Data Collection Methods In Research

Philip Cleave
March 15, 2023
Research team reviewing their data collection processes

When it comes to data, we're essentially talking about a collection of facts, figures, feedback and events gathered from different sources. And it’s through this data and the various collection methods that are used to gather it, that organisations are able to make better decisions.

For example, consider a business that’s looking to launch a new product to market. If they’re to maximise its success, they need to have as much data about that product’s potential demand and their customers preferences as they can, otherwise they may easily fall short of what they were hoping to achieve.

However, even if they do get enough response data, a business won’t be able to realise its full value until it’s properly gathered, analysed and processed, which is where the role of data collection comes in, which we’ll look at next.

What is data collection in research?

When we talk about data collection in research, we're referring to the techniques and processes used to gather information used for research purposes. These methods can range from simple self-reported surveys to a much wider group that includes observation, interviews, focus groups, experiments and secondary data analysis.

The data collected through these methods can then be analysed and used to support or disprove research hypotheses and draw conclusions about the subject matter under study.

Why choosing the right method matters

Your choice of data collection method is crucial, as it will determine the quality and accuracy of the data you collect.

But there are also some more specific reasons why this is important, which include.

  • Helping to ensure your data is relevant, valid and reliable
  • Reducing bias and helping to increase the representativeness of your sample
  • Enabling you to make better informed decisions and more accurate conclusions
  • Supporting the validity and reliability of your research findings

Your data collection method is important, as it has a key role to play in the overall success and validity of your research. So, it’s essential to select the most suitable type for your research needs.

Types of data collection method in research

The data collection method you select will depend on the type of research questions you’re looking to ask, the type of data you need and the resources and time available to you.

The main data collection methods can be categorised into primary methods of data collection and secondary methods of data collection.

Primary data collection methods

Primary data is what is generated from the first-hand experience of the researcher themselves rather than data they’ve sourced from the past. The data gathered under primary data collection methods is also very specific to the researcher’s motive and what they’re trying to achieve.

Primary data collection methods can be divided into two main categories quantitative and qualitative research.

Data collection methods in quantitative research

Under this method statistical analysis tools such as online surveys are typically used to enable researchers to quantify results, in order that they can be compared across different populations or over different time periods. This can then allow researchers to make longer term forecasts.

Surveys are ideal for this, as they allow researchers to quickly reach out to any audience size, irrespective of where they may be located. And thanks to a wide range of survey question types, they help researchers mix up the format of their questions, to help to keep respondents engaged and maximise their likelihood of them completing that survey.

Most providers will also offer customisable survey templates to help customers save time and effort during the survey creation process. Most will also offer a wide range of survey distribution options too, so their customers can reach out to their respondents on the channels that they feel most comfortable with.

Survey software typically comes with a range of reporting and analysis tools too, while the provision of in-app dashboards helps their customers to manage and keep track of their survey projects’ including their ongoing response and completion rates.

However, as with any research approach, there can be some advantages and limitations, so it’s good know how this applies to data collection in qualitative research, before you decide to run with this method for your next project.

Pros and cons of quantitative methods


  • Viewing research through a quantitative lens can help you pinpoint specific results from your group based on the numbers it yields.
  • Quantitative data collection methods empower decision makers by offering exact numbers and precise measurements. These elements are vital to strategic planning.
  • Statistical methods such as this are highly reliable as subjectivity is minimised.


  • Measurement errors are a potential drawback.
  • The challenge with quantitative data, is that it also lacks the key element of context. Subsequently, this makes it hard to obtain any background insight into the feelings and motivations of your audience.

Data collection methods in qualitative research

While surveys can still be useful for data collection in qualitative research if they’re created with open-ended questions, this research method tends to employ tools such as observation, interviews and focus groups. This is because unlike with the quantitative approach, which is focused on collecting precise facts, measurements or figures, those adopting the qualitative approach are more interested in gaining an insight into people’s feelings, motivations and beliefs on particular issues.

Observation: by watching people, whether overtly or covertly, this technique allows researchers to see how people behave in particular situations and therefore build a better picture of their beliefs.

It’s a pretty immersive approach, as it relies on many of the researchers’ senses including sight, hearing and smell to collect data on those being studied.

Interviews: with this approach interviewers typically use structured, semi-structured or unstructured interviews to glean feedback from respondents. Then depending on the level of pre-planning and structure that has gone into the questions, the interview may rely quite heavily on the skills of the interviewer to be able to ask off the cuff questions, if they hear anything interesting, that they want to delve deeper with.

The aim of interviews is to get a better idea of why people feel the way they do and the motivations behind their answers.

Focus Groups: typically comprising small groups of around 8-10 people, the use of focus groups allows qualitative researchers to discuss common areas of a problem.

Each individual will offer their insight on the issues concerned, with a group moderator regulating the discussion. At the end of the discussion, the group will reach a consensus.

Employing any of these qualitative research techniques, will help you to get a better feel for people’s feelings, beliefs and motivations. However, as with the quantitative approach, there are limitations as well as benefits to using qualitative techniques, so it’s best to be aware of these before moving forward with this approach.

Pros and cons of qualitative methods


  • Qualitative data collection methods utilise non-numerical metrics such as attitudes and experiences, by studying narrative descriptions instead of statistics.
  • With qualitative data, constructive ideas can be developed through identifying interesting patterns among stories. This helps us discover meaningful trends within our audience.
  • This approach also offers a greater insight into why people behave a certain way, which wouldn’t be possible from viewing numbers alone.


  • Given the subjectivity associated with this approach, it could introduce bias into your research.
  • Since opinions can vary within many groups, careful post analysis must be done in order to draw informed conclusions.

Secondary data collection methods

Secondary data is focused on data that has been used in the past. Researchers can obtain data from a range of data sources both internal and external to an organisation.

Internal sources of secondary data can include:

  • Company annual reports
  • Mission and vision statements
  • Previous marketing studies
  • Financial Statements
  • Sales Report
  • Inventory reports
  • CRM Software

External sources of secondary data can include:

  • Trade associations
  • Libraries
  • Business journals
  • Government reports
  • Press releases
  • Internet

Compared with the primary data method, secondary data is easily available and therefore, less time-consuming and expensive. However, unfortunately with secondary data collection methods the authenticity of the data gathered cannot be verified.

Final thoughts

While your choice of data collection method is crucial in determining the quality and accuracy of your data and the success of your research, this will be of little value without direct communications with your decision makers and ensuring they understand and are willing to act on its results.

So, to help this process, it’s important to pay careful attention to your analysis and presentation of that data.

Remember the conclusions you obtain from your investigation will set the course of your company’s future decision-making. So, be careful to present your report clearly and list the steps you followed to obtain those results, so whoever needs to take decisions can clearly see what’s important and will take the right course of action.

Maximise your survey’s success

Online surveys are a fast and effective data collection method for helping you achieve great results, but you’ll only maximise your research success, with the right survey tools to support this.

Get started and create your first survey

If you would like more information then please get in touch.