Top 7 Data Collection Methods and Tools

The buzzword ‘data science’ has been on for a while now as the world is slowly awakening to the fact that in this 4th industrial revolution age, data is the new oil. We all love data and can almost not do without data in this age, thanks to the valuable insights hidden within the volumes of data generated each passing day. However, until data is structured and put into context, raw data may not be as useful for the purpose for which it was collected.

Between raw unstructured data and structured processed data with observable insight is the role of the data scientists who probably built a solid background right from their college qualifications or learned to crunch numbers through a data science free course. Whichever path one takes, the world needs seasoned data scientists to make the most of the vastly available data. These professionals’ role is to structure and model data to make it ready for analysis and interpretation, and they need various data science tools and methods to do this.

Businesses, organizations, and governments now heavily rely on data science to grow profits, enhance service delivery, and even expand their operations.

What is data collection?

Data collection is the elementary procedure and is considered the backbone of data science. A data collection method can be defined as a systematic approach applied in the gathering and measuring of qualitative and quantitative information on specific variables of interest, with the aim of analyzing them to gain useful and convincing insights that will help in decision-making.

Data collection tools, on the other hand, are the soft and technical instruments or machinery that enable the effective functioning of data collection methods. In other words, most data-collection methods function around a core set of basic tools.

The following are some of the common data collection methods and the tools that enable their effective implementation:

  1. Interviews

An interview is a formal, verbal question and answer session between an interviewer and the respondent where both parties participate in the conversation. It is an obtrusive type of data collection method which means that the respondent or interviewee is aware that they are being studied.

The advantages of interviews are that they are:

  • They have a high response rate
  • Provides interviewers with much flexibility
  • They are highly interactive with access to non-verbal cues
  • They are detailed and qualitative
  • Open to correct screening

Disadvantages include:

  • They can be expensive and time-consuming as the interviewer has to be present with the interviewee to collect data
  • Can be biased based on the impression created by the interviewer
  • Limited since the interviewer cannot reach a large number of respondents
  • Lack of privacy for the interviewees

Technology has enabled face-to-face interviews to take place without necessarily meeting physically through video-conferencing tools such as:

  • Microsoft teams
  • Skype
  • Google Hangouts
  • Zoom
  1. Questionnaires

This is a non-verbal data collection methodology that contains a series of standardized closed or open-ended questions aimed at collecting data from respondents. It is also an obtrusive type of data collection method which allows for the collection of both subjective and objective data.

Advantages are that it is:

  • Cost-effective, especially when self-administered and e-mailed
  • Unbiased as it leaves no room for respondents to capture impressions
  • Privacy-conscious as they can be filled in anonymity
  • Scalable as data can be collected from many respondents within a short time
  • Not limited by time

Disadvantages:

  • Vulnerable to dishonesty; hence data can be inaccurate
  • Prone to misunderstandings and misinterpretations due to limited interaction
  • Survey fatigue

Some of the tools that can be used to make questionnaires more effective and easy to analyze include:

  • Checklists
  • Spreadsheets
  • Graphs
  1. Surveys

This is a data collection method that focuses on a target group or audience to collect data through their opinions, preferences, and tendencies. They are very effective for trending topics like sex, religion, ethnicity, and income, as well as other hypothetical scenarios.

The advantage of surveys is that they are:

  • Cost-effective
  • Cover a large representation
  • Convenient
  • Precise and accurate
  • Relatively easy to implement

Disadvantages

  • Susceptible to misinterpretation of questions and responses by both parties
  • Inflexible
  • Inaccessibility of some groups e.g., in marginalized areas
  • Non-objectivity by respondents
  • Subject to non-response bias

Some of the tools that enable the effective implementation of surveys in data collection include:

  • Telephone
  • Mail i.e., paper survey
  1. Focus groups

This is a qualitative data collection method which is simply a collective interview involving a strategically selected group of between 6 to 10 people with common interests, demographic characters, or both, rather than a statistical representation of a larger group. It relies on group interaction as a way of data collection, where participants are encouraged to talk to each other, as opposed to talking to the interviewer.

The major advantages of focus groups are that they are:

  • Provide a way of gathering in-depth and detailed data
  • Quite flexible
  • Extremely interactive and explorative

Disadvantages:

  • It can be expensive to bring together different participants in one sitting.
  • Laborious as the data collector often has to juggle between taking an active part in conversations and collecting data
  • Highly subjective

Disadvantages

  • There may be a bias toward generalizing an individual’s sentiments as a representation of the group
  • Moderator may sway the conversation, making it one-dimensional hence creating bias

The following tools can be used to enhance the effectiveness of data collection through focus groups:

  • Audio recorders
  • Tape recorders
  • Note-taking is also a technique frequently used in focus groups to collect data.
  1. Observation

Observation is a data collection method that involves identifying and gathering data through watching and monitoring behavior, trends, patterns, and events over time and analyzing them to gain insights.

The observation technique presents the following advantages:

  • Simple to execute since it has minimal participants, hence fewer variables.
  • Accurate from the perspective of the observer
  • Direct
  • Is independent of the respondents’ limitations

Disadvantages

  • Slow to implement
  • Expensive
  • Biased

In observation, the tools and techniques most commonly used to enhance its effectiveness include:

  • Microscopes
  • Checklists
  • Graphs
  • Cameras
  1. Online forums and communities

In this age of technology and the internet, more than 70% of internet users take part in an online discussion in one way or another. This shows just how effective this platform is. When used optimally, online forums can be an effective data collection method.

Advantages of these online platforms include:

  • Enhanced collaboration
  • Easy communication
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Real-time engagement
  • Convenience

Disadvantages

  • Susceptible to technological challenges
  • Not direct

Some online tools in the form of applications or software that enable the effective collection of data digitally include:

  • TeamScope
  • Magpi
  • Survey CTO
  1. Secondary data sources

These are simply data sources other than the current user. They may be journals, newspapers, government records, etc.

The advantages of secondary data sources are that they are

  • Easily available and accessible
  • Time-saving
  • Cheap or even free
  • Numerous hence offer a variety

Disadvantages

  • Some may be outdated
  • Not tailor-made to the specific needs at hand
  • Contain the researcher’s biases

Tools that can be helpful in this process include:

  • Checklists
  • Tape recorders
  • Video recorders

Conclusion

Data is only beneficial when it’s available and accessible in the right format and used in the right context. The above-mentioned methods, tools, and techniques can be very helpful in data collection and acquisition and can go a long way toward improving a company’s profitability, effectiveness, and efficiency. However, what’s most important is understanding the suitability of each methodology in relation to an individual or company’s specific requirements.

Knowing the kind of information that is required alongside available time and finances should greatly help in choosing the appropriate data collection method or combination of methods. High-quality data means better decisions are made, service delivery is enhanced, and customer satisfaction is achieved, which is healthy for any business.