6 Methods of Data Collection (With Types and Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Effective methods of data collection can provide critical insight for decision makers. Depending on the method of collection, certain data collection types may give you more accurate results than others. Understanding how to determine the optimal type of data and collection method for your needs can help you get more useful and relevant results. In this article, we provide six methods of data collection, share an example of how you can use each one and explain the different data collection types you can consider when performing research.

6 methods of data collection

There are many methods of data collection you can use at work to gather information that can help you solve problems, make important decisions or complete a project. Here are six ways you can collect data:

1. Observation

Observational methods of collecting data involve watching and examining subjects without interacting with them and gathering data based on these observations. These methods can help researchers develop an understanding of how their study subject behaves in certain environments without intervention. It's important for researchers to avoid any type of contact with subjects to ensure the accuracy of the results.

Example: Bubbly Baby wants to develop a new children's toy to sell in their store. They want to make sure they understand which types of toys babies prefer before developing product samples. The production team at Bubbly Baby plans to conduct observational research with babies from consenting parents to examine what toys interest them the most. During the observation sessions, the production team stands in another room to view the selections each baby makes. This information may then guide their development process and help them create a new toy with components that babies found more interesting.

2. Survey

Survey methods of collecting data involve asking study participants questions and recording their answers. Participants typically provide written responses to the survey questions, which may include question formats like multiple choice, scale, ranking or written responses. Researchers may distribute surveys in person or through indirect methods, such as mail or email, and they typically avoid interaction with participants.

Example: Li's Car Rentals is interested in learning more about customers' perceptions and loyalty for renting a car with them. To expand their reach and maintain cost efficiency, they choose to create and send a survey to all of their customers from the past six months with a deadline of two weeks. The survey includes multiple-choice and short-answer questions and spaces for customers to provide additional comments if they have more insight to share. Once the two weeks have passed and the company has collected all the survey data, they can analyse it and decide how to interpret their findings.

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3. Focus group

A focus group is a method for collecting data that involves discussing a product or concept directly with a specific group of participants. This method allows researchers to learn about participants' thoughts, feelings and opinions, which they can use to guide their efforts in developing, changing or promoting the subject of their study. Researchers use focus groups to measure how participants feel instead of statistical data. This is because understanding participants' emotions can help researchers understand how consumers may feel. Focus groups are usually based on an organisation's target audience.

Example: Kowloon University is considering a brand refresh but wants to ensure that their target audiences are going to enjoy the brand's new image. The designers created materials to share with a focus group to record their perceptions. During this session, a marketing team member may act as a moderator and stay with participants to present them with each potential idea. Before moving on to the next one, they may stop and ask participants what they think or feel about what they're seeing. The university can then use these results to help guide their brand refresh strategies.

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4. Interview

An interview is a method a researcher can use to connect with participants individually. They meet with participants and ask them questions about a product or topic to gain their perspective and use the information they gather to make decisions about how to approach certain business operations, such as sales strategies or marketing campaigns. Interviewers often provide participants with a list of questions they plan to ask, so the participants can prepare themselves and ensure they feel comfortable taking part. Interviewers often take audio or video recordings if the participant consents.

Example: Knit-a-little-bit, an instructional series focused on teaching people how to knit at different levels, worries that they aren't gaining customers at their projected rate. To understand the reasoning behind this, the company arranges for interviews with potential customers to understand more about their perspectives. During each interview, the researcher asks participants questions and records their answers. Once interviewers record and analyse the data collected from all interviews, the company may use the information to help boost their share in the market or update their business model.

5. Design thinking

Design thinking is a data collection method that involves collaborating with participants to come up with new ideas for products and services. Researchers may conduct design thinking sessions for new products or services or if they want to improve existing offerings. Companies often use the data from these sessions to solve a challenge consumers face. Participants may meet with researchers in person or on virtual platforms.

Example: Meditative Monkey, a meditation company, is interested in developing a new product specifically for individuals who struggle to fall asleep at night. They decide to run a design thinking session with participants to gather innovative ideas. They first write a protocol as a guide to ensure the sessions stay focused. Their protocol contains a script and steps for the thinking process. It includes writing all the ideas you have, grouping them and voting for the ones you like best. After the sessions, the researchers can review the ideas they received and potentially use them for prototyping their new product.

6. User testing

Companies often conduct user testing to determine if participants can use or navigate a new product easily. Researchers may perform this type of testing during or after the development of a product to ensure it's ready for continued development or to sell to consumers. User testing is common in technology fields, such as software engineering, where development processes often include testing at regular intervals.

Example: Baller Bingo, a bingo game developer for smartphones, is interested in updating their application. They want to understand where users specifically want improvements and choose to perform user testing. During their sessions, they ask participants to engage with all aspects of the application and then ask them what design choices or features they may want to see improved or added. Baller Bingo can then use this information to decide on what to add or change to their application.

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Types of data

Researchers may collect one or more types of data depending on the method they use. Each one offers advantages that are suitable for specific methods, so you can choose based on the data you want to gather. Here are common types of data:

Qualitative

Qualitative data is information that's not numerical, which means it's based on ideas, emotions, opinions or experiences. This type of data can be helpful when determining consumer preferences, such as clothing designs. Companies may collect qualitative data when they want to collect personal details about what consumers want or need. Some collection methods that involve qualitative data include observations, surveys, focus groups and interviews.

Quantitative

Quantitative data is information researchers can measure or calculate mathematically. Researchers can use quantitative data to calculate statistics based on participant responses or behaviours. Examples of this type of data include percentages, dollar amounts, weight, age or distance. Companies in financial and scientific fields often use quantitative data to make operational decisions. Collection methods that involve quantitative data include surveys and observations.

Related: How to Become a Quantitative Analyst (With Skills)

Primary

Primary data is information researchers gather directly from a source. Primary data sources vary depending on the purpose of the study, but they may include study participants or observed market trends. For example, you can gather data from material engineers about the efficiency of materials you can use to develop a new product. Any data collection method allows you to collect primary data, as it involves conducting your own research instead of relying on the research of others.

Secondary

Secondary data is information other researchers have already gathered. Researchers often collect primary data to conduct their own studies, which they may later publish. When you access these studies to use in your own research, the information you gather is secondary data. You can use secondary data to conduct your own studies and analyse the results. Common types of secondary data include books, journals, newspapers and websites.

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