Data Collection Methods & Tools: Advantages And Disadvantages

If you know the advantages and disadvantages of data collection methods, you can select the best one that will fit your research needs and ensure a future-centric strategy.

There are many types of data collection methods and techniques that you can use in your research, statistics, marketing, or business.

The methods vary from traditional such as an interview, to modern ways and tools to gather data such as beautiful online surveys.

On this page:

  • What is data collection method? Definition, types, examples.
  • The pros and cons of the top 5 data collection methods (comparison chart)
  • Qualitative vs quantitative data gathering methods
  • List of the top data collection tools
  • How to choose the best data collection method for your needs – a step-by-step guide.
  • Infographic in PDF

What is Data Collection Method? Definition, Types, And Examples

Let’s define it:

Data collection method is the process of gathering information from different sources to find answers to specific problems and questions.

The goal is to discover quality evidence that allows you to formulate credible answers and conclusions.

Data empowers you to make informed decisions, spot problems, back up your arguments, discover trends and patterns, and understand your target customers and auditory.

Today, collecting data is the key to almost any marketing and business strategy.

Before going further into different data collection methods, we need to explain the 2 main types of data – quantitative and qualitative.

Qualitative vs Quantitative data

  • Quantitative data can be expressed as a number or can be quantified. It is easily amenable to statistical manipulation and mathematical calculations. Examples of quantitative data: shoe size, number of hours women spend on shopping, square feet of an apartment, price, length, amount, etc. Typically, quantitative research questions are closed-ended and the answers can be easily turned into numbers, graphs, or tables.
  • Qualitative data is information that can’t be expressed as a number and can’t be measured. It consists of words, pictures, observations, and symbols, not numbers. It is about qualities. Examples of qualitative data: socioeconomic status, colors, favorite holiday destinations such as Hawaii and New Zealand, ethnicity such as American Indian and Asian, etc. Mostly, qualitative data collection methods have open-ended questions and detailed answers.

The below infographic represents a more detailed comparison.

Qualitative vs Quantitative Data Collection Methods - an infographic

Download the above infographic in PDF.

See more on the topic in our article qualitative vs quantitative data.

The Pros And Cons Of Data Collection Methods (Comparison)

Here, we will compare the most popular data gathering methods and techniques in a table form for your convenience.

Data Collection MethodAdvantagesDisadvantages
1. Interview
The interview is a meeting between an interviewer and interviewee. Interviews can be done face-to-face or via video conferencing tools.
– Accurate screening. The interviewee can’t provide false information such as gender, age, or race.

– The interviewer can capture raw emotions, tone, voice, and word choices to gain a deeper understanding.

– Interviewers can ask follow-up questions and require additional information to understand attitudes, motivations, etc.

– High costs as this method require a staff of people to perform the interview.

– The quality of the collected data depends on the ability of the interviewer to gather data well.

– A time-consuming process that involves transcription, organization, reporting, etc.

2. Surveys And Questionnaires 

They are used to ask respondents a set of questions (both types – open- and closed-ended questions). Over the past decade, the use of online surveys has skyrocketed.

– Ease of data collection – an online survey with a hundred or more respondents can be conducted fast.

– Online surveys are easily accessible and can be deployed via many online channels like web, mobile, email, etc.

– Low price compared to other methods

– Easy to analyze and present with different data visualization types

A wide range of data types can be collected such as attitudes, opinions, values, etc.

– Survey fraud. Answers may not be honest. There are people who answer online surveys just to receive a promised reward.

Many questions might be left unanswered and participants may not stay fully engaged to the end.

Without someone to explain, participants may have different interpretations of your questions.

Cannot fully capture emotions and feelings.

3. Focus Groups

A focus group includes dialogue with a group of deliberately selected participants who discuss a particular topic. Participants’ answers influence each other during the discussion. The focus group is led by a person called a moderator.

– Easy measure the reaction of customers to your brand, products, or marketing campaigns.

– The moderator can ask questions to gain a deeper understanding of the respondents’ emotions.

The moderator can observe non-verbal responses, such as body language or facial expressions.

– Provide brainstorming opportunities and participants can create new ideas.

High costs – focus groups are much more expensive compared to surveys.

– Moderator Bias. Moderators can have a significant impact on the outcome of the discussion.

For sensitive topics, participants can not give honest answers.

The extrovert members can dominate the conversation with a more aggressive approach to giving feedback.

4. Observation

Observation involves a person who observes events, people, and interactions around a topic to provide a rich description of them. Observation happens in the natural setting of the participant. Ethnographic research, for example, relies primarily on observation.

Simple to collect data. Observation does not require tech skills of the researcher.

– Allows for a detailed description of behaviors, intentions, and events.

Greater accuracy and data quality. The observer can view participants in their natural environment and directly check their behavior.

Doesn’t depend on people’s willingness to report. Some respondents don’t want to speak about themselves or don’t have time for that.

Cannot study attitudes and opinions by observing.

Can take a lot of time if the observer has to wait for a particular event to happen.

