Basic Data Collection Methods

Data collection is a way of gathering information for use in various studies or decision making situations. Depending on the required outcome or information needed methods of data collection can vary and even be combined to achieve needed results.

All data collection methods boil down to five basic types:

  • Registration
  • Questionnaires
  • Interviews
  • Direct Observations
  • Reporting

Each method of data collection has its uses, advantages and disadvantages. Most often using more than one method of data collection will gain better results.


Registration is a data collection method mainly used to gather information about a certain group or demographic population. This method is primarily used in the following ways:

  • Drivers licenses
  • Welfare programs
  • School programs
  • Voter records


This type of data collection method is one of the inexpensive ways to gain information. Most of the information gathered is from co-operative and highly literate people such as college graduates or people in professional fields. Many times questionnaires will be used by service providers to gain needed information. Such providers would include:

  • Medical Surveys
  • Insurance Applications
  • Higher paying job applications
  • Scientific Research


Interviews are more expensive than questionnaires as a method of data collection because of the labor involved. The tradeoff is that an interview can contain more complex questions. Interviews are more useful with lower literacy rates and less co-operative participants. The following fields tend to use the interview method of data collection as a main resource.

  • Government agencies such as the IRS or Welfare Department
  • Census takers
  • Law enforcement

Direct Observation

This type of data collection method is the most accurate way of gathering information, and can be the most cost effective over a long time frame. This method is mainly used in institutional and professional settings such as:

  • Medical analysis
  • Corrections Facilities
  • Psychology and Sociology clinical settings
  • Indirect research


Reporting is a direct opposite to the interview and questionnaire where the study group is required to provide information without being asked specific questions. This type of data collection method is most frequently used for:

  • Tracking parolees and ex-offenders
  • Government tracking and analysis of community needs
  • Field teams gathering information using other methods

Data analysis depends on the method of data collection used. While some analysis will be simple statistics, other analysis will be far more complex depending on the information and combination of data collection methods used.

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3 Responses to “Basic Data Collection Methods”
  1. Wincanton Records Management Says...

    On November 8, 2010 at 5:27 am

    I’d be interested to know what you take is on data storage – i.e. what you then do best practice wise with all that data that you have collected. A good records management policy sounds like a good thing to have.

  2. Sewasew Says...

    On August 26, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I have got such a wonderful lesson.

  3. Blessing Says...

    On March 2, 2012 at 1:28 am

    Four major tools and techniques of data collection and analysis

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