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Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

RESEARCH METHODS FOR MASTERS DEGREE

6.

METHODS OF DATA COLLECTION

Data collection begins after a research problem has been defined, and research design
developed. Both primary and secondary data may be collected for the research study, i.e.,
primary and secondary. Primary data are those which are collected afresh and for the first
time, and thus happen to be original in character. Secondary data are those which have
already been collected by someone else and which have already been passed through a
statistical process. The researcher has to decide the sort of data to use for the study and
accordingly has to select one or the other method of data collection. The methods of
collecting primary and secondary data differ since primary data are to be originally
collected, while in case of secondary data the nature of data collection work is merely that
of compilation.
6.1. Collection of Primary Data
Primary data is collected during the course of doing experiments in an experimental
research, but in case of descriptive research and surveys (viz., sample or census
surveys), primary data is obtained either through observation or communication. Important
methods are: observation, interviews, use of questionnaires or schedules.
6.1.1. Observation Method
Observation method is the most commonly used method especially in studies relating to
behavioural sciences. Observation becomes a scientific tool and the method of data
collection for the researcher, when it serves a formulated research purpose, is
systematically planned and executed and is subjected to checks and controls on validity
and reliability. Under the observation, the information is sought by way of investigator's
own direct observation without asking from the respondent. For instance, in a study
relating to consumer behaviour, the investigator instead of asking the brand of wrist watch
used by the respondent, may himself look at the watch. Besides collecting data visually,
observation involves listening, reading, smelling, and touching. Behavioral scientists
define observation in terms of animal or human behavior, but this too is limiting.
a)

Advantages of Observation
Subjective bias is eliminated, if observation is done accurately.
Observation aids in collection of original data at the time they occur.
This method is independent of respondents' willingness to respond and as thus is
relatively less demanding of active cooperation on the part of respondents as happens
in interviews or use of questionnaires.
Observation is the only method available to gather certain types of
information. The study of records, mechanical processes, and young
children, as well as other inarticulate participants, falls into this category.
Through observation one can secure information that most participants would
ignore either because it is so common and expected or because it is not
seen as relevant.
Observation alone can capture the whole event as it occurs in its natural
environment. Whereas the environment of an experiment may seem
contrived to participants, and the number and types of questions limit the
range of responses gathered from respondents, observation is less restrictive
than most primary collection methods.
Participants seem to accept an observational intrusion better than they

Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

respond to questioning. Observation is less demanding of them and normally


has a less biasing effect on their behaviour than does questioning.
b) Disadvantages of Observation
The observer normally must be at the scene of the event when it takes place,
yet it is often impossible to predict where and when the event will occur.
Observation is a slow and expensive process that requires either human observers or
costly surveillance equipment.
Most reliable results of observation are restricted to information that can be
learned by overt (open) action or surface indicators.
The research environment is more likely suited to subjective assessment and
recording of data than to controls and quantification of events.
Observation is limited as a way to learn about the past.
It is similarly limited as a method by which to learn what is going on in the
present at some distant place.
At times, the fact that some people are rarely accessible to direct observation creates
obstacle for this method to collect data effectively.

c) Types of Observation
(i)

(ii)

(iii)
(iv)

(v)
(vi)

Structured observation this is when the observation is characterised by a careful


definition of the units to be observed, the style of recording the observed information,
standardised conditions of observation and the selection of pertinent data of
observation; otherwise it is unstructured observation. Structured observation is
considered appropriate in descriptive studies, whereas unstructured on in exploratory
studies (see Table 6.1).
Participant observation this occurs when the observer observes by making himself,
more or less, a member of the group he is observing so that he can experience what
the members of the group experience. On the other hand, non-participant observation
occurs when the observer observes as a detached emissary without any attempt on
his part to experience through participation what others feel.
Disguised observation is when the observer is observes in such a manner that his
presence may be unknown to the people he is observing; otherwise it is undisguised.
Uncontrolled observation - takes place in the natural setting, but when observation
takes place according to definite pre-arranged plans, involving experimental
procedure, the same is then termed controlled observation. In non-controlled
observation, no attempt is made to use precision instruments. The major aim of this
type of observation is to get a spontaneous picture of life and persons.
Non-behavioural observation includes record analysis, physical condition
analysis, and physical process analysis.
Behavioural observation includes nonverbal analysis, linguistic analysis,
extra-linguistic analysis, and spatial analysis

