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Data collection

Chapters 10, 11, 18-21, & 27

Data Collection

How do you intend to collect your data?

Click here to view and download the checklist in Microsoft Word.

  Tick relevant boxes

Self-completion questionnaires


Mail/postal surveys


Internet surveys


Open questions


Closed questions


Using scales developed by other researchers


Structured/ standardized interview


Semi-structured interview )


Online/phone interviews


Unstructured interview


In-depth/Focused interview


Group interview


Focus groups




Structured observation


Ethnography/participant observation


Collection and qualitative analysis of texts and documents


Triangulation/multi-strategy approach


To see video clips of students talking about their experience of collecting data, click here

Web link: - methods of collecting data from The ABC Study Guide hosted by Andy Roberts.

Exercise: self-completion questionnaires

A researcher has been asked to design a questionnaire to help three companies make strategic decisions about their sales forces. The research brief includes the following data to be collected from the sales representatives:

Name of employee


Name of employer

Area of country worked in North, South, East or West

Sales representative attitudes to enjoyment in the job, whether they believe hard work brings rewards and whether they often wish they were doing another job

How many customers they visited in the last month

Their total sales value in the last month

The date the sales representative started working for their current employer



Use Microsoft Word or another suitable software package, to design a structured, self-completion questionnaire to obtain the above data from the sales representatives.


A suggested answer is as follows:


Check your answer

Exercise: asking questions



Rephrase the following questions to remove as much ambiguity or bias as possible. Refer to the chapter in Bell, Bryman, and Harley for guidance. Why are the questions biased as they stand?

  1. In a survey of car ownership, where the researcher is trying to get at Mercedes ownership and attitudes towards the marque. The opening question is 'Do you own a Mercedes car?'
  1. Do you believe that universities should be research-orientated?
  1. Are you in favour of curtailing car fuel emissions in major cities?
  1. How many times have you visited a supermarket in the last year?
  1. What is your opinion on the Labour Party’s new image and the possibility of it being elected again in the next election?
  1. Please tick the appropriate box to indicate your age

Below 35


51 and above


Discussions on 'why' questions as stated are biased will centre on arguments about i) leading questions, ii) emotionally charged, iii) approval or disapproval iv) implicit alternatives, v), implicit assumptions, vi) avoiding estimates which are difficult to do and vii) double-barrelled questions.
  1. What brand of car do you own? (i)
  1. Which degree awarding institutions should be researched orientated? (ii) and (iii)
  1. Are you in favour of measures to reduce the level of car fuel emissions resulting in better living conditions for all? (v)
  1. How many times have you visited a supermarket in the last month? (vi)
  1. (vii) Make it two questions
  1. This classification question is not in accordance with Market Research Society ( guidelines as well as suffering from (ii) bias.

Please indicate below which category approximates to your age

16 and under

17 - 24

25 - 34

35 - 44

45 - 54

55 and above


Check your answer

Exercise: interviewing in qualitative research

Select any one of the following three topics:

- Attitudes to the level of service provided by the National Health Service (NHS)

- Attitudes to taking holidays in the Dominican Republic affected Eastern countries post- Hurricane Maria in September 2017

- Opinions on the future of economic development of Sub Saharan Africa in the next 5 years



Selecting an appropriate sample of your fellow students or others, and using a qualitative research approach, design an unstructured or semi-structured interview to answer your chosen topic. Carry out the interview, recording the answers in an appropriate way.

As a separate exercise you might like to apply the techniques described in Chapter 24, Qualitative Data Analysis, of Bell, Bryman, and Harley and analyse the responses to your interview(s).

A possible approach to answering the chosen topic is as follows:
  1. Selection of an appropriate sample of students who must be able to voice an opinion on the topic, or a constituent body of respondents who are knowledgeable about the topic, e.g. for topic b) this could be travel agents or lecturers in Tourism. These may be selected using a 'snowball' sampling technique
  1. Choice of an unstructured or semi-structured interview. For the former, the student would design an aide-memoire of prompts to cover the topic; in the latter, a more detailed interview guide might be used covering specific topics using a list of questions. The questions designed must fulfil the criteria set out on page 441 of Bell, Bryman, and Harley.
  1. Choice of interview technique either by focus groups of appropriate size or in depth individual interview. If travel agents or lecturers are used as a source of data, these could be 'expert' interviews.
  1. Ensure the interviewer is prepared to conduct the interview
  1. Choice an appropriate recording device either tape recorder, the recorder function on your mobile phone, video camera or note books. Respondent permissions must be obtained in advance.
  1. Choice of a quiet and appropriate location to carry out the interviews.
  1. Select the specific respondents identified in step 1.
  1. Conduct the interview making sure that all areas of the topic are covered, all respondents are given the chance to express their views, and 'dominant' or 'subversive' respondents are appropriately handled. Record the responses
  1. Transcribe the responses and, selecting an analysis technique, described in Chapter 24, analyse, verify, and report the responses in such a way that will complete the task.

