This lesson will help you understand and differentiate between the methods of data collection that can be used in human growth and development research.
Why Data Collection Is Important
A researcher wants to know more about the shopping habits of teenage girls. He has decided that a survey would be the best way to obtain data for his study. He puts together a team of assistants to administer the survey. The assistants ask the survey questions to random teenage girls at the local mall. His assistants will then return the completed surveys to him for analysis. This is a simple example of data collection.
Data collection is nothing more than the process of gathering data from various sources into one place. This is an important aspect of any type of research study because inaccurate data collection can alter the results of the research and even lead to invalid results. Because of this, researchers have to consider more than just how to get data. They have to consider how to get useful data.
Imagine what could happen in the above example if one assistant gathering the information did not record the survey answers properly. What if the meaning of the questions on the survey were difficult to understand? Would the overall data still be accurate? What if the data is not specific enough to yield a relevant answer? These are just a few of the concerns that must go into planning the method of data collection that will be used in a research study.
So, what are some of the different data collection techniques that researchers use? To answer this question, let's look at the two sources of data researchers use and the data collection methods used for each type.
Primary Data Collection
Primary data collection uses questions or observations to produce data. Primary data is collected specifically for a research project when existing information is unavailable or inappropriate. Let's look at some examples of different primary data collection techniques.
In the example at the beginning of the lesson, our researcher used a survey to collect information. A survey is a method of data collection that uses questions to collect information about how people think and act. There are two basic survey types: interviews and questionnaires. When a survey is an interview, a researcher will ask questions and record the answers. When a survey is a questionnaire, it is usually a list of questions that a respondent fills out on their own and then returns to the researcher. Surveys are useful because they're an inexpensive technique to administer, and you can get a large number of responses in a short period of time.
Another method of primary data collection is observation. Observational techniques for data collection are used for studying nonverbal behaviors. This could include things such as gestures or activities. If an observation had been used in the previous example, our researcher's assistants would not have asked the teenage shoppers any questions. Instead, they would have simply followed them around, observed their behaviors and taken notes. Observational techniques are useful in understanding or identifying behaviors that a person may not be consciously aware of. It is inexpensive in terms of money, but can take a great deal of time to gather the data.
Experimental techniques can also be used for primary data collection. Experimental techniques are based on results from a planned experiment. If an experimental data collection technique was being used by our researcher, it may have looked something like this: He hypothesized that teenage girls would pay more for a dress simply because it is red. His assistants set up a rack of identical blue dresses and red dresses. They increased the price on the red dress and then tracked the color of a dress each time a teenage girl purchased one. Experimental techniques of data collection are very useful because the data will typically provide the most valid research results.
Secondary Data Collection
Secondary data collection is conducted by collecting information from previously existing sources. In other words, a researcher would not have to collect new data. Instead, they would pull the information from other sources that have already collected it. Secondary data collection will sometimes be called data mining. A common source of secondary data would be U.S. Census reports or similar statistical data from other government agencies.
If our researcher wanted to use secondary data collection techniques, he might obtain information on purchase history from a store known mainly to sell to teenage girls. He could then attempt to find any possible patterns in their shopping habits based on this information. Secondary data collection is often used to develop a framework for a research project, develop research questions or to help validate other research results.
The Multi-Method Approach
When collecting data, a researcher is not bound to one source or technique. A multi-method approach to data collection is often used. In a multi-method approach, a researcher collects and integrates data from several sources and utilizes a variety of different techniques.
For example, our researcher could employ all of the data collection techniques we have mentioned. He could examine purchase records from the stores frequented by teenage girls at the local mall, and he could notice that a lot of red clothing is being purchased. His assistants could survey teenage girls in the mall and ask them if they prefer purchasing the color red.
His assistants could also follow the teenage girls around to observe what color clothing they actually purchase. In addition, he could set up an experiment, such as the one mentioned previously with the red and blue dress. All of the data obtained from these collection techniques could then be analyzed together.
Data collection is the process of gathering data from various sources into one place. Data collection is important because inaccurate data can alter the results of research and even lead to invalid results. There are two sources of data used by researchers: primary data and secondary data.
Primary data collection uses questions or observations to produce data. Primary data is collected specifically for a research project when existing information is unavailable or inappropriate. Types of primary data include surveys (both interviews and questionnaires), observations and experimental designs.
Secondary data collection is conducted by collecting information from previously existing sources, such as a U.S. Census Report. A researcher is not bound to one source or technique for collecting data. A multi-method approach collects and integrates data from several sources and utilizes a variety of different techniques.
Once you've completed this lesson, you could be able to:
- Write out the purpose of data collection
- Note methods of primary data collection
- Detail the uses of secondary data collection
- Know the multi-method approach to data collection