S. No.
1.
2.
3.
4.

Table 6.1: Classification of observation studies


Research class
Environment
Purpose
Completely unstructured
Natural setting
Generate
hypotheses
Unstructured
Laboratory
Generate
hypotheses
Structured
Natural setting
Generate
hypotheses
Completely structured
Laboratory
Test hypotheses

Research tool

Observation
checklist
Observation
checklist

Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

d) Factors to Consider When Conducting an Observation Study


(i) Type of Study
Observation is found in almost all research studies, at least at the exploratory
stage. Such data collection is known as simple observation.
If the study is to be something other than exploratory, systematic
observation employs standardized procedures, trained observers,
schedules for recording, and other devices for the observer that mirror the
scientific procedures of other primary data methods.
Observation studies can be classified by the degree of structure in the
environmental setting and the amount of structure imposed on the
environment by the researcher, as reflected in Table 6.1.
Structured observation requires the use of observation checklist, which is
analogous to a questionnaire.
Figure 6.1 shows the parallels between survey design and checklist
development. Checklists should possess a high degree of precision in
defining relevant behaviour or acts and have mutually exclusive and
exhaustive categories. The coding is frequently closed, thereby simplifying
data analysis.
(ii) Content Specification
Specific conditions, events, or activities that we want to observe determine
the observational reporting system (and correspond to measurement
questions).
To specify the observation content, we should include both the major
variables of interest and any other variables that may affect them.
Observation may be at either a factual or an inferential level. Table 6.2
shows how we could separate the factual and inferential components of a
salesperson's presentation.
(iii) Observer Training
There are a few general guidelines for the qualification and selection of
observers:

Concentration: Ability to function in a setting full of distractions.


Detail-oriented: Ability to remember details of an experience.
Unobtrusive: Ability to blend with the setting and not be distinctive.
Experience level: Ability to extract the most from an observation study.

(iv) Data Collection Plan


The data collection plan specifies the details of the task. In essence it answers
the questions who, what, when, how, and where.

Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

Figure 6.1: Flowchart of observation checklist design


Table 6.2: Content of observation-factual versus inferential
Factual
Inferential
Introduction/identification of salesperson and Credibility of salesperson. Qualified status of
customer
customer
Time and day of week
Convenience for the customer. Welcoming
attitude of the customer
Selling points presented per product
Customer acceptance of selling points per
product
Number of customer objections raised per Customer concerns about features and benefits
product
Salespersons rebuttal of objection
Effectiveness of salespersons rebuttal attempts
Salespersons attempt to restore controls
Effectiveness of salespersons control attempt.
Consequences for customer who prefers
interaction
Length of interview
Customers/salespersons degree of enthusiasm
for interview
Environmental factors interfering with interview
Level of distraction for customer
Customer purchase decision
General evaluation of sales presentation

6.1.2. Communication Method


The communication approach involves surveying or interviewing people and
recording their responses for analysis. A survey is a measurement process
used to collect information during a highly structured interview-sometimes with a
human interviewer and other times without. Questions are carefully chosen or
crafted, sequenced, and precisely asked of each participant. The goal of the
survey is to derive comparable data across subsets of the chosen sample so

Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

that similarities and differences can be found.


The researcher's choice of a communication approach affects the following:

The creation and selection of the measurement questions.


Instrument design, which incorporates attempts to reduce error and
create participant-screening procedures.
Sampling issues, which drive contact and callback procedures.
Data collection processes, which create the need for follow-up procedures
(when self-administered instruments are used) and possible interviewer
training (when personal or telephone surveying methods are used).

a) Advantages of survey
The survey as a primary data collecting approach is versatile. Abstract
information of all types can be gathered by questioning others.
Saves on costs and effort when compared to observation methods.
A survey that uses the telephone, mail, a computer, e-mail, or the Internet
as the medium of communication can expand geographic coverage at a
fraction of the cost and time required by observation.
b) Disadvantages
The disadvantage of communication research is that all communication
research has some error. Understanding the various sources of error
helps researchers avoid or diminish such error
c) Errors in Communication Research
There are three major sources of error in communication research:
measurement questions and survey instruments, interviewers, and participants.
Researchers cannot help a decision maker answer a research question if they
(1) select or craft inappropriate questions, (2) ask them in an inappropriate
order, or (3) use inappropriate transitions and instructions to elicit informa tion.
(i) Interviewer Error
Interviewer error, a major source of sampling error and response bias, is caused
by numerous actions:

