Completing a good assignment is impossible without getting hold of information and data that will support and build up the argument. Typically college and school assignments rely on documentary data including primary and secondary sources. They are textbooks, articles, monographs, collections of letters, memoirs, and so on. So basically the only task at hand is to pick relevant sources and determine if they are scholarly enough.
However, in large complex projects like Master’s thesis or in particular fields like Psychology or Sociology collection of fresh data is required, and then the knowledge of how to gather and process data comes in handy.
Concept of data collection includes both retrieving and analyzing data that are relevant for your project. So each method includes its own ways and tools of data processing, organizing and evaluating. To begin with, all data collection methods can be divided into obtrusive and unobtrusive. Data collected can be either quantitative or qualitative. It is possible and reasonable to include into one’s research quantitative and qualitative data but their retrieval and analysis will differ.
What’s the difference? Obtrusive methods interfere with people’s lives and require efforts on their part, like answering questions, filling forms or reporting some statistics about their buying habits, for example. Unobtrusive methods do not involve people directly, they rely on data already collected and published in reports, surveys and in official databases or involve observation of ways in which people perform some tasks, like shopping.
Quantitative and qualitative data differ in their essence: qualitative data mean statistic, figures and calculable amounts. It is this analysis that stands behind average salary, median income, median age of marriage and the most and the least expensive housing on the market. Qualitative data is about meanings of people’s actions and their motivation. It is about opinions, beliefs, biases that people are not aware of, and so on. This type of data provides insights into what? and why? of human behavior and thus is more valuable. However, it presupposes use of open-ended questions, unstructured interviews, mail responses, and thus it is harder to evaluate and summarize. If quantitative data can be processed via software, then qualitative data should be processed and evaluated by people only, hand-picked, so to say. But when put together, both types of data can significantly boost research and push researchers or business people in the right direction.
Thus before opting for data collection methods, determine what kind of data will be required for your study or paper, and only then devise questions or select databases. Further, there will be discussion of the most widespread and useful methods so read on and find the one that suits your study goals best.
TOP Data Collection Methods
Practically all listed methods of data collection can be used for both qualitative and quantitative data gathering, with one reservation about particular forms and tools that these methods will include.
Interview enables asking all kinds of questions and receiving answers in form of qualitative or quantitative data. Interview is usually held in person but sometimes can be held over the phone. Interview is an especially useful tool for gathering vast array of data from a limited number of people. However, it consumes time and has its limitations.
Interview can be formal or informal, with set structure of questions and predetermined answers or free flowing. Everything depends on your topic and the data you need to gather. Closed-end questions serve as a tool of statistical research, and open-ended or chat-like interviews are good for qualitative research. In personally conducted interviews you are able to lead the Q&A session according to responses of interviewees and to uncover information that cannot be obtained in formalized impersonal setting.
Phone interviews can reach out to a wider circle of people but they are also time-demanding. Lager institutions can hire agencies to interview large groups of people, but you will dispose only of your own time and efforts.
In any case, prepare set of questions in advance, clarify what topics the respondent is not willing to discuss and only then begin the interview. Begin with generic questions and proceed to focus the discussion with more specific ones. Try to shape questions in a way that doesn’t create bias in answers or in replies to following questions. Otherwise the whole interview will be biased and thus ineffective.
Questionnaires and surveys are good in that they are self-administered and today in the age of Internet anyone can set up and conduct a solid survey reaching the wide audience. The only condition of success is that people should be interested in participation. Questionnaires and surveys are written sets of questions or true/false statements that can be distributed by mail, online or in person to a group. Assigned quantitative scale (of the kind ‘Rate this product on the scale from 1 to 5. . . ‘) will significantly facilitate your task in generalizing the statistical data.
The benefit of this method is that one researcher can work with a large group. Once again, depending on rigid/free form these methods can deliver quantitative or qualitative results and should be analyzed correspondingly.
Basic requirements to questions in interviews equally relate to questionnaires and surveys.
Observation provides plenty of information about its subjects who are operating in natural settings and so are unaffected by any limitations or conditions. You should clarify in advance the purpose and length of your observation, prepare necessary recording tools, set time limits and decide upon which phenomena and facts you plan to observe. It can be patterns of children’s free play, selection of toys, communication with school stuff and with peers and so on. Once you set these benchmarks, you can detect abnormalities, additional issues or interesting facts that accompany the activities you observe.
One more large benefit of observation is that you can collect quantitative and qualitative data at the same time, e.g. what games are played and how many children participate in each game, who is excluded from games, and so on.
Focus groups speak most of subjective opinions and experiences and thus are widely cherished by marketers. However, the value of opinions of a group that has something in common is higher since it can provide insights into how human psychology works. So gather a group of people who share some feature – they are teachers, parents of kids on IEP or gardeners – and facilitate the discussion of assigned questions. Answers are very insightful, so they are categorized and later studied as pieces of larger social patterns.
Ethnographic research, recording of oral history and case studies. It sounds exciting and indeed it is connected to traveling to remote corners of the worlds and describing lost tribes. Yet in majority of cases exploration of a different neighborhood is already a case study in ethnography and urban culture, for better or for worse. Ethnographic research studies human life as a whole, it is a multisided and holistic data collection tool. It actually encompasses interviews, observations and surveys. You have to follow closely your subjects and record in writing or with help of technical devices important aspects of their life, beliefs, culture, etc.
Case studies may rely to exploration of an individual phenomenon in life, and oral history recordings are just what they sound – listening to oral stories and writing them down.
Use of primary documents and records is the most familiar way of data gathering for students. You select books or written materials that contain relevant information and extract the data you need. Use of databases, reports, minutes, etc. is also considered work with primary documents. So start with already existing data supply and look where it takes you.
Correct Data Collection Methods
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