ARTICLE 84: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Data Collection Methods: Online Data Sources Part 2 of 2 Parts

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Did you notice how many experts of all shapes and sizes post videos on the internet in which they predict the end of the world?

Some of them even give a date and time for the ultimate catastrophe.

And when it does not happen, they simply shift the date.

Do you believe them?

And if you do, what criteria should they meet for you to regard them as trustworthy prophets of doom?

I discuss the requirements for accuracy and authenticity of data in this video.

The internet can be a valuable source of information. However, people doing research need to be careful when using information obtained from internet sources. Any individual can upload information on the internet and all web site hosts are not equally responsible when it comes to accepting contributions. All information that you use in your research should be corroborated. This is an important consideration because electronic documents are not always quality assured, and documents are sometimes distributed electronically because publishers are not interested in them.

The accuracy an authenticity of information can be evaluated by checking the following:

  1. Checking the author.
  2. Checking the purpose.
  3. Checking for objectivity.
  4. Checking for accuracy.
  5. Checking for reliability and credibility.
  6. Checking for coverage.
  7. Checking for currency.
  8. Checking links.

Checking the author. You can check personal homepages on the World Wide Web, campus directory entries and information retrieved through search engines to find relevant information about an author. You can also check print sources in the library reference area and other biographical sources, for information such as the following:

  1. Is the name of the author/creator on the page?
  2. Is the page signed?
  3. Are his/her relevant profile and credentials listed, including occupation, years of experience, position or education? Stated differently, is the author suitably qualified to write on the given topic?
  4. Is there contact information, such as an email or web site address on the page?
  5. If there is a link to a web site address, is it for an individual or for an organisation?
  6. What is the relationship of the author with the organisation, if the address is that of an organisation, for example a university or consulting company?

Checking the purpose. It is often easier to judge the contents of a source if you know for what purpose the article was written. Also check for whom the article is intended.

Checking for objectivity. Objectivity is a prerequisite of any research. Even so, political and social issues are strong temptations to misuse and misinterpret information to fit a particular agenda. The following questions can be used to check if your interpretation of data is objective or not:

  1. Is there any indication if the information is claimed to be factual, just the opinion of an individual, or the propaganda of a body with ulterior motives, for example a political body, radical or religious group?
  2. Judging from the formulation and tone of the document, does the author’s point of view appear to be objective and impartial or not?
  3. Is the language and tone in which the document is written free of or loaded with emotional words and bias?
  4. Is the author affiliated with an organisation, the values and objectives of which might render the information biased and subjective?
  5. Is the document free of or cluttered with advertisements or sponsored links?

Checking for accuracy. Accuracy can mean different things to different people, depending on which paradigmatic approach you follow. However, data and the interpretation of data need to be valid, authentic, free of deliberate, accidental or coincidental misrepresentations and logical, to be of value for research purposes. The following questions can be used to check the accuracy of data and your research findings:

  1. Are the sources of factual information clearly and accurately acknowledged so that the information can be verified?
  2. Is it clear who has the ultimate responsibility for the accuracy of the content of the material and is the profile of this individual or group of experts known?
  3. Is the information corroborated by other sources or can you verify the information from your own knowledge?
  4. Has the information been reviewed or referred by an individual or group of experts with the necessary knowledge to conduct professional evaluation?
  5. Has the document been written on an acceptable academic level and is the information free of grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors?

Checking for reliability and credibility. Reliability and credibility go hand in hand with accuracy. Reliable information is information that is consistently the same over time and across at least the target group for the research, although it should ideally be the same in as wide a context as possible. Credibility is dependent on the authenticity, accuracy and trustworthiness of the data and research findings. You, as the researcher, will be responsible for credibility, which means that you will need to conduct the research in an accountable, honest and ethical manner. Reliability and credibility can be checked by asking and answering the following questions: 

  1. Why should anyone believe information from this source?
  2. Judging from the content and layout, does the information appear to be valid and well-researched, or is it written in an unstructured manner and inaccurately supported or not supported at all by evidence of authenticity?
  3. Has the document been published by a publisher with a good reputation for only publishing quality content that has been checked for accuracy, authenticity and objectivity?
  4. Are quotations and other strong statements or claims backed by sources that you could check through other means, and are the sources acknowledged where the statements or claims are made?
  5. Which university, college, research experts or scientists support or endorse the information?
  6. Do the university, college, research experts or scientists who support or endorse the information have a good reputation as being objective and an authority in the field of the document?
  7. Is the electronic material also available in hard (book or magazine) format?

