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Research Process: Data collection

This guide gives a full overview of all the aspects of the research process and where to get assistance.

Data collection

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. The data collection component of research is common to all fields of study including physical and social sciences, humanities, business, etc. While methods vary by discipline, the emphasis on ensuring accurate and honest collection remains the same.

Source:
Northern Illinois University Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. N.D. Responsible conduct of Research [Electronic]. Available at: http://ori.dhhs.gov/education/products/n_illinois_u/datamanagement/dctopic.html. Accessed: 27 July 2013

Primary data are generated and compiled by administering an original study, such as interviews, surveys, or focus groups. These types of data are designed to address a specific issue or information need that is not found in existing sources.

Secondary data come from information sources that already exist, such as statistical abstracts, state reports, historical studies, and other published literature.  These sources should be evaluated just as primary data are examined, and the information should be corroborated by using as many sources as feasible, given time and resources.

Source:
University of Illinois. A step-by-step guide to  conduction a social profile for watershed planning [Electronic]. Available at: http://www.watershedplanning.illinois.edu/profile_steps/step3.cfm. Accessed 27 July 2013

 

There are a number of methods available to researchers for collecting data. The commonly used data collection methods can be divided into the following types:

Source:
Mouton, J. 2001. How to succeed in your master's & doctoral studies: a South African guide and resource book. Pretoria: Van Schaik.

It is imperative that you document your data collection process as accurately and in as much detail as possible as a historical record for yourself and other possible researchers.

General guidelines for aspects of your project and data that you should document, regardless of your discipline, can be found on the library website under Research Data Management.  Useful information about basic, practical strategies for data management is available here.

Sources:

Mouton, J. 2001. How to succeed in your master's & doctoral studies: a South African guide and resource book. Pretoria: Van Schaik

The natural sciences (and increasingly in other fields) often require sophisticated instrumentation, recording devices and scientific equipment for data collection.
Using previously validated collection instruments can save time and increase the study's credibility. However, remember that all data collection instrumentation, such as surveys, physiologic measures (blood pressure or temperature), or interview guides, must be identified and described.

Sources:
Mouton, J. 2001. How to succeed in your master's & doctoral studies: a South African guide and resource book. Pretoria: Van Schaik.

Indiana State University Cunningham Memorial Library. Finding Research Instruments, Surveys, and Tests Libguide [Electronic]. Available at: http://libguides.indstate.edu/content.php?pid=89389&sid=665286. Accessed 27 July 2013

The short video below by Ian Bailey-Mortimer explains the significance of populations and samples, census vs survey, open and closed questions and bias in questionnaires, sampling and interpretation.