Data Sources

Data Sources

The following module describes potential sources of data for research problems and possible methods of data collection, including sampling and survey techniques.

Learning Objectives

  • To list potential sources of data and data collection methods.
  • Describe types of survey techniques and factors that should be considered with each method.


There are numerous ways to collect data including experimentation, testing, and surveys.  Surveys are one of the most common methods of data collection and will be the focus of this discussion.  Data collection through the use of surveys may be done using one of the following four methods:  mailed surveys, telephone surveys, personal interviews, or web-based surveys.  Several of the resources associated with this page provide additional information on each type of survey, including the pros and cons of each.  The choice of administration of the survey questions will depend on the purpose of the study, the timeline, the budget and available staffing.

Perhaps, more important than the type of survey delivery are the development of the instrument and the creation of the questions to be included.  Researchers have two choices:   Utilize an existing measure or create your own measure.

Regardless of which one the research chooses, development of the survey is a critical step.  The quality of the data collected will only be as good as measure used to obtain the data.

Existing measures are available from a number of online sources and are described in many books including the Encyclopedia of Psychological Assessment, Test Critiques Compendium, and Measures for Clinical Practice just to name a few. Measures can also be obtained from such places as the Buros Institute of Mental Measures and the ERIC database. Finding an appropriate existing measure can also be done through literature reviews and consultation with fellow faculty and other researchers.  The advantage of an existing measure is that it has been created and tested and therefore, it ensures great reliability and validity.  It is also saves valuable time.  Sometimes, however, researchers find it necessary to develop their own measure because there is no appropriate pre-existing measure, the financial cost is too high, or the researcher does not have the expertise to use an existing measure.  There are a number of challenges associated with creating a measure, however.  The researcher must create effective directions, seek guidance on how to write the survey items appropriately to ensure reliable data, and create a scoring system.  While creating your own measure is more time-consuming and requires a great deal of work to be certain that it will produce the desired data set, it is a cost effective way to collect data.  Once the measure itself has been determined or constructed, sample size and reducing bias in the sample will also need to be considered.  For a full summary and a comprehensive discussion of all of these issues relating to the use surveys in research, view the following SlideShare presentation regarding survey research and design.  This presentation covers research methodology, the research process, types of surveys, survey construction, levels of measurement, bias, and sampling.  


 Suggested Readings:  

  • Bogdan, R. C., & Biklen, S. K. (1998). Qualitative research in education. An introduction to theory and methods. Allyn & Bacon, A Viacom Company, 160 Gould St., Needham Heights, MA 02194; Internet: www. abacon. com.
  • De Leeuw, E. D. (2005). To mix or not to mix data collection modes in surveys. Journal of official statistics, 21(5), 233-255.
  • Devlin A. (2006)  Research Methods.  Thompson Wadsworth.
  • Granello, D. H., & Wheaton, J. E. (2004). Online data collection: Strategies for research. Journal of Counseling & Development, 82(4), 387-393.
  • Jacoby, A., Thomas, L., Soutter, J., Bamford, C., Steen, N., Thomas, R., ... & Bond, J. (2001). Design and use of questionnaires: a review of best practice applicable to surveys of health service staff and patients. Core Research.
  • Johnson, B., & Turner, L. A. (2003). Data collection strategies in mixed methods research. Handbook of mixed methods in social and behavioral research, 297-319.
  • Patton, M. Q. (1990). Qualitative evaluation and research methods . SAGE Publications, inc.
  • Tourangeau, R., & Smith, T. W. (1996). Asking sensitive questions the impact of data collection mode, question format, and question context. Public opinion quarterly, 60(2), 275-304.



Resource Links

Quantitative and Qualitative Data Collection Methods - This resource describes the most common types of data collection for both types of research methodology.  It also discusses in more detail different types of interviews and questionnaires used for data collection.

 Methods of Data Collection in Qualitative Research: Interviews and Focus Groups - This webpage from provides a detailed discussion of both interviews and focus groups as means of data collection.  The article describes the various types of each, when they are appropriate, how they are developed and used and some practical considerations.

 What is a Survey? - The following website briefly describes types of surveys, disadvantages, and advantages.

 Choosing a Data Collection Method for Survey Research - This webpage provides a link to a PDF that describes the main types of surveys (mail, telephone, interview, and web-based).  Each type of survey is briefly described and a list of advantages and disadvantages are given for each type.

 Writing Good Interview and Survey Questions - The following sites describe many types of pitfalls to avoid when creating survey questions.

 Survey Design Tutorial - This is an excellent, comprehensive resource that provides tutorials and additional information for all aspects of creating a survey.

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