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Understanding Data Collection in Research

Written by Saira Naeem

When doing research you are going to hear the words data and data collection often enough, you are going to be asked what your data is? How you are going to gather the requisite data? What methods have you used to collect the data? What were your sources of data?  And so on. Therefore, instead of having a blank look it’s better if you address such questions right at the beginning of the research process. Here’s what we believe all that you need to know about data collection before you actually set out to collect data for your research.

Differentiating between data and data collection

Is there a difference between the two? The answer to this is yes!

Any data is a set or a collection of numbers, facts, figures, measurements and observations which can be put through mathematical and statistical tests in order to draw results and arrive at conclusions either through computer software programs or manually.

On the other hand Data collection is a process of gathering and collecting information from all relevant sources about the variables of interest in a systematic manner through validated methods whereby the researcher is able to find answers to his/her research problem, test the stated hypothesis and evaluate the results.


The integrity of any research conducted whether for physical, social sciences or even for humanities depends on the quality and appropriateness of the data collected. The implications of incorrect, irrelevant data can be huge for any research and the findings of such a research are likely to be questioned in terms of reliability and authenticity. Here’s a look at some of the damages that incorrect data collection can do to the research

  • Research conducted using faulty data will not be able to answer the research questions properly
  • Incorrect data collection can result in having harmful consequences for the human or animal participants involved in the research process
  • It may become impossible to repeat or validate a study because of incorrectly collected data
  • Such a research can be misleading for other researchers
  • Results in distorted findings and waste of resources

Purpose/importance of data collection in research

You might wonder or question why so much emphasis Is placed on data collection in research. The answer to this being the fact that you cannot possibly answer your research questions or test your established research hypothesis without the availability of the required data.

This data is collected through the formal process of data collection methods and techniques used by the researcher. The primary goal of any researcher would be to collect quality evidence on the basis of which he/she can perform analysis which then leads to the formulation of convincing answers to the research questions posed by him/her.

A formal process of data collection thus ensures that the collected data is accurate and appropriate and this is the basic purpose or importance of data collection In research that helps ensure the integrity of the research findings and provides results that act not only as a baseline for measurement but in certain cases also indicate where improvement is needed.

Data collection protocol

In addition to acquiring the necessary skills, it will also be beneficial and handy to have a data collection protocol. Data collection protocol refers to the procedure that is used to execute the steps of the plan for collecting and recording the data. A data collection protocol answers questions such as when, how and from whom the data is to be collected. A carefully outlined, circulated and followed data collection protocol would help to ensure that the data collected is valid, reliable and collected efficiently.

Methods of data collection

Broadly speaking data collection methods are of two kinds

  • Primary
  • Secondary

The final decision made by the researcher regarding which of these two methods to use to collect the data for research depends largely on the research problem under consideration, the research design and information that has been gathered for the variables.

What is the primary method of data collection?

Primary data is fresh and original in nature which is collected by the research when his research is unique and no similar work has been done in the particular area by any other researcher.

Pros; gives accurate results

Cons; costly and time consuming

Examples: interviews/questionnaires, observation method,  projective techniques, schedule method etc.

What is the secondary method of data collection?

Also called second hand data, secondary data is something that already passed through statistical tests and was collected by some other researchers for their research work, such data is readily available via other sources

Pros; ease of availability, less time consuming

Cons; authenticity of findings Is questionable

Examples: census, governmental reports, organizational records etc.

Hopefully with all necessary information about data collection, the task wont seem too daunting and you would be able to collect data for your research with ease




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