8 data collection techniques: discover a world beyond the survey

Data collection techniques are tools used to gather information from different sources, make evaluations and make better decisions. That is why, when deciding which data collection techniques to use, it is necessary to be clear about your business objectives and the information you need to obtain.

In this article, we will mention some of the main data collection techniques that exist, with which you can obtain information to perform an analysis and develop the appropriate strategies to develop your business.

1. Documentary review

Among the different data collection techniques that exist, the most important is the documentary review, which is within the group of qualitative methods. It consists of conducting research and gathering information through the review of different documentary sources.

It is important to clarify that this data collection technique has some complications, especially because the researcher must have good criteria for the analysis and selection of sources. It should be kept in mind that the documents do not necessarily present objective information, and that on some occasions they may have been altered for the purpose of obtaining some personal benefit.

In this sense, it is important to evaluate the documents that will be used to collect data and verify their validity before using them. Documentary review is one of the data collection techniques that most requires professionals with experience in the field.

how to conduct a desk review?

This data collection technique requires in-depth research, so it can be time-consuming. However, it is very easy to perform if a proper procedure is followed.

The steps to perform a desk review are as follows:

1.selection of information sources

The first step in conducting a desk review is to make a compilation of all the material that could be of interest for the research. Some of the sources you can consult are:

Printed documents: books, newspapers, theses, statistical archives, etc.
Electronic documents: digital books, Internet articles, electronic magazines, etc.
Graphic material: photographs, plans, maps, etc.
Audiovisual material: reports, documentaries, films, podcasts, conferences, etc.

The most important thing to apply this data collection technique properly is to carefully select the sources to be used, since the results of the research depend on it.

2.review and organize the information

Once you have selected your sources of information, you have to start reviewing and classifying the relevant data you find. You can write down those citations or references that will help you to support your documentary review.

3.data analysis

Once you have your material in order, it is time to perform a data analysis and determine what the conclusions of the research are.

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2. Observation

Another data collection technique used by professionals in their research is observation, which consists of making use of the capacity of human beings to analyze their environment and that of other people.

It should be borne in mind that the information obtained through this data collection technique may be conditioned by the interpretation of the person observing.

what are the types of observation?

This data collection technique can be executed in 3 different ways:

Structured observation: follows a specific procedure to collect information about a particular event. Those who use it can make use of some observation and analysis tools.
Semi-structured observation: although there is prior planning of what is to be observed, it does not follow such rigid guidelines as structured observation.
Unstructured observation: this type of observation is not based on planning but is carried out freely.

Instruments for observation

Some data collection techniques require certain instruments in order to be carried out properly. In the case of observation, some of the instruments used are:

Observation guide: it is a list that indicates those aspects relevant to an investigation. It can be designed through statements or questions.
Checklist: this is a scheme that includes those actions, tasks or behaviors to be evaluated in the observation.
Attitude scale: contains a list of statements or phrases used to measure an individual’s attitude in the presence of other people, objects or situations.

3. Survey

The survey is one of the most widely used data collection techniques in the field of research. It consists of the application of a questionnaire to a sample of people in order to record their opinions, attitudes and behaviors.

The purpose of the survey is that its results can serve as a reference of a phenomenon that affects a larger population. That is why a representative sample must be taken to obtain accurate and relevant data.

Surveys can have different purposes. For example, in electoral processes, they are used to find out which candidate has the most support. Likewise, in business, surveys are often conducted prior to the launch of a product or service. A customer satisfaction survey is also often conducted to evaluate the customer’s buying experience and to know what measures to take to optimize the process.

what are the types of surveys?

Nowadays, thanks to technological development, data collection techniques can be executed from different platforms. In the case of the survey, it can be applied in the following ways:

Email survey: if you have a database with your customers’ emails, you can use that channel to send them the questionnaire so they can easily fill it out.
Telephone survey: surveys can also be applied through a phone call, however, you must take into account the time the user has available to answer the questions.
Personal survey: here the questionnaire is applied in person. Sometimes the interviewer is the one who writes down all the answers, although he/she can also just hand out the questionnaire and wait for the person to complete it on his/her own.
Online survey: there are different platforms on the Internet, such as YouTube, which surveys its users to find out their opinions about a product or service. Likewise, any user can easily conduct surveys on their social networks.

how to make a survey?

According to the QuestionPro portal, to make a successful survey you must follow the following steps:

Define the survey objectives: you must be clear about what you want to evaluate in your research.
Determine the information required: based on your objectives, you must define what data you need to collect. For example, to measure the profitability of a product, you can conduct a survey by consulting information on the tastes and preferences of your audience.
Design the survey: you should formulate a list of appropriate questions for a survey. Remember that they must be clear and brief. You can use multiple choice, likert scale or free response questions.
Determine the demographic segment: in order for a survey to yield more accurate results, you have to make a market segmentation to know to which people you are going to send the questionnaire.
Determine the number of surveys to conduct: you have to set a number of people that can yield results representative of the population you want to study.
Send the survey: you can send the survey by e-mail and offer discounts or other incentives to encourage users to participate.
Count and analyze the results: once you have finished collecting data, it is time to organize the information and process it.
Draw conclusions: after doing the data analysis, you have to draw conclusions from the research and establish a plan of action.
Makethe right decisions: after applying the survey and defining the conclusions, you must use that information to make decisions that are supported by the data.

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4. Focus group

One of the most widely used data collection techniques in the marketing area is the focus group. This research method consists of gathering 5 to 10 people who belong to your target audience and who are willing to talk about your business.

