Collecting data forms a key aspect of any type of research study. Data are mainly collected to obtain information regarding a specific topic. These data can be documented for future use, can be shared as information, and help in making decisions about important issues. Inaccurate data collection can have a negative impact on the results of a research study, and eventually make the study invalid. The primary data that is collected should be relevant to the study and research problem. Primary data can be collected either through experiments or through surveys.
In this, an independent variable is changed or manipulated to see how it affects a dependent variable, keeping in control the effects of some extraneous variables. Here, the emphasis is on specific hypotheses about the influence of one variable over another. There are two types of experiments:
- Laboratory Experiments: Here the variables are manipulated and measured in an artificial setting.
- Field Experiments: Here the variables are manipulated and measured in a natural setting.
Surveys are generally used to know about the trends in opinions, experiences, and behavior of people. It includes the following methods:
- Observation: It is a fundamental and highly important method in all qualitative inquiry. In this case, the researchers take note of peoples behavior, objects, etc. through their own investigations without interviewing or communicating with them. Observation as a method includes both seeing and hearing. The obtained data is relevant to the present only. It is not complicated by the past behavior or future attitudes of the participants. But, this method has its limitations. It can be used only when there are fewer participants. Also, the information gathered is very limited.
- Interviews: This is particularly used when detailed information is required from certain people. The one-to-one interviews yield the highest response rates in survey research. To get the best results, the researcher needs to establish rapport with potential participants by gaining their confidence. The researcher first puts forth a few general topics to uncover the participants views, and then goes ahead with systematic questioning pertaining to the research topic. It depends a lot on the skills of the interviewer. But, these interviews can yield biased results also: the interviewer may misinterpret some response; the interviewee may not give his/her true opinion or avoid difficult questions; the interviewer might unintentionally provoke the interviewee; the surroundings might be creating discomfort to the interviewee, etc. It is also very time consuming. This method includes two types of interviews: Personal and Telephonic.
- Questionnaires: A questionnaire is a set of systematically structured questions used by a researcher to obtain the required information from the participants. It may include check lists, attitude scales, projective techniques, rating scales and a variety of other research methods. Questionnaires can be paper-based or electronic. Through this method, accurate and relevant data can be obtained very quickly and easily. Participants feel free to respond as they remain anonymous. But, at the same time, data processing and analyzing for large number of responses can be time consuming.
- Schedules: Schedule is a set of questions, which are asked and filled by the interviewer or enumerators in a face-to-face situation. The specially appointed enumerators go to the respondents, put forward their questions and record their responses. They also explain the objective of the research, and clear doubts regarding the questions, if any. This method is very useful for extensive enquiries. It is usually adopted by governmental agencies or big organizations. Population census is usually done through this method.