Desktop computer screen showing data collection

4 Data Collection Methods

Once you understand the difference between qualitative and quantitative data, it is helpful to understand the various methods you can use to gather your data. Data collection methods are tools that help organizations collect quality data. Organizations can be confident in their findings when these tools are applied accurately. The list below provides the most common data collection methods: 1) Focus Groups, 2) Interviews, 3) Observations, and 4) Surveys.

Focus Groups
This data collection method involves face-to-face interactions between the researcher/moderator and respondents. Typically, most of the data gathered within focus groups are qualitative. One of the goals of focus groups is to get respondents to provide further details and insight into their opinions. Facilitators can probe or ask follow-up questions to gather additional information. While surveys can include qualitative questions, the ability to rich qualitative data is limited. Focus groups are great for understanding the why and what behind your questions. For example, you can understand why people like your program or what they think about your idea through focus groups.  During focus groups, the group dynamics/conversation between the respondents can enhance the type of information you collect. If you want to learn more about qualitative data, please refer to one of our previous blog posts What is Quantitative and Qualitative Data?

Like focus groups, interviews typically gather qualitative data rather than quantitative data. Interviews can be more focused or open-ended depending on the researcher’s needs (Thomas, Nelson, & Silverman, 2015). The researcher is looking at an individual’s opinion rather than a group discussion since interviews are done one-on-one (either in person or over the phone). It’s crucial during interviews that whoever is conducting the interviews builds a rapport with the respondent, which in turn results in getting further details over other data collection methods (Thomas, Nelson, & Silverman, 2015). Interviews are an excellent data collection method when the discussion topic is sensitive. For example, a respondent may not want to share intimate details about their life in front of strangers or during a focus group.

Observational data collection methods include observing behavior in its natural state. Two main types of observations can occur 1) participant observation and 2) unobtrusive observation. In participant observation, a “researcher may interact with participants and become a part of their community” (Driscoll, 2011). In unobtrusive observation, the researcher does not interact with the participants and instead takes notes about the behavior they are observing (Driscoll, 2011). Observations are useful for gathering real-time information about an exhibit, program, or other activity. For instance, if you were evaluating the effectiveness of a museum exhibit, collecting observation data as patrons are visiting the museum may be the best strategy.

Surveys are a common type of data collection method. They typically gather quantitative data but can also collect qualitative data. Also, surveys can typically be administered online or with paper.  Most surveys consist of predefined close-ended or open-ended questions that require some response. Three main types of response options include: 1) categorical or nominal, 2) ordinal, and 3) numerical. Categorical or nominal data, such as race/ethnicity or eye color, have no numerical value. Ordinal data includes rating your response based on a scale such as a Likert scale. Most Likert scales include 4 to 7 responses. One of the most frequently used ordinal response options are: strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, and strongly disagree. In contrast to categorical or nominal data, numerical data is looking for a numerical response. Common numerical data include height, weight, age, and number of times you have done something (Taylor-Powell, 2008).

This REC 5-part blog series started with a post entitled Collecting Quality Data – 4 Questions. The final blog post will focus on the pros and cons of the various data collection methods mentioned here. Reviewing the pros and cons of these methods will help you make the best decision for your needs. As you think of which method will get you the needed data, think about how you plan to use and report this information.  This consideration will help you decide which method is best for you!

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2 thoughts on “4 Data Collection Methods”

  1. If we talk about the methodological features of ICT, then the main emphasis is on such an important feature of the integration of research approaches as combining their advantages and neutralizing disadvantages. Thus, studies of a mixed type allow: a) to carry out cross-validation of data obtained from various sources; b) exclude or minimize competing explanations and interpretations; c) clarify the contradictory aspects of the phenomenon under study [Johnson, Turner, 2003: p. 299].
    Burke Johnson and Lisa Turner (Johnson, Turner, 2003) identify 18 specific approaches to data collection based on six methods (survey, interview, focus groups, tests, observation, secondary data) and the research approach used (qualitative, quantitative or mixed) .. At the same time, various methods of data collection can be combined in two ways – intramethod or intermethod

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