Data Collection Tools In Quantitative Research

Data Collection Tools In Quantitative Research


Content Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. Tools of data collection
  3. Methods of data collection
  4. Conclusion


Data Collection is a very important step in research. Inaccurate data collection would not only impact the results of the research but also invalidate them. Research may be based on both primary and secondary data.

Primary data is the information collected by a researcher specifically for a research assignment. Primary data is original, current and directly related to the issue or the problem being studied. Hence, the degree of accuracy is high as is the reliability of the data collected. Being recent, it gives the researcher a realistic understanding of the issue being researched. Primary data are the data which the researcher collects through various methods like interviews, surveys, questionnaires etc. It can include a large population and can extend to cover a wide geographical area or may be based on a small sample confined to a particular area. 

However, as the coverage is directly proportional to the availability of resources like money, materials and manpower, one must note that the coverage may be limited. It is expensive and time consuming to collect primary data for research. Moreover, there is a strong possibility that the results of the study may get obsolete by the time the research is completed. Questions too need to be framed such that they are easy to comprehend and respond to. Administering such a questionnaire for data collection also requires trained and reliable personnel which further increases the expense of the research.

Secondary data are the data collected in the past for a different purpose and at a different time by a party unrelated to the research study. This published material when used in a new research becomes the secondary data for that research. These may be available in written, typed or in electronic forms. It enables the researcher get an initial insight into the research issue under study and provides a frame of reference. As it is faster to access, it saves a lot of valuable time, money and efforts. 

However, one has to ensure that this data is reliable and applicable to the group being studied both geographically and culturally. The researcher also has to be aware of the copyright laws when using secondary data, which over time may become obsolete as well. Hence a combination of both secondary and primary data is usually used in research wherever possible.

Tools of data collection

The tools of data collection enable the researcher to translate the objectives of the study into specific questions/ items and the responses to these will provide the data required to achieve the research objectives. In order to achieve this purpose, the respondent must be clearly conveyed the idea or group of ideas required to fulfill the research objectives, and each item must obtain a response which can be analysed for fulfilling them.

Information gathered through the tools provides descriptions of characteristics of individuals, institutions or other phenomena under study. It is useful for measuring the various variables pertaining to the study. The variables and their interrelationships are analysed for testing the hypothesis or for exploring the content areas set by the research objectives.

For example, in a study that seeks to better understand the study patterns of children who are academically challenged, the research tool should be able to garner information from teachers, parents, students and other stakeholders pertaining to learning methods, study patterns, study material, environment and all other related topics by including them in the tool.

Data collection methods vary depending on the type of study, they could be either quantitative or qualitative. Depending on the kind of information to be gathered, different instruments are used for the purpose: forms for gathering data from official sources such as police or school records; surveys/interviews to gather information from youth, community residents, and others; and focus groups to elicit free-flowing perspectives. These are called tools or instruments of data collection.

Quantitative methods are designed to ensure objectivity, generalizability and reliability of data and therefore of the research. Quantitative approaches have the advantage that they are cheaper to implement, are standardized so comparisons can be easily made and the size of the effect can usually be measured. Quantitative approaches however are limited in their capacity for the investigation and explanation of similarities and unexpected differences. It ignores human behavior in a way that removes the event from its real world setting and ignores the effects of variables that have not been included in the model. 

Methods of data collection

A number of methods are used to garner data for research. These require well prepared tools and well trained personnel so that the objectives of the study are clearly explained to the respondents and accurate and appropriate data can be effectively gathered from them with the help of the tools. This can then be assessed and interpreted in the light of the variables and objectives of the research study.
  • Interview
    In this method the interviewer personally meets the informants and questions them regarding the subject of enquiry. He follows a set of questions or a questionnaire to obtain relevant data from the interviewee. The interviewer must be well trained, efficient and tactful to obtain accurate and relevant data from the informants. Interviews like personal interview/in depth interview or telephone interview can be conducted as per the need of the study.

    Face-to-face interviews enable the researcher to establish a good rapport with the participants and elicit their co-operation. They also allow the researcher to clarify ambiguous answers and seek follow-up information. However, when large samples are involved they can be impractical, time consuming and expensive (Leedy and Ormrod, 2001).Moreover, proper training of interviewers is necessary to reduce the interviewer bias

    Telephone interviews are less time consuming and less expensive and the researcher can readily access anyone who owns a telephone. Although the response rate is not as high as the face-to- face interview, the sample may be biased to the extent that people without phones that may be part of the population about whom the researcher wants to draw inferences, would be left out. Moreover, sensitive issues cannot be covered via a telephonic interview.  
  • Focus groups or group discussions
    Focus groups or group discussions help to further explore a topic, especially complex issues, cultural values and beliefs; provide a broader understanding and assist in determining the reason for attitudes and beliefs. The main purpose of focus group discussion is to draw upon respondents' perspectives, attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences and reactions in a way in which would not be feasible using other methods, like observation, one-to-one interviewing, or questionnaire surveys. They are usually conducted with a small sample of the target group to gain greater insights. Focus group discussions can be comfortably conducted with a non-literate target group also.

    However, the researcher must be careful to balance the group to ensure they are culturally and gender appropriate and needs to be skilled at conducting focus groups, dealing with conflict, drawing out passive participants and creating a relaxed, welcoming environment. There is a strong possibility of the group discussion being dominated by one or two people, or the risk of ‘group think’ wherein the ideas of a few are passed off as the sole opinion. There is also the lack of anonymity in this method of data collection and its analysis is time consuming. My-Peer Guide to Running Discussion Groups. 
  • Observation
    The observer in a research would have a pre-determined observation guide which he/she would follow so as to guide him/her through the essential points or areas of the research that would need to be observed. The tasks of an observer are difficult and adequate training and supervision is therefore essential. Clear decisions need to be made on the nature and extent of data collected during any one trip. Often, the amount of data and frequency of collection can be established analytically with preliminary data.
  • Key Informants
    Key informants are individuals with specialized knowledge on a particular topic. They may include academic specialists and community leaders. Interviews are usually begun with a set of baseline questions, but the interviewer expects to elicit new and perhaps unexpected information by requesting that the key informant expand on his or her answers to these initial questions. This method is ideal for obtaining in-depth descriptive data on beliefs and practices, including historical practices.

    While selecting a particular method of data collection, it is important that the researcher questions and reflects on the following points:
    1. Are the methods of data collection suitable for the target groups and the issues being assessed or under study?
    2. Can the type of data collection chosen identify significant issues?
    3. How reliable is the measuring instrument, i.e. will it provide the same answers to the same questions if administered at different times or in different places?
    4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each one of the available types of data collection? 


The data collection methods that we have looked at are an integral part of research both quantitative as well as qualitative. They enable the researcher to test hypotheses that are either derived from theory or have been observed in society. Depending upon the research question, the number of participants and their specific characteristics in relation to the area under study, an appropriate method and tool or instrument of data collection may be utilized. If the researcher intends to generalize the findings of the research from the research participants to a larger population, the researcher will employ probability sampling to select participants. The selected tools rely on random sampling and structured data collection instruments to fit diverse experiences into predetermined response categories. They produce results that are easy to summarize, compare, and generalize. A well prepared tool enables accurate collection of data which impacts the research positively in a tremendous way.


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