In a focus group, there is a moderator who is in charge of asking a series of questions to the participants and gives them the freedom to express their opinion. These meetings usually last between half an hour and an hour and a half.

An advantage of focus groups is that they give you access to valuable information with which you can design better business strategies. In addition, you can also ask the participants to give you an opinion of the competition, to find out how you can outperform them.

how to conduct a focus group?

All data collection techniques require prior planning, as this ensures the validity of the results. In case you want to conduct a focus group, you have to follow the following steps:

1.define the objective of the focus group. For example, it can be the launching of a new product.

2.draw up a list of questions to be asked at the meeting. Take into account the duration of the session.

3.reserve a space for the focus group discussion. It can be a conference room or in the company’s office. You should also set the time and day of the event.

4.make the call for participants. You can contact the focus group participants by e-mail, call them by phone or make a call via social networks.

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5. Interview

One of the most commonly used data collection techniques is the interview, which consists of collecting information through a series of questions that help to learn about the interviewee’s behaviors and preferences.

The interview can be conducted individually or in groups. It can also be conducted in person or virtually, through a telephone call or video call.

what are the types of interviews?

We can distinguish three types of interview according to their structure:

Structured interview: these are interviews that are conducted following a previously established format. If several people are interviewed, they are all asked the same questions.
Semi-structured interview: in this case, the questions to be asked follow a pre-established order, which may vary during the course of the interview. Likewise, the interviewer can modify or add more questions if deemed necessary.
Unstructured interview: this type of interview does not follow any structure, but the questions depend on the interviewer’s criteria.

how to conduct an interview?

To use this data collection technique, we recommend that you follow these tips:

Conduct research on the profile of the person you are going to interview.
Define the objective of your interview.
Prepare a list of questions. If possible, avoid questions that can be answered with yes or no answers.
Be on time for the interview.
Use language appropriate to the occasion.
Pay attention to the interviewee’s answers.
If you are going to record the interview, don’t forget to ask the interviewee’s permission.
Once you have finished, thank the participant.

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The five types of data collection techniques we’ve mentioned so far can be used for any type of research and, in a sense, are determined by the way science approaches its research problems. However, there are some data collection techniques that work exclusively for businesses and their marketing strategies.

In the following three points we will tell you about those data collection techniques and how they work.

6. Transactional Tracking

This data collection technique refers to the mechanisms a business uses to collect data from its users at the time a transaction is made. The Harvard Business School points out that in transactions such as a purchase, very useful user data can be collected, especially to find out which is the public interested in the products or services offered by a company.

For example, it can be the collection of data at a physical point of sale, or the collection of data through the information systems of an ecommerce.

7. Online tracking

For some time now, it has been possible to collect data on user behavior on the Internet, especially through the use of cookies in navigation. We could say that this is one of the most important data collection techniques for those who use the web to generate leads and conversions.

This data collection technique allows a business to know very precisely what is the behavior of users who enter their website. If used in the right way, a business can obtain valuable insights about the content that interests its users and optimize its content strategies.

8. Social media monitoring

In recent years, it has become common to use social networks to learn about the interests of the public, a data collection technique that offers great sources of information to companies. It is worth noting that all social networks have an analytics system that allows to know the demographic and behavioral data of users who follow a particular account.

This data collection technique is very useful for defining the content strategy of a business, and offers very interesting information for those who know how to use it.

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Tips for planning data collection

Regardless of the data collection techniques you use, if you want to get good results, you need to plan everything you will do very well. In this way, you will be able to anticipate situations and apply strategies that will help you to carry out a good investigation. Therefore, in this section we want to give you some tips that can be very useful to collect valuable data.

Think carefully about the type of data you want to collect

A research cannot be effective if you do not define very precisely what is the topic to be analyzed and, consequently, what are the data you need to collect. In this sense, you should consider what is the level of difficulty to access the data, what resources you need to access them, and what is the data collection technique that can be most effective for the task.

We recommend that you ask yourself the following questions so that you can define precisely what data you need to collect and where to look for it:

how useful is the data you need?
how accessible is the data?
what data collection techniques might work best?

The book Guide to data analytics basics for managers, published by the Harvard Business Review, points out that most companies collect all the information that is available, instead of focusing on the data that can help them make strategic decisions and optimize their operational processes. He therefore recommends defining a very precise number of questions to be answered by the data.

Identify the sources you will use

Depending on the type of research you plan to do, you may use some sources and not others. Therefore, we recommend that you identify the sources you will use in your research, so that you can select the most convenient ones.

This is also important because it prevents you from obtaining repeated points of information. For example, when you want to carry out a market research, it is possible that the data you have from users are repeated, especially if you use several technical tools for data collection. An example of this can be data that is repeated both at a point of sale and in the web analytics of a business.

In any case, if you use several sources and data collection techniques, it is best to segment the information and conduct separate studies.

Order the information for the people who will see it

After collecting the data, you should make an analysis and generate a report to see what it reflects. So it is important that you take into consideration who those people are for whom the report is intended, so that you can present the information in the simplest possible terms.

You should do some things like specify the data collection techniques that were used, what results were obtained, and make an interpretation of what the data that were collected represent.

In short, in addition to knowing how to apply the data collection techniques, you need to be able to tell a story with the data you collected. It is also necessary to think that the value of the data is that they can help to project scenarios in which a company may find itself, i.e., they should be used to make decisions in the future.

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These data collection techniques can help you improve your business processes, as they provide you with relevant information about the interests and behavior of the public. Remember that there are also different data analysis techniques you can apply.

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