Failure to secure full participant cooperation (sampling error). The sample


is likely to be biased if interviewers do not do a good job of enlisting
participant cooperation.
Failure to record answers accurately and completely (data entry error).
Error may result from an interview recording procedure that forces the
interviewer to summarize or interpret participant answers or that provides
insufficient space to record verbatim answers as provided by the
participant.
Failure to consistently execute interview procedures. The precision of
survey estimates will be reduced and there will be more error around
estimates to the extent that interviewers are inconsistent in ways that
influence the data.
Failure to establish appropriate interview environment. Answers may be
systematically inaccurate or biased when interviewers fail to appropriately
train and motivate participants or fail to establish a suitable interpersonal
setting.
Falsification of individual answers or whole interviews. Perhaps the most
insidious form of interviewer error is cheating. Surveying is difficult work,

Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

often done by part-time employees, usually with only limited training and
under little direct supervision. At times, falsification of an answer to an
overlooked question is perceived as an easy solution to counterbalance
the incomplete data.
Inappropriate influencing behavior. It is also obvious that an interviewer
can distort the results of any survey by inappropriate suggestions,
directions, or verbal probes; by word emphasis and question rephrasing;
by tone of voice; or by body language, facial reaction to an answer, or
other nonverbal signals.
Physical presence bias. Interviewers can influence participants in
unperceived subtle ways. Older interviewers are often seen as authority
figures by young participants, who modify their responses accordingly.

(ii) Participant Error


Three broad conditions must be met by participants to have a successful survey:

The participant must possess the information being targeted by the


investigative questions.
The participant must understand his or her role in the interview as the
provider of accurate information.
The participant must have adequate motivation to cooperate.

Thus, participants cause error in two ways: whether they respond (willingness)
and how they respond.
Participation-Based Errors
Three factors influence participation:
The participant must believe that the experience will be pleasant and
satisfying.
The participant must believe that answering the survey is an important
and worthwhile use of his or her time.
The participant must dismiss any mental reservations that he or she
might have about participation.
Typically, participants will cooperate with an interviewer whose behavior reveals
confidence and who engages people on a personal level.
For the participant to think that answering the survey is important and
worthwhile, some explanation of the study's purpose is necessary, although the
amount of disclosure will vary based on the sponsor's objectives. Usually, the
interviewer states the purpose of the study, tells how the information will be
used, and suggests what is expected of the participant. Participants should feel
that their cooperation will be meaningful to themselves and to the survey results.
When this is achieved, more participants will express their views willingly.
The quality and quantity of information secured depend heavily on the ability and
willingness of participants to cooperate. Potential participants often have
reservations about being interviewed that must be overcome. They may suspect
the interviewer has an illegitimate purpose. They may view the topic as too
sensitive and thus the interview as potentially embarrassing or intrusive. Or they
may feel inadequate or fear the questioning will belittle them.
At the core of a surveyor interview is an interaction between two people or
between a person and a questionnaire. In the interaction the participant is asked

Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

to provide information. While he or she has hope of some minimal personal


reward-in the form of compensation for participation or enhanced status or
knowledge-he or she has little hope of receiving any immediate or direct benefit
from (he data extracted. Thus, participant motivation is a responsibility of the
researcher and the interviewer.
In surveys, non-response error occurs when the responses of participants differ
in some systematic way from the responses of non-participants. This occurs
when the researcher (1) cannot locate the person (the pre-designated sample
element) to be studied or (2) is unsuccessful in encouraging that person to
participate.
(iii) Response-Based Errors
Response error is generated in two ways: when the participant fails to give a
correct answer or fails to give the complete answer. The interviewer can do
little about the participant's information level. Screening questions qualify
participants when there is doubt about their ability to answer. The most
appropriate applications for communication research are those where
participants are uniquely qualified to provide the desired information.
Questions can be used to inquire about characteristics of a participant, such
as his or her household income, age, sexual preference, ethnicity, or family
lifecycle stage.

Participants also cause error by responding in such a way as to


unconsciously or consciously misrepresent their actual behavior, attitudes,
preferences, motivations, or intentions (response bias). Participants create
response bias when they modify their responses to be socially acceptable or
to save face or reputation with the interviewer (social desirability bias), and
sometimes even in an attempt to appear rational and logical.

One major cause of response bias is acquiescence-the tendency to be


agreeable. On the participant's part, acquiescence may be a result of lower
cognitive skills or knowledge related to a concept or construct, language
difficulties, or perceived level of anonymity. However, researchers can
contribute to acquiescence by the speed with which they ask questions (the
faster questions are asked, the more acquiescence) and the placement of
questions in an interview (the later the question, the more acquiescence.)?

Sometimes participants may not have an opinion on the topic of concern.


