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Data collection is simply the name that we give to the process of collecting information. There are
many different ways of collecting data both for quantitative and for qualitative research studies and it
is vitally important that you choose the method of data collection that is best suited to your needs.

The data that you collect during your research study must be able to answer your research question
or allow you to prove or disprove your hypothesis.

Your role as a researcher is to select or adapt a method which is as near perfect as possible for your
particular research study, and then you must be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of
your chosen method as well is giving a rationale for why you chose that data collection method.

No matter what type of research you are carrying out, you need to perform four tasks during the
process of data collection. These tasks are:
 The selection of subjects.
 The collection of data in a consistent way.
 The maintenance of research controls – criteria of sample participants, methodological
controls, elimination/admission of bias, etc.
 The solving of problems/conflicts that may arise and threaten your study throughout the
duration of the research project.

You can read the background to data collection in chapter 8 of the accompanying book, but we will
now turn to the practicalities of data collection, which is what you will need for your research proposal.

There are a variety of techniques that can be used to collect data in a quantitative research study.
However, all of them are geared towards numerical collection.
This numerical data can be collected by means of:
 observation
 interview
 questionnaires
 scales

In quantitative research, the data are collected and recorded systematically, and these are then
organised so that they can be entered into a computer database.


In quantitative research, the observation must be structured so that there is a defined purpose
to the observation.
The first step in structured observational measurement is to very carefully define what is to be
Once the decision has been made as to what is to be observed, the next step is to make
decisions as to how the observations are to be:
 made;
 recorded;
 coded.
In most cases, a category system is developed for organising and sorting the behaviour or
events that are being observed.
The categories that are to be observed should be mutually exclusive.
The observer may use checklists as an aid to the structured observation.

Checklists are techniques to indicate whether or not a behaviour or event/happening occurred during the
Usually the checklist contains a number of defined behaviours/happenings/events that have been
decided will be the units of data that the researcher is interested in for this particular research project.
Ticks or crosses are usually then placed against that behaviour, happening, or event, etc., if they occur.
Behaviour that is not on the checklist is ignored

Although interviews are usually associated with qualitative research, they can have a role to play in
quantitative research as well.

In the case of quantitative research, the interview will be totally structured, with the interviewee only
being able to choose a response (usually one word) from a series on the interview form.

Often the reply can only be 'yes' or 'no', or it may just be a number.

Alternatively, the interviewee may be asked just to choose one item from a list.

These replies can then be coded and entered into a computer database for statistical analysis.

The interview may well be linked to a checklist.

An interview is used often in research studies where there is a poor return rate of postal
questionnaires and checklists.

Questionnaires may appear an easy option for a researcher, but they are actually very difficult to do

To give you an idea of what questionnaires can do and cannot do, and also the difficulties encountered with
questionnaires, you are going to attempt to produce a short questionnaire.
Try to devise a questionnaire on breakfast habits, including not only what, but also when, why, where, and
how much.
This has given you clues as to what should be included, but you have to actually write the questionnaire.
Now ask someone - a member of the family, a friend (you can ask more than one person) - to fill in the
Have they answered in such a way that you have a clear idea of their breakfast habits?
If not, how can you
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Their design should be carefully planned and piloted to ensure that they provide:
 the required data;
 data that can be analysed and used;
 an unbiased response.

 A pilot study is usually the preliminary study to a main study, and as such should follow the
design of the main study as closely as possible.
 In addition, the sample used should consist of subjects who resemble, as closely as possible,
those who will be used in the main study.
 Another criterion that a pilot study should meet is the extent to which the areas covered or the
questions asked by interview or questionnaire measure what they are supposed to measure.
 Very important - you must not use anyone who took part in the pilot study as part of your
sample for the main study.

Questionnaires should really be developed from pilot studies.

There are two types of questions that you can include in a questionnaire, depending particularly upon
whether it is going to be a quantitative or a qualitative questionnaire.

These are:
 closed questions;
 open-ended questions.

Often, we are warned against 'leading questions' in questionnaires - however, all questions are
Some questions, however, lead more than others; but they all lead towards an answer.

