6 Methods of Data Collection (With Types and Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated March 28, 2022 | Published June 15, 2021

Updated March 28, 2022

Published June 15, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Effective methods of data collection can critical insight for well-researched decisions. Depending on the method of collection, certain data collection types may give you more accurate results than others. Understanding the best type of data and collection method for your needs can help you get the most useful and relevant results. In this article, we explain the different data collection types, provide six methods of data collection and share an example of how you can use each.

Types of data collection

There are many types of data that you can collect and each can provide its own benefits. The type you choose to use might depend on what you are interested in learning. Some types of data collection include:

Qualitative

Qualitative data collection refers to non-numerical research that gathers information on concepts, thoughts or experiences. Typically, qualitative results are useful for experience-based topics, like disc golf player needs. Qualitative research is common in humanities research and may use more personal methods of data collection. Some examples of qualitative data collection and research include:

  • Observations

  • Surveys

  • Focus groups

  • Interviews

Read more: Qualitative Data Examples and Types

Quantitative

Quantitative data collection is the opposite of qualitative and instead collects numerical or statistical information. For example, your results might be a number of something, a percentage or an amount of time. Quantitative data can be useful for measuring demographics for marketing or comparing key statistics in board reports. Quantitative research is typically common in financial or scientific areas of study. Some examples of quantitative data collection and research include observations and surveys.

Primary

Primary data collection happens when researchers obtain information directly from the original sources. For example, if you were researching to find the best material for your product, you may interview experts to gather primary research data to help inform the development of your product. These primary sources of data collection can vary depending on research subjects. Sources of primary data can also include market or academic research.

Secondary

Secondary data collection refers to information gathered from previous research. The previous research might come from researchers who originally conducted the studies for another project and then made their findings public, or organizations who have published the research for awareness, like government organizations or nonprofits. This data is usually already analyzed and put into context. Sources of secondary data can include:

  • Books

  • Scholarly journals and papers

  • Newspapers

  • Websites

  • Podcasts

6 methods of data collection

There are many methods of data collection that you can use in your workplace, including:

1. Observation

Observational methods focus on examining things and collecting data about them. This might include observing individual animals or people in their natural spaces and places. Avoiding direct interactions between researchers and the subjects they are observing can ensure that results are more accurate.

Example: A children's store named Bubbly Baby is interested in developing a new children's toy to sell exclusively in their store. They want to make sure that they understand the toys babies like before developing product samples. The production team at Bubbly Baby plans to conduct observational research with babies, whose parents have provided consent, to examine what toys interest them the most. During the observation sessions, the production team stands in another room to view the toy selections each baby makes. This recorded information may then guide their development process and help them develop a new toy with components of each one the babies were interested in.

If you choose to collect data with this method, using a checklist might help to ensure your recorded information includes everything you intended to observe.

Related: Types of Observational Studies

2. Survey

Survey methods focus on gathering written or multiple choice answers about various subjects from individuals. Typically, individuals interact with these questions online and there is little to no interaction between survey distributors and survey respondents. Companies may use them to gather quick internal or external feedback.

Example: A small car rental company called Rachel's Car Rentals is interested in learning more about customers' perceptions and loyalty for renting a car with them. To expand their reach and maintain cost efficiency, they choose to create and send out a survey to all of their customers from the past six months with a deadline of two weeks. The survey includes multiple choice and short answer questions, as well as spaces for customers to provide additional comments if they have more insight to share. Once the two weeks have passed and the company has collected all customer data, they can analyze it and decide how to use their findings.

If you choose to collect data with this method, using technology survey building tools might help you to manage distribution and the incoming results.

Related: How To Write a Survey: Steps and Tips

3. Focus group

Focus group methods focus on gathering information directly from users. This method usually focuses more on feelings, opinions or emotions rather than statistics. Companies may use focus groups to better understand their consumers.

Example: Green Wicker University is considering a brand refresh for their university brand but wants to ensure that their target audiences will enjoy the brand's new image. The university designers put together some mockup brand logos and materials to share with focus group participants to gauge their perceptions. During this session, someone from the marketing team may run the session as a moderator and stay with participants to present them with each potential refresh idea. Before moving on to the next one, they may stop and ask participants what they think or feel about what they are seeing. Green Wicker University can then use those results to help guide the image of their brand refresh.

If you choose to collect data with this method, creating and using general scripts can help guide the moderation for your focus group.

Related: How To Become a Focus Group Moderator

4. Interview

Interview methods can be more personal and involve face-to-face discussions about a topic between the researcher and participant. Researchers might share the questions with participants before interview sessions to allow them to decide if they feel comfortable taking part. This method may include gathering consent forms for video or audio recordings.

Example: Knit-a-little-bit, an instructional series focused on teaching people how to knit at different levels, worries that they aren't gaining customers at their projected rate. To understand the reasoning behind this, the company arranges for interviews with potential customers to listen to their perspectives. During each interview, the researcher asks participants questions and records their answers. Once interviewers record and analyze the data collected from all interviews, the company may use it to help boost their position in the market or make updates to their brand strategy.

If you choose to collect data with this method, recording sessions with video or audio might provide benefits if you plan to reference them when creating future business plans.

5. Design thinking

Design thinking methods may focus on brainstorming with participants to generate unique ideas or solutions. Companies might use this if they are interested in solving challenges consumers face on their journey as product users. These sessions can happen face-to-face or virtually depending on where researchers and participants are located.

Example: Meditative Monkey, a meditation company, is interested in developing a new product specifically for individuals who struggle to fall asleep at night. They tried to brainstorm as a company, but want to gather more innovative ideas and decide to run a design thinking session with participants. First, they write a protocol as a guide to ensure that the session stays focused to gather as much information from participants as possible. Their protocol contains a script and guided steps for the thinking process, including: Write all the ideas you have, group them and finally vote for the ones you like best. After the session, Meditative Monkey can review the ideas they received and potentially use them for prototyping their new product.

If you choose to collect data with this method, whether you are face-to-face or virtual, using physical or technological sticky notes might provide benefits for when you have participants group their ideas.

Related: The 5 Stages of the Design Thinking Process: How Do You Use It Effectively?

6. User testing

Companies usually use user testing during or after the development of products or services. If they choose to use it during development, it might be to determine where users find the product challenging to navigate. They might also use it after they have already released a product or service if they are interested in making updates.

Example: Baller Bingo, a bingo game for smartphones, is interested in making updates to their application. First, they want to understand where users specifically want improvements and choose to use user testing methods. During their sessions, they ask participants to engage with all aspects of the application and then ask them what navigation or features they might like to see improved. Baller Bingo can then take this information to implement updates to their game.

If you choose to collect data with this method, it may help to allow participants to go through products or services on their own to avoid having your own biases or knowledge influence the user testing results.

Explore more articles