Under this circumstance, their proper response should be "don't know" or
"have no opinion."

Participants may also interpret a question or concept differently from what


was intended by the researcher. This occurs when the researcher uses
words that are unfamiliar to the participant.

d) Choosing a Communication Method


Once the sponsor or researcher has determined that surveying or interviewing is
the appropriate data-collection approach, various means may be used to secure
information from individuals. A researcher can conduct a semi-structured
interview or survey by personal interview or telephone or can distribute a selfadministered survey by mail, fax, computer, e-mail, the Internet, or a
combination of these. As noted in Table 6.3, although there are commonalities
among these approaches, several considerations are unique to each.

Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

(i) Se1f-Administered Surveys


A short questionnaire is left to be completed by the participant in a convenient
location or is packaged with a product. Computer-delivered self-administered
questionnaires (also labeled computer-assisted self-interviews, or CASIs) use
organizational intranets, the Internet, or online services to reach their
participants. The questionnaire and its managing software may be resident on
the computer or its network, or both may be sent to the participant by mail, diskby-mail (DBM) survey.
The strengths and weaknesses of the various self-administered survey methods
include:
Costsself-administered surveys of all types typically cost less than surveys via
personal interviews.
Sample accessibilityone asset to using mail self-administered surveys is that
researchers can contact participants who might otherwise be inaccessible.
Time constraintsalthough intercept studies still pressure participants for a
relatively quick response, in a mail survey the participant can take more time to
collect facts, talk with others or consider replies at length than is possible in a
survey employing the telephone or in a personal interview.
Anonymitymail surveys are typically perceived as more impersonal, providing
more anonymity than the other communication modes, including other methods
for distributing self-administered questionnaires.
Topic coveragea major limitation of self-administered surveys concerns the
type and amount of information that can be secured. Researchers normally do
not expect to obtain large amounts of information and cannot probe deeply into
topics.
Maximizing Participation in the Self-Administered Survey
To maximize the overall probability of response, attention must be given to each
point of the survey process where the response may break down. For example:

The wrong address, e-mail or postal, can result in non-delivery or nonreturn.


The envelope or fax cover sheet may look like junk mail and be discarded
without being opened, or the subject line on e-mail may give the
impression of spam and not encourage that the e-mail be opened.
Lack of proper instructions for completion may lead to non-response.
The wrong person may open the envelope or receive the fax or e-mail
and fail to call it to the attention of the right person.
A participant may find no convincing explanation or inducement for
completing the survey and thus discard it.
A participant may temporarily set the questionnaire aside or park it in his
or her e-mail in-box and fail to complete it.
The return address may be lost, so the questionnaire cannot be returned .

Thus, efforts should be directed toward maximizing the overall probability of


response. One approach, the Total Design Method (TDM), suggests minimizing
the burden on participants by designing questionnaires that:

Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

Are easy to read.


Offer clear response directions.
Include personalized communication.
Provide information about the survey via advance notification.
Encourage participants to respond.
Table 6.3: Comparison of communication approaches

Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

ii) Survey via Telephone Interview


The telephone survey is still the workhorse of survey research. Access to
participants through low-cost, efficient means has made telephone interviewing
a very attractive alternative for researchers.
Merits of the Telephone Interview
Of the advantages that telephone interviewing offers, probably none ranks
higher than moderate cost.

Telephone interviewing can be combined with immediate entry of the


responses into a data file by means of terminals, personal computers, or
voice data entry. This brings added savings in time and money.
Another means of securing immediate response data is the computeradministered telephone survey. Unlike CATI, there is no human
interviewer. A computer calls the phone number, conducts the interview,
places data into a file for later tabulation, and terminates the contact.

The noncontact rate is a ratio of potential but unreached contacts (no answer,
busy, answering machine or voice mail, and disconnects but not refusals) to all
potential contacts.
The refusal rate refers to the ratio of contacted participants who decline the
interview to all potential contacts.

When compared to either personal interviews or mail self-administered


surveys, the use of telephones brings a faster completion of a study,
sometimes taking only a day or so for the fieldwork.
When compared to personal interviewing, it is also likely that interviewer
bias, especially bias caused by the physical appearance, body language,
and actions of the interviewer, is reduced by using telephones.
Behavioral norms work to the advantage of telephone interviewing. If
someone is present, a ringing phone is usually answered, and it is the
caller who decides the purpose, length, and termination of the call.

Demerits of Telephone Interview


A skilled researcher will evaluate the use of a telephone survey to minimize the
effect of these disadvantages:

Inaccessible households (no telephone service or no/low contact rate).