Constructing a reliable and valid questionnaire to collect high-quality data is a subtle and
sophisticated art.

Poorly designed questionnaires collect poor quality data.

Lydeard (1991), cited in Huang and Mathers (2004), described a number of steps necessary in the
process of developing a questionnaire for use as a research tool:

 Define the area of investigation.

 Formulate the questions.
 Choose the sample and maximise the response rate.
 Pilot and test for validity and reliability.
 Recognise sources of error.

Hagerty and Patusky (1995) described the process of developing a questionnaire in order to measure
a 'sense of belonging'.

They used the following steps:

 The area of investigation was defined by reviewing the relevant literature.
 The questions were formulated from a number of sources, including the literature review,
clinical experiences and statements by people who had participated in earlier focus group
 The process of sampling and piloting took place amongst community college students and
clients diagnosed with major depression in hospital.
 A third group of Roman Catholic nuns was subsequently sampled.
 Details of how the response rate was maximised (e.g. paying respondents for completed
questionnaires) were also given.
 A good description of how the validity and reliability testing of the questionnaire was
established was also included.
 For example, a panel of experts assessed content validity, and retest reliability was examined
through the studies with the three subject groups.
 Finally, some consideration was also given to the possible sources of error in the whole
process of developing the instrument.

If you came across a detailed description of how a particular questionnaire was developed, such as
the one above, you could have confidence in the rigour of the study.

In a study which has used this self-developed instrument for data collection, sufficient detail should be
given to allow for an appraisal of how it was developed before application.

What is important is that you need to recognise at this stage that whether or not a questionnaire is an
appropriate data collection method depends upon the research question that has been asked.

Indeed, you should always be asking whether the method of collecting data was the appropriate one
whenever you come across a research paper or a paper describing evidence-based care.

From this, you also need to be asking whether the research methodology used by the researchers
was the correct one for the research question that was being asked.

This is why it is important that the author of a research paper specifies what is the research question
or hypothesis at the very beginning of the paper, in order for you to be able to decide whether or not
they are using the correct research methodology and method of data collection.

As a footnote, if you should ever be involved in undertaking a research study yourself, then you must
make sure that you know exactly what your research question is (or hypothesis if it is experimental
quantitative research (and also that it is the correct question for what you want to achieve).

 Careful questionnaire design is essential in quantitative research (and also qualitative

research) for the collection of good quality data.
 You should look for evidence that research methods have been piloted and modified


Rating scales can be used for observation as well as self-reporting.

A rating scale allows the observer to rate the behaviour or event on a scale.
Rating scales are the crudest form of measure involving scales.
A rating scale lists an ordered series of categories of a variable that are assumed to be based on
an underlying continuum.
A continuum is anything that is seen as having a continuous, not a discrete structure, i.e. it is:
 continuous;
 unbroken;
 uninterrupted.
Note that in this context, discrete means:
 individually distinct;
 separate;
 discontinuous.

A numerical value is then assigned to each category in each item.

This type of scale is often used in observational measurement to guide data collection.
There is, however, another type of scale that you will often see in research papers - the Likert


The Likert Scale is the most commonly used scale in quantitative research.
 It is designed to determine the opinion or attitude of a subject.
 It contains a number of statements with a scale after each statement.

The original version of the scale included 5 response categories, and each response category was
assigned a value.

Usually, the most negative response is given a numerical value of 1, whilst the most positive
response has a numerical value of 5.

Obviously you can work out that the point in the middle would have a numerical value of 3.
Response choices in a Likert Scale usually address:
 agreement
 evaluation
 frequency

Example of a Likert Scale:

This method of teaching you about quantitative research methodology is useful.
Likert Scale:
 strongly agree 5
 agree 4
 uncertain 3
 disagree 2
 strongly disagree 1

However, do take note that the use of the 'uncertain' or a 'neutral' category is controversial because it
allows the subject to avoid making a clear choice of positive or negative statements.
Consequently, sometimes only four or six options are given, and when this happens, it is known as a
forced choice Likert Scale