A high potential for observer’s subjective bias. The personal view of the observer can be an obstacle to making valid conclusions.

– Expensive method. It requires a high cost, effort, and plenty of time.

Situations of the past cannot be studied.

5. Records And Documents

This method involves extracting and analyzing data from existing documents. The documents can be internal to an organization (such as emails, sales reports, records of customer feedback, activity logs, purchase orders, etc.) or can be external (such as Government reports).

Ease of data collection – the data already exists and no additional effort is needed.

– No need of searching and motivating respondents to participate.

Allows you to track progress. Helps you understand the history behind an event and track changes over a period of time. For example, you may want to find out why there are lots of negative reviews from your customers about your products. In this case, you can look at recorded customers’ feedback.

– Information may be out of date or inapplicable.

The process of evaluating documents and records can be time-consuming.

Can be an incomplete data collection method because the researcher has less control over the results.

Some documents may be not publicly available.

Key Data Collection Tools

All of the above data collection methods are performed via special tools such as online software programs, mobile applications, or traditional offline solutions such as written notes.

Let’s see some of the most popular tools for each data gathering technique.

Tools for interview

Depending on the type of interview (face-to-face, self-administered interview, etc.), you can use a wide variety of tools like audio recorder, digital camera, software programs, etc.

Some of the most popular tools include:

Tools for surveys and questionnaires

Today, online survey tools are quite popular and widely used by marketers, scientists, researchers, etc.

They allow you to easily create customized questionnaires, streamline data collection, engage your audience, and get feedback from them.

And the best part is that you don’t need to be tech-savvy.

Some of the top free and paid online survey tools are:

And of course, you still can use paper questionnaires and survey forms.

Tools for focus groups

Today, you can find robust software tools for online focus groups that are easy to use, have a rich set of features, ensure lower cost, and come up with great support.

Here are some popular solutions:

Observation tools and methods

Collectin data through observation can be done in several ways.

The observer can simply write down what they observe or use a video camera.

The researcher may perform continuous monitoring (CM), observing people and recording (manually, electronically, or both) as much of their behavior as possible.

Or the researcher may not observe a process while it’s happening. Instead, just find things people leave behind an action or process (e.g. examine the trash leftover after workers’ lunches to learn about food waste behavior).

Tools for collecting data from documents and records

It involves checking and examining the existing data from reports, financial records, newspaper, website articles, Government publications, etc.

There are 2 main sources of these data:

Internal sources of data: information gathered within the researcher’s organization (examples – sales reports, production costs, cash flow reports, past marketing reports on customer profiles, transactional data, etc).

External sources of data: information gathered outside the researcher’s organization. The examples include:

Choosing The Best Data Collection Method For Your Needs

Practically, there isn’t one single best data collection method or technique. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

Your choice depends on the type of insights you need and which pros/cons are important for your research.

Here are some critical steps that can help you find your best fit.

How To Choose The Best Data Collection Methods For Your Needs - an infographic

1. Define what you want to learn and which questions you need to answer

Determining the goals of your data collection is the first step in successful research.

Make it clear to every one of the team members why you want to collect data. Are the sales of a particular product decrease over time? Or you are about to produce a new product and need to test its market acceptance before starting the production process?

Once you identify the particular need for information, identify the specific questions you need to answer.

For example, which product characteristics customers dislike the most? The price? The quality? The color?

Then, define the type of information that would answer these questions? Opinions, attitudes, standards, etc.

2. Consider the users of research

Who will use the results of the data collection? Stakeholders, managers, society, etc?

Consider how you can align the research to the specific user needs and requirements.

3. Consider the respondents from whom you need to gather the data

Where can respondents be reached? Is a face-to-face interview or an online survey more appropriate for certain target groups?

What are the costs of making respondents prone to participate in each of the data collection methods? Do you need to offer them rewards?

Define which collection method would fit best in with the lifestyle or working style of the respondents.

4. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each method

Consider issues such as time of the respondents, required infrastructure, access to records, sensitive topics, respondent feelings, etc.

For example, if your research has to do with depth and complex topics, you need to consider an in-depth interview or focus group.

If the information you need requires standardized or quantifiable data then you need to think about observations or surveys.

For sensitive topics, self-administered interviews are generally preferred to face-to-face interviews as the first ones are seen as more private. Or, a face-to-face interview can include a self-administered module for this reason.

5. Define the cost and your capacity to collect the data

You ultimately should take into consideration all types of involved resources – from financial costs and employee time to software tools and infrastructure.

You might need to provide funds for transport, training, expert consultant, operations planning, data reporting, etc.

Conclusion

Data collection methods allow you to build strategies based on insights instead of opinions.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, data-driven marketer, researcher, or a student, gathering data should be at the heart of your work.

The above post summarizes the most important advantages and disadvantages of the top 5 data collection methods.

They can help you choose the best technique for gathering qualitative and quantitative data for your needs.

Data collection methods and techniques are a powerful way to analyze decisions, gain competitive advantages, make improvements, and grow your organization.

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