Inaccurate or nonfunctioning numbers.
Limitation on interview length (fewer measurement questions).
Limitations on use of visual or complex questions.
Ease of interview termination.
Less participant involvement.
Distracting physical environment.

iii) Survey via Personal Interview


A survey via personal interview is a two-way conversation between a trained
interviewer and a participant.
(i)

Personal interview may be in the form of direct personal investigation or indirect oral
investigation. In the case of direct personal investigation the interviewer has to collect
the information personally from the sources concerned. This method is particularly
suitable for intensive investigations. However, in certain cases it may not be possible

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Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

or worthwhile to contact directly the persons concerned on account of the extensive


scope of enquiry, the direct personal investigation technique may not be used. In
such cases an indirect oral examination can be conducted under which the
interviewer has to cross-examine other persons who are supposed to have
knowledge about the problem under investigation and the information, obtained is
recorded.
(ii) Personal interviews may be structured or unstructured. Structured interviews involve
the use of a set of predetermined questions and of highly standardized techniques of
recording. Unstructured interviews are characterised by a flexibility of approach to
questioning. Unstructured interview, however, happens to be the central technique of
collecting information in case of exploratory or formulative research studies.
Structured interviews are used in descriptive studies, because of its being more
economical, providing a safe basis for generalisation and requiring relatively lesser
skill on the part of the interviewer.
Pre-requisites and basic tenets of interviewing: For successful implementation of the
interview method, interviewers should be carefully selected, trained and briefed. They
should be honest, sincere, hardworking, impartial, and must possess the technical
competence and necessary practical experience.
Merits of Personal Interview Survey
There are real advantages as well as clear limitations to surveys via personal
interview.

The greatest value of PI lies in the depth of information and detail that can
be secured. It far exceeds the information secured from telephone and
self-administered studies via mail or computer (both intranet and Internet).
The interviewer can also do more things to improve the quality or the
information received than is possible with another method.
Human interviewers also have more control than other kinds of
communication studies. They can prescreen to ensure the correct
participant is replying, and they can set up and control interviewing
conditions.

Demerits of Personal Interview Survey


Person interviews are costly, in terms of both money and time.
iv) Focused Interview
Focussed interview is meant to focus attention on the given experience of the respondent
and its effects. Under it the interviewer has the freedom to decide the manner and
sequence in which the questions would be asked and has also the freedom to explore
reasons and motives. The main task of the interviewer in case of a focussed interview is
to confine the respondent to a discussion of issues with which he seeks conversance.
Such interviews are used generally in the development of hypotheses and constitute a
major type of unstructured interviews. Focussed interview is meant to focus attention on
the given experience of the respondent and its effects. Under it the interviewer has the
freedom to decide the manner and sequence in which the questions would be asked and
has also the freedom to explore reasons and motives. The main task of the interviewer in
case of a focussed interview is to confine the respondent to a discussion of issues with
which he seeks conversance. Such interviews are used generally in the development of
hypotheses and constitute a major type of unstructured interviews.
e) Selecting an Optimal Survey Method
By comparing the research objectives with the strengths and weaknesses of

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Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

each method, one can be able to choose one that is suited to his or her needs.
The summary of advantages and disadvantages of personal interviews,
telephone interviews, and self-administered questionnaires presented in
Table 6.3 should be useful in making such a comparison.
When the investigative questions call for information from hard-to-reach or
inaccessible participants, the telephone interview, mail survey, or computerdelivered survey should be considered. However, if data must be collected very
quickly, the mail survey would likely be ruled out because of lack of control over
the returns. Alternatively, one may decide the objective requires extensive
questioning and probing; then the survey via personal interview should be
considered.
If none of the choices turns out to be a particularly good fit, it is possible to
combine the best characteristics of two or more alternatives into a hybrid
survey. Although this decision will incur the costs of the combined modes, the
flexibility of tailoring a method to the unique needs is often an acceptable tradeoff.
Ultimately, all researchers are confronted by the practical realities of cost and
deadlines. As Table 6.3 suggests, on the average, surveys via personal
interview are the most expensive communication method and take the most field
time unless a large field team is used. Telephone surveys are moderate in cost
and offer the quickest option, especially when CATI is used. Questionnaires
administered by e-mail or the Internet are the least expensive.
Most of the time, an optimal method will be apparent. However, managers'
needs for information often exceed their internal resources. Such factors as
specialized expertise, a large field team, unique facilities, or a rapid turnaround
prompt managers to seek assistance from research vendors of survey-related
services.
6.1.3. Collection of Data through Questionnaires
This method of data collection is quite popular, particularly in case of big enquiries. In this
method a questionnaire is sent to the persons concerned with a request to answer the
questions and return the questionnaire. A questionnaire consists of a number of questions
printed or typed in a definite order on a form or set of forms. The respondents have to
answer the questions on their own.
Before using this method, it is always advisable to conduct 'pilot survey' for testing the
questionnaires. Pilot survey is in fact the replica and rehearsal of the main survey. Such a
survey when conducted by experts brings to light the weaknesses (if any) of the
questionnaires and also of the survey techniques. From the experience gained in this
way, improvement can be effected.
Main aspects of a questionnaire: include the general form, question sequence, and
question formulation and wording. Researcher should note the following with regard to
these three main aspects of a questionnaire:
1. General form: it can either be structured or unstructured questionnaire. Structured
questionnaires are those questionnaires in which there are definite, concrete and predetermined questions. The questions are presented with exactly the same wording
and in the same order to all respondents. The form of the question may be either
closed (i.e., of the type 'yes' or 'no') or open (i.e., inviting free response) but should be
stated in advance and not constructed during questioning. Structured questionnaires