Checking for coverage. Coverage refers to the notion of saturation. Your research findings should not be biased or rendered inaccurate because you did not consult enough, or the wrong sources of information. Although the extent of research is always limited by factors such as capacity, available time, funds, and the co-operation of members of the target group, you should at least achieve the purpose of your research. Coverage can be checked by asking and answering the following questions:

  1. Is the information relevant to the topic of your research?
  2. Does the document have information that is not available elsewhere?
  3. How in-depth is the material?

Checking for currency. The most important factor determining currency is, of course, recency. The more recent the information that you collected is, the more accurate, valid and relevant will your research analysis and findings be. Currency can be checked by asking and answering the following questions:

  1. Is the document reviewed regularly by someone who has the relevant knowledge and skills?
  2. Does the document or posting show when it was originally written, when and how often it was reviewed and when it was last reviewed?

Checking links. Each web site should be checked independently because the quality of web pages linked to the original web page may vary. This can be done by asking and answering the following questions:

  1. Are the links related to the topic of the document and are the web sites that are linked articulated to the purpose of the site and the content of the document?
  2. Are the links still current, or have some or all of them been deactivated or simply abandoned?
  3. What kinds of other sources are linked and are they in any way related to the contents and purpose of the document in which you are interested?
  4. Are the links maintained, evaluated and reviewed and do they show growth in terms of traffic volume, quality of content and the user-friendliness and professional and attractive layout of the sites?


Anybody can post data on the internet. Therefore, you need to be careful when using such data in your research.

The accuracy and authenticity of information can be evaluated by checking the following:

  1. The author. The author should be a known and reputable authority in the field of study. Also, the author should be acknowledged in the data source that you consult.
  2. The purpose of the data source. The data source should be relevant to your research topic.
  3. Objectivity. Be wary of articles, videos and other data source on the internet that were posted with ulterior, possibly damaging motives in mind.
  4. Accuracy. Data must be valid, authentic, free of misinterpretation and logical.
  5. Reliability and credibility. Data should be consistently the same over time and context.
  6. Coverage. Data should answer at least part of your research question and add value to your thesis or dissertation. On doctoral level the data should lead to new and improved knowledge.
  7. Currency. Data must still be relevant to the field of your research.
  8. Links. Quality data will mostly be shared and supported by more than one authority in the field of study. The more academic web pages deal with the topic and agree with the arguments, the more likely it is to be valid, authentic, accurate and recent.


You will ultimately be responsible for the quality of data that you collect and use in your thesis or dissertation.

You will also be accountable for the way you use the data.

It serves no purpose checking the accuracy and authenticity of the data that you collect if you bend the meaning of the original author to serve your purpose.

Or if you use accurate data to achieve ulterior, damaging motives.

As with all data that you collect and use, ethics is a critically important requirement for your research.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 83: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Data Collection Methods: Online Data Sources Part 1 of 2 Parts

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Should you steer clear from using data found on the internet for your research?

Are the possibilities that such data will be false or tainted too high to justify its use?

Is information in books more authentic, accurate and valid than data on the internet?

How does your study leader feel about this?

I discuss the internet as a source of data in this article and the article following on this one.

Written documents, oral interviews, demonstrations and many other data sources can be found on the internet. The internet can be used to gather data as well as to actively construct meaning through participation in social media networks.  It is true that many internet sources of information are of poor quality, not well-researched and unreliable. However, internet data is often much more recent than what is written in books and old information is often no longer relevant and, therefore, worth less than information on the internet. What is needed when consulting and using internet data is a good measure of logical thinking and corroboration. Triangulation is the obvious way in which to ensure that the data that you find on the internet is valid, although, as many of you probably already noticed, surprisingly many internet articles contain much the same, sometimes even identical information. This is probably because people obtain information on the internet and use it in their own articles without acknowledging their sources or making any effort to rephrase what they copied.

The internet is an umbrella term for innumerable technologies, capacities, uses, and social spaces. Because the types of social interaction made possible by the internet vary so widely, qualitative researchers find it necessary to define the concept more narrowly within individual studies. This is complicated by the fact that the study of the internet cuts across all academic disciplines. There are no central methodological or theoretical guidelines, and research findings are widely distributed and decentralised.

