When designing your study (Step 3) you’ll have decided your research method; whether you are undertaking a qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods research project. Your decision about the type of research method you’re using in your project will inform how you collect and collate your data.
Qualitative data collection encompasses any data that is not numerical. Qualitative data can be gathered using a variety of techniques typically including interviews, focus groups and observations. Your data may include audio-visual materials or transcripts. If your need to identify themes and sub-themes then you’re collecting qualitative data. You’ll also want to keep a researcher diary. Your researcher diary will include a step-by-step account of your research project, and reflective notes of any decision made in informing the direction of your research project or your data analysis.
Quantitative Data Collection
Quantitative data collection is anything you can measure or count. Quantitative data can be gathered using a variety of techniques typically including surveys and questionnaires though, as with qualitative data collection, it can include interviews and observations. If your data includes routine statistics, usage figures or can easily reduced to categories and counts then you’re collecting quantitative data. For example, multiple choice, tick box and yes/no options in a questionnaire can all be analysed quantitatively. If your data is collected by more than one person it’s important the everyone is recording or counting things in the same way.
Mixed Methods Data Collection
Mixed methods data collection includes both qualitative and quantitative data collection either concurrently, both qualitative and qualitative data collected at the same time, or sequentially, first one form of data collection followed by the other. The following resources provide more details:
- Bruce, N., Pope, D., & Stanistreet, D. (2018). Quantitative methods for health research: a practical interactive guide to epidemiology and statistics (2nd ed.). Oxford: Wiley. A practical introduction to quantitative research, data collection and data analysis.
- Cresswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2006). Collecting data in mixed methods research. In J. W. Cresswell & V. L. P. Clark (Eds.), Designing and conducting mixed methods research (pp. 110-127). London: Sage. Although a more recent version of this book is available, this link give you free access to the chapter on collecting data in mixed methods research projects from the first edition.
- Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2017). The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (5th ed.). London: Sage. This is your go to handbook for all your queries regarding qualitative research.
Storing your Data
Your data, including signed consent forms, should be securely stored. Your electronic files should be stored on a password protected computer, while paper files should be stored in a locked cabinet. The Medical Research Council advised that basic research data should be stored for a minimum of ten years from the end of a research project, though local policies may vary. The following will help inform your decisions on storing your research data:
- Medical Research Council. (2017). MRC regulatory support centre: retention framework for research data and records. Provides guidance on the types of research documentation and data that should be retained, by whom, in what format, for how long. There’s also a helpful retention decision making flowchart.
- UK Data Services. (2020). Research data lifecycle. Provides guidance all aspects of data management relating to the documenting, format and retention of your data.
If you collect personal data within the European Union then your activity may be covered by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR); this means you’ll need a legal basis for processing personal data. If you’ve anonymised the data you’ve collected from an individual so that they’re no longer identifiable your data is not classed as personal data. The most common legal basis for processing personal research data are consent, public interest (public task) or legitimate interest. Here are some useful resources regarding data protection and anonymising your data:
- Medical Research Council. (2019). Identifiability, anonymisation and pseudonymisation .
- UK Data Services. (2020). The Data Protection Act and the General Data Protection Regulation.
- Cresswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2017). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (3rd ed.). London: Sage. Takes you through the research process, presenting examples from published mixed methods studies.
- Eldredge, J. D. (2004). Inventory of research methods for librarianship and informatics. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 92(1), 83-90. A comprehensive inventory of research methods including a definition, description and references to examples.
- Gorman, G. E., & Clayton, P. (2004). Qualitative research for the information professional: a practical handbook (2nd ed.). London: Facet Publishing. A comprehensive introduction to all aspects of qualitative research specifically written with the library and information worker in mind
- Lawal, I. O. (2009). Library and information science research in the 21st century: a guide for practicing librarians and students. Oxford: Chandos Publishing. A research guide that offers suggestion of areas of potential research in library and information science.
- Pickard, A. J. (2013). Qualitative approaches. In M. J. Grant, B. Sen, & H. Spring (Eds.), Research, evaluation and audit: key steps in demonstrating your value (pp. 97-120). London: Facet Publishing. Provides an overview of qualitative research methods and data collection techniques, including case studies and examples to illustrate how you might use them in practice.
- Urquhart, C. (2013). Quantitative approaches. In M. J. Grant, B. Sen, & H. Spring (Eds.), Research, evaluation and audit: key steps in demonstrating your value (pp. 121-144). London: Facet Publishing. Provides an overview of quantitative research methods and data collection techniques, including case studies and examples to illustrate how you might use them in practice.
Now that you’ve collected and collated your data it’s time to do some data analysis (Step 8).