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may also have fixed alternative questions in which responses of the informants are
limited to the stated alternatives. Thus, a highly structured questionnaire is one in
which all questions and answers are specified and comments in the respondent's own
words are held to the minimum. When these characteristics are not present in a
questionnaire, it can be termed as unstructured or non-structured questionnaire. More
specifically, we can say that in an unstructured questionnaire, the interviewer is
provided with a general guide on the type of information to be obtained, but the exact
question formulation is largely his own responsibility and the replies are to be taken
down in the respondent's own words to the extent possible; in some situations tape
recorders may be used to achieve this goal.
Structured questionnaires are simple to administer and relatively inexpensive to analyse.
The provision of alternative replies, at times, helps to understand the meaning of the
question clearly. But such questionnaires have limitations too. For instance, wide range of
data and that too in respondent's own words cannot be obtained with structured
questionnaires. They are usually considered inappropriate in investigations where the aim
happens to be to probe for attitudes and reasons for certain actions or feelings. They are
equally not suitable when a problem is being first explored and working hypotheses
sought. In such situations, unstructured questionnaires may be used effectively. Then on
the basis of the results .obtained in pre-test (testing before final, use) operations from the
use of unstructured questionnaires, one can construct a structured questionnaire for use
in the main study.
2. Questionnaire sequence: In order to make the questionnaire effective and to ensure
quality to the replies received, a researcher should pay attention to the questionsequence in preparing the questionnaire. A proper sequence of questions reduces
considerably the chances of individual questions being misunderstood. The questionsequence must be clear and smoothly-moving, meaning thereby that the relation of
one question to another should be readily apparent to the respondent, with questions
that are easiest to answer being put in the beginning. The first few questions are
particularly important because they are likely to influence the attitude of the
respondent and in seeking his desired cooperation. The opening questions should be
such as to arouse human interest. The following type of questions should generally be
avoided as opening questions in a questionnaire:

Questions that put too great a strain on the memory or intellect of the respondent;
Questions of a personal character;
Questions related to personal wealth, etc.

Following the opening questions, we should have questions that are really vital to the
research: problem and a connecting thread should run through successive questions.
Ideally, the question-sequence should conform to the respondent's way of thinking.
Knowing what information is desired, the researcher can rearrange the order of the
questions (this is possible in case of unstructured questionnaire) to fit the discussion in
each particular case. But in a structured questionnaire the best that can be done is to
determine the question-sequence with the help of a Pilot Survey which is likely to produce
good rapport with most respondents. Relatively difficult questions must be relegated
towards the end so that even if the respondent decides not to answer such questions,
considerable information would have already been obtained. Thus, question-sequence
should usually go from the general to the more specific and the researcher must always
remember that the answer to a given question is a function not only of the question itself,
but of all previous questions as well. For instance, if one question deals with the price
usually paid for coffee and the next with reason for preferring that particular brand, the
answer to this latter question may be couched largely in terms of price- differences.

