In conducting a research, Theoretical assumptions are invalid and remain that way until proven otherwise. They are proven valid only when tested by means of observation or experience through data collection rather than theory or pure logic.
Data collection is a very important aspect of any research work. This is because when data for a research work is collected and analyzed, it shows the conclusions of that research as a reflection of what the data revealed. Simply put, the data collected by a researcher is important in meeting the objectives or answering the questions posed by a research project. Therefore, data must be collected properly, in such a way that it is able to answer the research questions. For the proper collection of data, technical methods are employed. This involves the use of measuring instruments.
Measuring instruments refers to the different technical methods that are employed by a researcher in order to obtain reliable data from respondents or participants for a research work.
Whenever measuring instruments are used, one needs to make sure that the type of instrument used is perfect for the type of research that is being conducted. This ensures proper data collection and valid conclusions.
Types of Data Collection Instruments
If you need to collect data from a large number of people, then you would need to consider using questionnaires. They contain multiple choice questions, attitude scales, closed questions and open-ended questions. This data collection instrument is flexible as there is no rush or pressure on respondents to provide immediate answers. Respondents can take their time to think about the questions and then provide answers to them at their most convenient time. This ensures that the answers provided are not influenced by time rush or experiences from a bad day the respondent may be having. Again, questionnaires can be administered in different forms by post, email attachments, administered in conferences or posted on Internet sites. Researchers may even decide to administer the questionnaire in person. This method has an advantage to those people that have difficulty reading and writing. In this case, the participant orally answers each question on the questionnaire as the researcher notes down the responses. Since questionnaires do not require names, Participants are more comfortable to state their views or feelings privately without worrying about what other people might think of them or the possible reaction of the researcher. One major drawback in using questionnaires which may result in the researchers drawing false conclusions from their study is that they usually have a fairly low response rate; while some may not answer the questions completely, others may give no response at all. Again, some people may give socially acceptable answers. Respondents are however encouraged to answer all questions as honestly as possible.
This type of data collection instrument can be described as an oral questionnaire. Interviews are usually done in a face to face meeting. They can also be conducted via phone conversations, or through video chats, during which the interviewer takes notes with a pen and paper or a tape recorder. The interviews are conducted either formally, informally or even semi-formally. In an informal interview, the interviewer in this case allows the respondents to speak freely on a particular topic. While in a formal interview the interviewer seeks answers to particular questions that are thus presented to the interviewees. Here, a list of structured questions centered around the subject matter is prepared by the researcher prior to the interview. In a semi-formal approach, the interviewee is allowed to speak relatively freely but at the same time, the researcher ensures that certain issues are covered. One major advantage of this method is that it produces a high response rate as personal contact between the researcher and respondents enables the researcher to explain questions that may not be correctly understood by the respondents. However, there are still downsides to this method like inaccessibility to wealthy or celebrity respondents due to security consciousness on their part.
This type of data collection instrument is used in pure and applied sciences research. Experiments are carried out in laboratories by researchers. The experiments are strictly centered on the research topic for the sole purpose of meeting the research objectives. If the experiments are carried out properly, its results are viable and error free. However, one limitation with this method is that; it is quite expensive to carry out science experiments and if the researcher is not careful in the laboratory and does not protect himself properly with laboratory gears, when chemicals spill, they may cause damage to the researcher.
Observation as a method of collecting data is popular in behavioral and social sciences. This method involves observing and recording individual behaviors. Individual behaviors may be observed under these categories; what people do, why they do them, the roles they have, relationships that connect these ‘activities’ and features of the situation in which they find themselves. In participant observation studies, the researcher becomes part of the group to be observed. He has to fit in the group and gain the trust of its members. But at the same time, he needs to be careful enough to be detached in a way that he is able to carry out the observation. Non-participant observation is the direct opposite of what happens in participant observation. A good advantage of non-participant observation is that the result is more inclined to be viable and free from bias as the researcher is not part of the group being observed and thus has no attachments to the group. But it has the problem of inaccuracy and delayed result. The observation carried out could be continuous or over a set period of time (1 hour daily for 3weeks) or randomly for shorter periods of time (for 60 seconds every so often). These two types of observation methods are informative, flexible and cheap to be carried out. However, special skills are required to access behavioral observations in research.
Focus Group Discussion
This type of data collection instrument allows researchers to obtain data from a large group of people at the same time. Unlike in interview methods where the researcher focuses on one person, a group is the focus of the researcher. This method is used when a researcher’s investigation concerns a policy and its impact on a particular operation in a society. Members of the focus group discussion should not exceed 10 at a time. The researcher must design a focus group discussion guide prior to the meeting. At the end of the focus group discussion, there is a need for the researcher to transcribe the data into qualitative information. Focus group discussion method is employed when carrying out research in behavioral science, library and information science, archival science, records and information technology.
In gathering data for a research project, it is important to note that the type of research greatly affects the method of data collection. Sometimes, researchers may need to use more than 2 or 3 approaches to collect data in order to achieve the objectives of the research.
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