usually
control which person(s) will answer the questions. This is not possible in
mailed questionnaire approach.
The language of the
interview can be adopted to the ability or educational level of the person
interviewed and as such misinterpretations concerning questions can be avoided.
The interviewer can collect
supplementary information about the respondent’s personal characteristics and
environment which is often of great value in interpreting results.
of Personal Interview Method:
It is a very expensive
method, specially when large and widely spread geographical sample is taken.
Respondent may give bias information.
Certain types of
respondents such as important officials or executives or people in high income
groups may not be easily approachable under this method.
This method is relatively
more-time-consuming, specially when the sample is large.
The presence of the
interviewer on the spot may over-stimulate the respondent, sometimes even he
may give imaginary information just to make the interview interesting.
Under the interview method
the organization required for selecting, training and supervising the
field-staff is more complex with formidable problems.
Interviewing at times may
also introduce systematic errors.
Telephone interviews:
This method of collecting information by contacting respondents
over telephone. It is not a very widely used method, but plays important part
in industrial surveys, particularly in developed regions.
The main advantages of such a system are:
It is more flexible in
comparison to mailing method.
It is faster than other
methods i.e., a quick way of obtaining information.
It is cheaper than personal
interviewing method.
Recall is easy; callbacks
are simple and economical.
Replies can be recorded
without causing embarrassment to respondents.
Interviewer can explain
requirements more easily.
No field staff is required.
Little time is given to
respondents for considered answers; interview period is not likely to exceed
five minutes in most cases.
Surveys are restricted to
respondents who have telephone facilities.
Extensive geographical
coverage may get restricted by cost considerations.
It is not suitable for
intensive surveys where comprehensive answers are required to various questions.
Possibility of the bias of
the interviewer is relatively more.
Questions have to be short
and to the point; probes are difficult to handle.
3.     Questionnaires
This method of data collection is quite popular, particularly in
case of big enquiries. It is being adopted by private individuals, research
workers, private and public organizations and even by governments. In this
method a questionnaire is sent (usually by post) to the persons concerned with
a request to answer the questions and return the questionnaire. A questionnaire
consists of a number of questions printed or typed in a definite order. The
questionnaire is mailed to respondents who are expected to read and understand
the questions and write down the reply in the space meant for the purpose in
the questionnaire itself. The respondents have to answer the questions on their
own. The method of collecting data by mailing the questionnaires to respondents
is most extensively employed in various economic and business surveys.
Before using this method, it is always advisable to conduct ‘pilot
study’ (Pilot Survey) for testing the questionnaires. In a big enquiry the
significance of pilot survey is felt very much. Pilot survey is in fact the
replica and rehearsal of the main survey. Such a survey, being conducted by
experts, brings to the light the weaknesses (if any) of the questionnaires and
also of the survey techniques. From the experience gained in this way,
improvement can be effected.
The merits claimed on behalf of this method are as follows:
There is low cost even when
the universe is large and is widely spread geographically.
It is free from the bias of
the interviewer; answers are in respondents’ own words.
Respondents have adequate
time to give well thought out answers.
Respondents, who are not
easily approachable, can also be reached conveniently.
Large samples can be used,
thus the results can be more dependable and reliable.
The main demerits of this system can also be listed here:
Low rate of return of the
duly filled in questionnaires; bias due to no-response is often indeterminate.
It can be used only when
respondents are educated and cooperating.
The control over
questionnaire may be lost once it is sent.
There is inbuilt
inflexibility because of the difficulty of amending the approach once questionnaires
have been despatched.
There is also the
possibility of ambiguous replies or omission of replies altogether to certain questions;
interpretation of omissions is difficult.
It is difficult to know
whether willing respondents are truly representative.
This method is likely to be
the slowest of all.
4.     Schedules
method of data collection is very much like the collection of data through
questionnaire, with little difference which lies in the fact that schedules are
being filled in by the enumerators who are specially appointed for the purpose.
These enumerators along with schedules, go to respondents, put to them the
questions and record the replies. In certain situations, schedules may be
handed over to respondents. Enumerators explain the aims and objects of the
investigation and also remove the difficulties which any respondent may feel in
understanding the questions.
enumerators should be trained to perform their job well and the nature and
scope of the investigation should be explained to them thoroughly so that they
may well understand the implications of different questions put in the
schedule. Enumerators should be intelligent and must possess the capacity of cross-examination
in order to find out the truth. Above all, they should be honest, sincere,
hardworking and should have patience and perseverance.
method of data collection is very useful in extensive enquiries and can lead to
fairly reliable results. It is, however, very expensive and is usually adopted
in investigations conducted by governmental agencies or by some big organizations.
Population census all over the world is conducted through this method.
Collection of Secondary Data
Secondary data means data that are already available i.e., they
refer to the data which have already been collected and analyzed by someone
else. When the researcher utilizes secondary data, then he has to look into
various sources from where he can obtain them. In this case he is certainly not
confronted with the problems that are usually associated with the collection of
original data. Secondary data may either be published data or unpublished data.
Usually published data are available in: (a) various publications of the
central, state are local governments; (b) various publications of foreign
governments or of international bodies and their subsidiary organizations; (c)
technical and trade journals; (d) books, magazines and newspapers; (e) reports
and publications of various associations connected with business and industry,
banks, stock exchanges, etc.; (f) reports prepared by research scholars,
universities, economists, etc. in different fields; and (g) public records and
statistics, historical documents, and other sources of published information.
The sources of unpublished data are many; they may be found in diaries,
letters, unpublished biographies and autobiographies and also may be available
with scholars and research workers, trade associations, labor bureaus and other
public/private individuals and organizations.
of Appropriate Method for Data Collection/ Considerable Factors to Choose
Research Methods:
There are various methods of data collection. As such the researcher
must judiciously select the method/methods for his own study, keeping in view
the following factors:
Nature, scope and object of enquiry:
constitutes the most important factor affecting the choice
of a particular method. The method selected should be such that it suits the
type of enquiry that is to be conducted by the
researcher. This factor is also important in deciding whether the data already available (secondary data) are to be used or the
data not yet available (primary data) are to be
Availability of funds:
of funds for the research project determines to a large extent the method to be used for the collection of data. When
funds at the disposal of the researcher are very
limited, he will have to select a comparatively cheaper method which may not be
as efficient and effective as some other
costly method. Finance, in fact, is a big constraint in practice and the
researcher has to act within this limitation.
Time factor:
of time has also to be taken into account in deciding a particular method of data collection. Some methods take relatively more time,
whereas with others the data can be collected
in a comparatively shorter duration. The time at the disposal of the
researcher, thus, affects the selection of the
method by which the data are to be collected.
Precision required:
required is yet another important factor to be considered at the time of selecting the method of collection of data.
But one must always remember that each method of data collection
has its uses and none is superior in
all situations. For instance, telephone interview method may be considered
appropriate if funds are restricted, time is also restricted and the data is to
be collected in respect of few items with or
without a certain degree of precision. In case funds permit and more information is desired, personal interview method
may be said to be relatively better. When funds are ample, time is also ample and much information with no precision is to be
collected, then either personal interview or the mail-questionnaire is appropriate. Where a wide geographic area is to be
covered, the use of mail-questionnaires supplemented
by personal interviews will yield more reliable results. The secondary data may
be used in case the researcher finds them reliable, adequate and appropriate for his research.


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