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Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

3. Question formulation and wording: With regard to this aspect of questionnaire, the
researcher should note that each question must be very clear for any sort of
misunderstanding can do irreparable harm to a survey. Question should also be
impartial in order not to give a biased picture of the true state of affairs. Questions
should be constructed with a view to their forming a logical part of a well thought out
tabulation plan. In general, all questions should meet the following standards-(a)
should be easily understood; (b) should be simple i.e., should convey only one
thought at a time; (c) should be concrete and should conform as much as possible to
the respondent's way of thinking. (For instance, instead of asking. "How many razor
blades do you use annually?" The more realistic question would be to ask, "How
many razor blades did you use last week?"
Concerning the form of questions, we can talk about two principal forms, viz., multiple
choice questions and the open-end question. In the former the respondent selects one of
the alternative possible answers put to him, whereas in the latter he has to supply the
answer in his own words. The question with only two possible answers (usually 'Yes' or
'No') can be taken as a special case of the multiple choice question, or can be named as
a 'closed question.' There are some advantages and disadvantages of each possible
form of question. Multiple choice or closed questions have the advantages of easy
handling, simple to answer, quick and relatively inexpensive to analyse. They are most
amenable to statistical analysis. Sometimes, the provision of alternative replies helps to
make clear the meaning of the question. But the main drawback of fixed alternative
questions is that of "putting answers in people's mouths" i.e., they may force a statement
of opinion on an issue about which the respondent does not in fact have any opinion.
They are not appropriate when the issue under consideration happens to be a complex
one and also when the interest of the researcher is in the exploration of a process. In
such situations, open-ended questions which are designed to permit a free response from
the respondent rather than one limited to certain stated alternatives are considered
appropriate. Such questions give the respondent considerable latitude in phrasing a
reply. Getting the replies in respondent's own words is, thus, the major advantage of
open-ended questions. But one should not forget that, from an analytical point of view,
open-ended questions are more difficult to handle, raising problems of interpretation,
comparability and interviewer bias.
In practice, one rarely comes across a case when one questionnaire relies on one form of
questions alone. The various forms complement each other. As such questions of
different forms are included in one single questionnaire. For instance, multiple-choice
questions constitute the basis of a structured questionnaire, particularly in a mail survey.
But even there, various open-ended questions are generally inserted to provide a more
complete picture of the respondent's feelings and attitudes.
Researcher must pay proper attention to the wordings of questions since reliable and
meaningful returns depend on it to a large extent. Since words are likely to affect
responses, they should be properly chosen. Simple words, which are familiar to all
respondents, should be employed. Words with ambiguous meanings must be avoided.
Similarly, danger words, catch-words or words with emotional connotations should be
avoided. Caution must also be exercised in the use of phrases which reflect upon the
prestige of the respondent. Question wording, in no case, should bias the answer. In fact,
question wording and formulation is an art and can only be learnt by practice.
Essentials of a good questionnaire: To be successful, questionnaire should be
comparatively short and simple i.e., the size of the questionnaire should be kept to the
minimum. Questions should proceed in logical sequence moving from easy to more
difficult questions. Personal and intimate questions should be left to the end. Technical
terms and vague expressions capable of different interpretations should be avoided in a

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Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

questionnaire. Questions may be dichotomous (yes or no answers), multiple choice


(alternative answers listed) or open-ended. The latter types of questions are often difficult
to analyse and hence should be avoided in a questionnaire to the extent possible. There
should be some control questions in the questionnaire which indicate the reliability of the
respondent. For instance, a question designed to determine the consumption of particular
material may be asked first in terms of financial expenditure and later in terms of weight.
The control questions, thus, introduce a cross-check to see whether the information
collected is correct or not. Questions affecting the sentiments of respondents should be
avoided. Adequate space for answers should be provided in the questionnaire to help
editing and tabulation. There should always be provision for indications of uncertainty,
e.g., "do not know," "no preference" and so on. Brief directions with regard to filling up the
questionnaire should invariably be given in the questionnaire itself. Finally, the physical
appearance of the questionnaire affects the cooperation the researcher receives from the
recipients and as such an attractive looking questionnaire, particularly in mail surveys, is
a plus point for enlisting cooperation. The quality of the paper, along with its colour, must
be good so that it may attract the attention of recipients.
6.1.4. Collection of Data through Schedules
This method of data collection is very much like the collection of data through
questionnaire, with little difference which lies in the fact that schedules (proforma
containing a set of questions) are filled in by the enumerators who are specially
appointed for the purpose. These enumerators along with schedules, go to
respondents, put to them the questions from the proforma in the order the questions
are listed and record the replies in the space meant for the same in the proforma, In
certain situations, schedules may be handed over to respondents and enumerators
may help them in recording their answers to various questions in the said schedules.
Enumerators explain the aims and objects of the investigation and also remove the
difficulties which any respondent may feel in understanding the implications of a
particular question or the definition or concept of difficult terms.
6.2