All three of the tasks require that 'attitudes' to the topic are uncovered. This will involve the necessity to design appropriate questions to get the desired response. As an example let us look at topic c) 'opinions on the future of economic development of Sub Saharan Africa in the next five years'. Typical topic check questions might be as follows:

  • What is your opinion of the current position, and pace of economic development, of Sub-Saharan Africa?
  • (in answer to response above)Why is it like this?
  • What, in your opinion, are the key factors why Sub-Saharan Africa is in its current economic position?
  • What, in your opinion, could be done about its current economic position?
  • Do you think Sub-Saharan Africa, or certain countries in it, will ever be a world player? Why? (Why not?)
  • What do you see as the critical factors if successful economic development of Sub-Saharan Africa is to take place in the next 5 years?
  • What can be done to ensure that these factors are realised?
  • Which players (governments, international bodies, companies, persons) regionally and globally can, in your opinion, influence the successful economic development of Sub-Saharan Africa in the next five years?
  • (in answer to response above)What should they do, how and when?
  • What are the consequences of Sub-Saharan Africa not being successful over the long term?
Check your answer

Exercise: focus groups

Motor Group, a UK-based manufacturer of a medium-sized family car, believes the product is not achieving the sales it deserves. Whilst well priced at £12,500 vis a vis its rivals which were manufactured in Europe and Japan, it was targeted at a fiercely competitive market segment. At 23%, its current market share trailed badly behind that of its main rival Sun (Japan) 40% and its other rival, Renald (France), at 37% market share. In a recent piece of market research conducted by the company, the car scored the following on the four most important attributes perceived by consumers for vehicle choice:

Attribute Motor Group Renald (France) Sun (Japan)
Miles per Gallon 3 4 5
Service Interval 2 4 4
Overall Performance 3 4 5
Value for Money 2 4 4

Scoring Perceptions 1= Poor to 5= Excellent

As a result of this research, Motor Group had done an 'engineering value analysis' on its car and found that product feature for feature, e.g. 0-60 mph time, factory provided extras (air conditioning, etc.), safety rating, its model was equal to, or even better than, its rivals. The company therefore concluded that the car's 'subjective image' or 'badge' must be the problem. It decided to conduct a number of focus interviews to try and get to the detail behind the facts and figures in order to attempt a repositioning of the car.



Suggest who should be involved in the focus group interviews.

The decision the company is about to make is crucial in terms of future jobs and investment, so care and extensiveness of the proposed research is paramount. So, it would be essential to scope the research sufficiently wide enough to capture all relevant interests.

The ideal groups would include all the company's stakeholders:

  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Dealers/distributors
  • Suppliers
  • Creative communications agencies
  • Plus competitor car ownership groups

These groups should be 'representative' where necessary. For example, whilst there may be only on group of personnel from advertising agencies, there should be a number for customers, representative of the country, users and usage.

The groups, however formed, may be made up of six persons in total, plus a moderator.

Check your answer



Suggest a checklist of questions for the group's participants in order to help the company reposition its vehicle.

The company is primarily seeking attitudes towards, and motives for purchase, from customers with a view to making the car more attractive to current and potential customers. A repositioning study involves an evaluation of both 'objective' (miles per gallon, price) and 'subjective' product attributes (image). It has a good idea already of its objective attributes from its recent research and now the focus group would primarily, but not exclusively, address the subjective elements. Potential customers always do a mental 'trade off' analysis on the choice attributes before purchasing. This is always difficult to capture and measure, although the technique of conjoint analysis is a useful tool for this in quantitative methodology.

Given the above, possible sample check questions for the qualitative research could be:

  • What make of car do you own?
  • What attracted you to purchase this car?
  • How would you describe the typical owner of this vehicle?
  • Why did you buy it?
  • What specific product features attracted you to buy the car?
  • What else was instrumental in helping you buy the car (probe the 'advertising effect', referrals, etc.)
  • What are the car's most desirable features?
  • Was it a personal purchase decision or involved other members of the family?
  • Who and what influence did other family members have on the purchase?
  • How do you feel when you drive the car?
  • What do you think other people think of you when you drive this car?
  • How long do you keep cars on average?
  • Would you repurchase this make?
  • If 'yes' why? If 'no' why?
  • What, if any, do you see as the car's most undesirable features?
  • How could it be improved?
  • If the car was a film star who would it be?
Check your answer

Exercise: language in qualitative research

As a student, studying any programme of study, consider the following. Some of the objectives of your study programme are to ensure that you 'obtain subject knowledge, understanding, and application of concepts supporting the subject and develop a number of competencies like interpersonal skills and technical skills (e.g. literacy)'. These are 'mandatory' for students studying business type studies, according to the Quality Assurance Agency of the UK (QAA) and the Association of Business Schools (ABS).



