In the age when “information is power,” how we gather that information should be one of our major concerns, right? Also, which of the many data collection methods is the best for your particular needs?
Whatever the answer to the two questions above, one thing is for sure – whether you’re a business, organization, agency, entrepreneur, researcher, student, or just a curious individual, gathering data needs to be one of your top priorities.
Still, raw information doesn’t always have to be particularly useful. Without proper context and structure, it’s just a set of random facts and figures after all. If you, however, organize, structure, and analyze that data, you’ve got yourself a powerful “fuel” for your decision-making.
So, why do we collect data?
Data collection is defined as the “process of gathering and measuring information on variables of interest, in an established systematic fashion that enables one to answer queries, stated research questions, test hypotheses, and evaluate outcomes.”
There are numerous reasons for data collection, but here I’m going to focus primarily on business and marketing related ones:
Before we dive deeper into different data collection techniques and methods, let’s just briefly make a difference between the two main types of data – quantitative and qualitative.
This type of data deals with things that are measurable and can be expressed in numbers or figures, or using other values that express quantity. That being said, quantitative data is usually expressed in numerical form and can represent size, length, duration, amount, price, and so on.
Quantitative research is most likely to provide answers to questions such as who? when? where? what? and how many?
Quantitative survey questions are in most cases closed-ended and created in accordance with the research goals, thus making the answers easily transformable into numbers, charts, graphs, and tables.
The data obtained via quantitative data collection methods can be used to test existing ideas or predictions, learn about your customers, measure general trends, and make important. For instance, you can use it to measure the success of your product and which aspects may need improvement, the level of satisfaction of your customers, to find out whether and why your competitors are outselling you, and so on.
As quantitative data collection methods are often based on mathematical calculations, the data obtained that way is usually seen as more objective and reliable than qualitative. Some of the most common quantitative data collection techniques include surveys and questionnaires (with closed-ended questions).
Compared to qualitative techniques, quantitative methods are usually cheaper and it takes less time to gather data this way. Plus, due to a pretty high level of standardization, it’s much easier to compare and analyze the findings obtained using quantitative data collection methods.
Unlike quantitative data, which deals with numbers and figures, qualitative data is descriptive in nature rather than numerical. Qualitative data is usually not easily measurable as quantitative and can be gained through observation or open-ended survey or interview questions.
Qualitative research is most likely to provide answers to questions such as “why?” and “how?”
As mentioned, qualitative data collection methods are most likely to consist of open-ended questions and descriptive answers and little or no numerical value. Qualitative data is an excellent way to gain insight into your audience’s thoughts and behavior (maybe the ones you identified using quantitative research, but wasn’t able to analyze in greater detail).
Data obtained using qualitative data collection methods can be used to find new ideas, opportunities, and problems, test their value and accuracy, formulate predictions, explore a certain field in more detail, and explain the numbers obtained using quantitative data collection techniques.
As quantitative data collection methods usually do not involve numbers and mathematical calculations but are rather concerned with words, sounds, thoughts, feelings, and other non-quantifiable data, qualitative data is often seen as more subjective, but at the same time, it allows a greater depth of understanding.
Some of the most common qualitative data collection techniques include open-ended surveys and questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, observation, case studies, and so on.
Closed-ended surveys and online quizzes are based on questions that give respondents predefined answer options to opt for. There are two main types of closed-ended surveys – those based on categorical and those based on interval/ratio questions.
Categorical survey questions can be further classified into dichotomous (‘yes/no’), multiple-choice questions, or checkbox questions and can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” or a specific piece of predefined information.
Interval/ratio questions, on the other hand, can consist of rating-scale, Likert-scale, or matrix questions and involve a set of predefined values to choose from on a fixed scale. You can learn more about the different types of closed-ended survey questions here.
Once again, these types of data collection methods are a great choice when looking to get a simple and easily analyzable counts, such as “85% of respondents said surveys are an effective means of data collection” or “56% of men and 61% of women have taken a survey this year” (disclaimer: made-up stats).
Here’s an example of a closed-ended image survey question created using LeadQuizzes:
If you’d like to create something like this on your own, here’s a guide on how to create your own survey.
Opposite to closed-ended are open-ended surveys and questionnaires. The main difference between the two is the fact that closed-ended surveys offer predefined answer options the respondent must choose from, whereas open-ended surveys allow the respondents much more freedom and flexibility when providing their answers.
Here’s an example that best illustrates the difference:
When creating an open-ended survey, keep in mind the length of your survey and the number and complexity of questions. You need to carefully determine the optimal number of question, as answering open-ended questions can be time-consuming and demanding, and you don’t want to overwhelm your respondents.
Compared to closed-ended surveys, one of the quantitative data collection methods, the findings of open-ended surveys are more difficult to compile and analyze due to the fact that there are no uniform answer options to choose from.
One-on-one (or face-to-face) interviews are one of the most common types of data collection methods in qualitative research. Here, the interviewer collects data directly from the interviewee. Due to it being a very personal approach, this data collection technique is perfect when you need to gather highly-personalized data.
Depending on your specific needs, the interview can be informal, unstructured, conversational, and even spontaneous (as if you were talking to your friend) – in which case it’s more difficult and time-consuming to process the obtained data – or it can be semi-structured and standardized to a certain extent (if you, for example, ask the same series of open-ended questions).
The focus groups data collection method is essentially an interview method, but instead of being done 1-on-1, here we have a group discussion.
Whenever the resources for 1-on-1 interviews are limited (whether in terms of people, money, or time) or you need to recreate a particular social situation in order to gather data on people’s attitudes and behaviors, focus groups can come in very handy.
Ideally, a focus group should have 3-10 people, plus a moderator. Of course, depending on the research goal and what the data obtained is to be used for, there should be some common denominators for all the members of the focus group.
For example, if you’re doing a study on the rehabilitation of teenage female drug users, all the members of your focus group have to be girls recovering from drug addiction. Other parameters, such as age, education, employment, marital status do not have to be similar.
Direct observation is one of the most passive qualitative data collection methods. Here, the data collector takes a participatory stance, observing the setting in which the subjects of their observation are while taking down notes, video/audio recordings, photos, and so on.
Due to its participatory nature, direct observation can lead to bias in research, as the participation may influence the attitudes and opinions of the researcher, making it challenging for them to remain objective. Plus, the fact that the researcher is a participant too can affect the naturalness of the actions and behaviors of subjects who know they’re being observed.
Above, I’ve presented you with 5 different data collection methods that can help you gather all the quantitative and qualitative data you need. Even though I’ve classified the techniques according to the type of data you’re most likely to obtain, many of the methods used above can be used to obtain both qualitative and quantitative data.
Surveys, as you may have noticed, are particularly effective in collecting both types of data, depending on whether you structure your survey questions as open-ended or closed-ended.
If you’d like to create your own survey now, just click on the button below to get access to our free survey templates!