What are the best methods of data collection?

By June 2, 2012Blog

The methods for data collection and the effectiveness of each depends on the factors that are important to the collector. For example, how accurate does the information collected need to be and what are the variables involved?

The main methods are:

Questionnaires / Surveys – these are useful forms of data collection, providing the respondents are likely to be cooperative. These are also an economical method of collection. Respondents can take their time in their responses and if they are interested, will fill in the form in detail. However, the questionnaire results depend primarily on the interest of the participants and also require competent literacy levels. The most common types of questionnaires / surveys are conducted either through the mail, online or directly. The disadvantages of this type of data collection are that the collector may find it difficult to get a good sample (showing variety), or there may be a low rate of responses. In addition, the level of control the collector has over respondents is minimal, and respondents may not have access to the right information.

Direct Observations – this is considered to be an accurate form of data collection. Direct observations involve a controlled record being made of people’s behaviour or of events, as well as of measurements. Systems used in this type of data collection need to be reliable and tested, however, to avoid poor quality of data being inputted.

Focus Groups – this involves a small group of people coming together to discuss a topic, whether it be new product development, or testing or other purpose. Focus groups can be conducted face to face, online, over the telephone or via video conferencing. The disadvantage of a focus group is that the interviewer may not retain control over the group and the outcome may differ to the intent. However, this type of data collection allows for creativity, particularly in the direct, face to face method.

Interviews – direct interviews can take the form of meetings or can be done over the telephone or internet or, more popularly, by using photo booths for recording information. Respondents may be more receptive to interviews, and questions can lead into other areas. Interviews allow for respondents with low literacy levels, as data is collected verbally and can be recorded. This is a fast way of collecting information and the sample can be spread out according to geography. Face to face interviews are often the most effective way to conduct research.

Disadvantages of direct interviews include the pressure of time, as well as the costly price of at-home or business interviews. There is added pressure on the interviewer conducting the questions, as they should have a good knowledge and command of the subject as well as have a smart appearance and a friendly disposition.

This type of direct data collection is becoming available in more creative ways, such as the photo booth, allowing for privacy in data collection and making it more accessible.