Having decided on a research question to investigate, the time has come to collect data. Many methods of data collection exist, but not all are appropriate for every scenario. According to Mario Triola (2008), improper data collection may result in data that is “completely useless” (p. 21). At best, improper data collection might generate results that are irrelevant. At worst, it could generate wildly inaccurate results that lead to poor decision-making in the future.
Three methods of data collection include focus groups, surveys, and comparative studies. Focus groups consist of small groups of people that discuss the research question under the guidance of a facilitator. Although this method of data collection may uncover quantitative data such as what percentage of the population prefers a particular beverage, it is better suited, via the interpretation of the open discussion between participants, to uncovering qualitative data behind quantitative data collected in some other fashion. Surveys, on the other hand, provide that quantitative data focus groups may need. Surveys present an individual with a list of specific questions with a limited number of responses available. The results of a survey can include qualitative data, such as the participant’s nationality, as well as quantitative data. Comparative studies utilize data collected from multiple sources to draw conclusions. For example, this method would combine the quantitative data generated in the survey with the qualitative data from a focus group to better understand the overall meaning of the entire data set (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 1993).
Proper use of a data collection requires an understanding of when that method should be used. Surveys are most useful when there is limited pre-existing data. Thanks to their ease of implementation and relatively low cost, they can successfully be used for research that requires a large audience. Focus groups build on the concept of surveys by adding more depth to the information that has already been uncovered. Additionally, the discussion between focus group participants can be enlightening when properly cited by the facilitator. Finally, comparative studies provide the richest information by combining the work of multiple data collection methods into one presentation. It is most useful to use a comparative study when a reasonable amount of research has already been done on a topic, but a different perspective is necessary (TBCS, 1993).
Although surveys are one of the most basic forms of data collection, attention must be given to their design and administration. It is advisable to engage an expert when creating a survey. Questions can cover a wide range of topics, and if administered offline, the participant has a chance to review her answers before submitting. Researchers must remember that survey response rate is often low and participants may not accurately represent the population (TBCS, 1993). More specifically, survey respondents to represent the extremes of the population as they usually have a strong positive or negative reaction to the subject of the research. This particular issue may encourage researchers to consider using impromptu interviews of random individuals rather than surveys to garner a less biased result.
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. (1993). Data collection methods. Retrieved April 14, 2009.
Triola, M. F. (2008). Elementary statistics (10th ed.). Boston: Pearson.