Collection of Secondary Data

Secondary data means data that are already available, i.e., they refer to the data which
have already been collected and analysed by someone else. When the researcher utilises
secondary data, then he has to look into various sources from where he can obtain them.
In this case he is certainly not confronted with the problems that are usually associated
with the collection of original data. Secondary data may either be published data or
unpublished data. Researcher must be very careful in using secondary data. He must
make a minute scrutiny because it is just possible that the secondary data may be
unsuitable or may be inadequate in the context of the problem which the researcher wants
to study.
By way of caution, the researcher, before using secondary data, must see that they
possess the following characteristics:
1. Reliability of data: The reliability can be tested by finding out such things about the
said data: (a) Who collected the data? (b) What were the sources of data? (c) Were
they collected by using proper methods (d) At what time were they collected? (e) Was
there any bias of the compiler? (f) What level of accuracy was desired? Was it
achieved?
2. Suitability of data: The data that are suitable for one enquiry may not necessarily be
found suitable in another enquiry. Hence, if the available data are found to be
unsuitable, they should not be used by the researcher. In this context, the researcher
must very carefully scrutinise the definition of various terms and units of collection
used at the time of collecting the data from the primary source originally. Similarly, the

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Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

object, scope and nature of the original enquiry must also be studied. If the researcher
finds differences in these, the data will remain unsuitable for the present enquiry and
should not be used.
3. Adequacy of data: If the level of accuracy achieved in data is found inadequate for the
purpose of the present enquiry, they will be considered as inadequate and should not
be used by the researcher. The data will also be considered inadequate, if they are
related to an area which may be either narrower or wider than the area of the present
enquiry.
6.3

Selection of Appropriate Method For Data Collection

Thus, there are various methods of data collection. As such the researcher must
judiciously select the method/methods for his own study, keeping in view the following
factors:
1. Nature, scope and object of enquiry: This constitutes the most important factor
affecting the choice of a particular method. The method selected should be such that it
suits the type of enquiry that is to be conducted by the researcher. This factor is also
important in deciding whether the data already available (secondary data) are to be
used or the data not yet available (primary data) are to be collected.
2. Availability of funds: Availability of funds for the research project determines to a
large extent the method to be used for the collection of data. When funds at the
disposal of the researcher are very limited, he will have to select a comparatively
cheaper method which may not be as efficient and effective as some other costly
method. Finance, in fact, is a big constraint in practice and the researcher has to act
within this limitation.
3. Time factor: Availability of time has also to be taken into account in deciding a
particular method of data collection. Some methods take relatively more time, whereas
with others the data can be collected in a comparatively shorter duration. The time at
the disposal of the researcher, thus, affects the selection of the method by which the
data are to be collected.
4.

Precision required and accuracy: Precision required is yet another important factor
to be considered at the time of selecting the method of collection of data.

Thus, the most desirable approach with regard to the selection of the method depends on
the nature of the particular problem and on the time and resources (money and
personnel) available along with the desired degree of accuracy. But, over and above all
this, much depends upon the ability and experience of the researcher.
6.4 Questions
1.

2.

3.

Enumerate the different methods of collecting data. Which one is the most suitable
for conducting enquiry regarding family welfare programme in Kenya? Explain merits
and demerits.
"It is never safe to take published statistics at their face value without knowing their
meaning and limitations.' Elucidate this statement by enumerating and explaining the
various points which you would consider before using any published data. Illustrate
your answer by examples wherever possible.
Examine the merits and limitations of observation method in collecting material.
Illustrate your answer with suitable examples.

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Chapter 6: Methods of Data Collection

4.

Describe some of the major projective techniques and evaluate their significance as
tools of scientific social research.
5. How does the case study method differ from the survey method? Analyze the merits
and limitations of case study method in sociological research.
6. Clearly explain the difference between collection of data through questionnaires and
schedules.
7. Discuss interview as a technique of data collection.
8. What are the guiding consideration in the construction of questionnaire? Explain.
9. Critically examine the following:
(i) Interviews introduce more bias than does the use of questionnaire,
(ii) Data collection through projective techniques is considered relatively more
reliable.
(iii) In collection of statistical data commonsense is the chief requisite and experience
the chief teacher.
10. Distinguish between an experiment and survey. Explain fully the survey method of
research.
11. "Experimental method of research is not suitable in management field." Discuss,
what are the problems in the introduction of this research design in business
organization?

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