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All about that data – sources and collection methods


We already know that good quality data can help in the decision-making process. The first important step is to collect data from reliable sources. There are two types of data sources to consider: primary and secondary.

Data from primary sources are first-hand data, tailored to provide information on the firm’s own products, customers, and markets. It can be collected from both the internal (employees, board of directors, investors etc.) and external stakeholders (customers, suppliers etc.) of our organization.

Data from secondary sources are facts & figures already collected and recorded prior to the analysis done by others, and can be collected from internal sources, i.e., our annual report, sales data etc., or external secondary data, from government database and reports, national reports etc. This type of data includes both raw data and published summaries.

Primary and secondary data can be either quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative data refers to numbers and quantities like age, competency level, etc. Qualitative data is descriptive, observable and cannot be measured, i.e., clothing style.

Sources of primary data

The most widely used methods of primary data collection include the observation, interview, and survey. While these are not the only ones, most others are less popular than the former three.

The observation is the most used method of data collection in social and natural sciences. This method consists of gathering knowledge by observing certain phenomena when it occurs.

There are two types of observations: participant and non-participant. In case of the participant observation, the researcher watches the events and activities from inside, by taking part in the group he is observing. The researcher can freely interact with the participants. In the case of non- participant observation, this occurs when the researcher observes the events passively, from a distance, without direct involvement.

During this specific data collection process, chances of personal biases are high, as the observer interprets the situation in his/her own way.

When it comes to all fields of science, the survey is one of the most used methods of data collection in research. Questionnaires are formulated to acquire specific point information on any subject area. The questionnaire is an inexpensive method of data collection, when compared to other methods of primary research. Questionnaires can be submitted by vast audiences, at a time, and responses can be registered quite easily.

Lastly, the interview is another important method of primary data collection in all fields of science. During the exchange, the interviewer collects information from each respondent independently, making this process much more expensive and time-consuming when compared to other methods of data collection.

Sources of secondary data

We can collect secondary data from many sources, such as:

  • Text-based data sources, i.e., magazines, newspapers etc.
  • Non-text-based documents, i.e., TV, radio etc.
  • Survey research conducted by other entities, i.e., the government, NGOs etc.

What data sources should we focus on?

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the sources, which is why choosing the appropriate data source is highly dependable on the research’s objective. Here are some considerations that might help deciding:

Advantages of data from primary sources

  • It is more reliable, because the source of the information and the data collection method are known
  • The collected information is up to date
  • The collected information is owned by the organization conducting the research
  • The organization conducting the research can ensure that it is addressing a specific issue, rather than investing in extracting relevant information from other sources

Disadvantages of data from primary sources

  • More expensive than secondary data
  • Time-consuming

Advantages of data from secondary sources

  • It is easy to access, so it is less time-consuming, and the data collection-related costs are lower
  • A large amount of data can be collected easily

Disadvantages of data from secondary sources

  • It may be possible that it is not tied to the organizational needs
  • It is not as accurate as primary data, and it might be outdated

As we can see, data collection can come in many forms, types, and methods, almost as varied as the very object it desires to aggregate. Which method suits your needs is conditional on your research objective. Whilst some may require an in-depth, live approach via the interview or even observation, others could do with just a quick & easy fix, via surveys.

Moreover, carefully consider which sources will yield the most accurate and trustworthy data. Some research benefit greatly when you incur information from primary sources, whilst others yield surprisingly pinpoint results with just secondary references.

Find out more about the dat sources in our Certified Data Analysis course.

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