Consider the objectives that in your chosen study programme, via your tuition, you must 'gain subject knowledge, understanding and application of the relevant concepts and develop interpersonal skills' in the context of one current academic semester. In addition consider this in the context of the total student/lecturer interface. Making field notes of your lectures, seminars/tutorials, Programme Committee Meetings, etc., for all the subjects you are studying, explore the process how your university/college is ensuring that you are gaining subject knowledge, understanding the supporting concepts and their application and developing interpersonal skills. In addition, explore the different approaches that tutors across the subjects are taking to ensure that you are gaining the three competencies and how effective these different approaches are.

This is a challenging but very interesting and important situation. It would be easy to answer the task by designing a quantitative feedback form which merely takes a 'tick box' approach. However, this is not the point of the exercise. The exercise is to explore the process of achieving the three objectives and evaluate the different ways of interpreting and achieving these objectives by different tutors. For example, tutors may use a variety or combination of lecture, seminar/tutorial techniques like simulations, case studies, discussion groups, student presentations, and video presentations, to name but a few. The exercise should last over one current semester and involve an evaluation of all the subjects being studied in that semester

To prepare for this, you should read the relevant academic frameworks provided by the QAA and The ABS to make sure that they are familiar with the context. Next, it should be clear on what exactly you wish to achieve (objectives) and decide on an appropriate technique. There are many ways by which this exercise can be completed but the intention is that the student will use a type of conversation analysis. Look carefully how 'talk' in the teaching, Committee committee situations are is structured and contextualised contextualized and make sure that the analysis is grounded in data.

The best way to record the data is to take notes. In Programme programme Committee committee meetings, inductions, introduction to subjects being studied etc, etc., note how the teaching staff discuss the different ways to achieve the three objectives, how this achievement is being monitored, and any adjustments made consequently. In the lectures and seminars/tutorials, note how the tutors, in utilizing different modes of tuition, explain how this will help you develop competency in the three areas. Note how successful they are or not, as the case may be. Above all, note the process of ensuring that you, the student, achieve the three competencies. Note the interaction between the tutors, especially in Committee committee meetings, and the process by which decisions are made.

Your analysis should take the form of any appropriate as described in Chapter 22 of Bryman and Bell pages 388-393 and not along the lines of how successfully you have gained the competencies (although, no doubt you will!). The analysis should be an evaluation of the institutional processes to ensure that the three competencies are adequately and effectively developed, using a variety of teaching methods, monitoring and evaluative techniques.

Check your answer

Exercise: using the internet for data collection

A student, as part of a final undergraduate assignment of 3000 words, has decided to compare a number of car manufacturer's competing products from an 'objective' and 'subjective' point of view, that is, the 'tangible' characteristics like the engine capacity and the 'non-tangible' characteristics like the car image. Another student has decided to look at the type of food served, and attitudes to service, from a customer's point of view for a selection of restaurants in Cape Town, South Africa. Due to time constraints, as the assignment had to be completed in three weeks, both students decided that fieldwork was too lengthy a process, so decided to use the internet as a source of data. Even surveying via the internet was seen as too long a process, so they decided to find out as much data as possible on the internet and use the information as best they could.



Taking either one of the student scenarios described above, use the internet to gather what you feel is appropriate information and provide a reasoned answer to the assignment.

Both scenarios require creative use of the internet and an ability to analyse the data using the appropriate technique, for example 'virtual outputs content analysis' using the website as a source of documents. More enterprising students might use a technique like 'netnography' (page 422 in Bell, Bryman, and Harley) on a group of fellow students or appropriate respondents. A suggested solution might be as follows:

A) Car comparisons

The answer to the assignment might result in the student producing a 'positioning' study involving the construction of a series of perceptual maps combining the relevant 'objective' and 'subjective' attributes. On the other hand, the answer might be a report with separate sections comparing the chosen cars physical tangible and non-tangible attributes. Whichever method is chosen to write the report, a typical approach could be as follows:

  1. Decide which cars are to be compared by model and make
  1. Using a search engine like Google or Yahoo look for information which would give details of the physical attributes and subjective attributes. The car manufacturers themselves or motoring magazines would be ideal as well as sites which test and run commentaries on cars. The BBC's Top Gear website would be ideal for this. Typical examples are:

  1. Take the data from the sites, both technical and commentarial, and, using categorical, content analysis and/or discourse analysis, configure the data into a format to answer the assignment. Add your own comments to accompany the analysis. The technical data could also be put into an analysis package like SPSS and 'descriptive' statistical analysis performed on it. This could, as discussed above, inform the construction of a series of perceptual maps for competitive comparison purposes.

B) Customer attitudes to restaurants in Cape Town, South Africa

In this case, qualitative content or discourse analysis on commentaries from the websites could be utilised to answer the assignment. A typical approach to answering the assignment might be:

  1. Decide on which types of restaurants to compare
  1. Using a search engine like Google or Yahoo look for information which would give details of the type of food served and customer attitudes to service. Useful sites include:

  1. The information could then be classified into restaurants which serve similar food or different food, for example, fish, Chinese and Malay, then commentary (analysed by content or discourse analysis.) added from the web based restaurant reviews.
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