Internet technologies are ubiquitous and mobile. You have access to more books, articles and other data sources via your cell phone than what can be found in the books in university libraries (although university libraries now also offer access to the internet).

The internet is often regarded as a tool for collecting information because of how easily researchers can gain access to groups, download texts, capture conversations, observe individual and group behaviour, or interact with participants at a distance. A researcher might also utilise various capacities and interfaces available via the internet to augment or replace traditional qualitative methods of collecting, storing, sorting and analysing information. The internet is also associated with the use of data analysis software, even if it is not strictly necessary to enable the functioning of such analytical tools.

The internet can also be experienced as a place. Therefore, you might conceptualise it as a field site.  The internet facilitates the formation of relationships and communities. If these cultural formations rely on the internet for their composition or function, they are considered ‘internet-mediated’ or ‘digitally saturated’. Researchers of such cultural formations or network sociality might take their methods from a wide range of disciplines.

You will find that your emphasis in the use of the internet will shift depending on your ontological and epistemological premise, research goals and the specific form of the research question, hypothesis or problem statement. Rigorously analysing the connections between your questions, the subject of inquiry and the possible methods of collection, analysis and interpretation is an essential part of all good qualitative research. As the purpose of your research is identified and your study unfolds, certain characteristics of the internet will become more meaningful to you and those who will read your research report.

The following characteristics portray the internet much like a two-edged sword – it offers valuable facilities but also some flaws and threats:

1.         Communicating and connecting.

2.         Presence and location.

3.         Flexible time.

4.         Contexts of social construction.

Communicating and connecting. As a communication medium, the internet provides multiple means and modes of interaction, offering many choices and platforms for finding self-identity, building relationships and developing communities. We use the internet to help with many communicative activities.

For the most part, researchers focus less on the actual platforms for performance or networks of connections, than the communities made possible by the networks or the texts, still and moving images, and sounds facilitated by these networks. Researchers use the internet in ways that parallel but depart from or extend earlier communication media, such as letters, telephone, bulletin-boards, etc. Keep in mind, though, that the internet does not fully replace, but rather augments earlier communication media, at least for the time being.

A deficiency of the internet as a means of communication is that people easily misinterpret messages if they can’t see the speaker or writer. This is because social media, such as emails and Facebook, do not show the communicator’s body language, tone of voice or facial expressions. Even when using media where the communicator can be seen, for example in some visual media, the communicator can interfere with the clarity or meaning of the message, for example by wearing a mask and masking the voice.

If used as a research tool, the internet and its capabilities should be matched to the goals, topics and participants of the research project. There are many creative possibilities. Examples are not given here because the internet changes rapidly and new tools become available while old ones change all the time. Besides, students use social media not only for academic research but also in everyday social communication, with the result that most of them can think of better and more recent examples than what are written in a book, which might be a year or more old.

Presence and location. The internet brings many people who are geographically dispersed into contact with one another regardless of the distance between them. In this manner people can establish interactive contact globally through sight and hearing. In other words, the internet extends our senses, allowing us to see, listen and reach well beyond our local sensory limits. Many decades ago, we could communicate over long distances by telephone and two-way radio, telegraph and facsimile. Electronics, specifically the improvement of digital and networked quality of communication and information-sharing, substantially improved our ability to communicate while geographically dispersed.

Thanks to the internet, the meaning of “presence” has changed to include being able to communicate via the internet rather than just proximity to one another. We can communicate while seeing one another on our computer or cell phone screens.

The internet facilitates the development of varied cultural forms. Researchers might study communities that exist solely online in immersive environments. These ‘virtual worlds’ can have defined boundaries and stable cultural patterns. Alternatively, researchers might study how location or presence is more a temporary gathering of several people. We have witnessed how students in many countries rally to air their frustration with high university tuition fees. They extensively use the internet to start and grow the campaign and to gain international support for their plight.

Flexible time. The internet is not time bound. You can read something on the internet, stop halfway through the document and continue from where you stopped later. This enable us to manipulate time to suit our own schedule and the time that we have available for doing research.

Interaction on the internet occurs in multiple modes, alternately or simultaneously. This multi-modality is meaningful when designing or capturing interactions in the research context.  We normally employ more than one internet-modality at the same time. You can send status updates to your social network, play interactive games with friends, download music, update your blog and watch videos simultaneously. Even more, your computer can warn you when a message is received, and you can check the message without closing any of the other modalities on which you are working. These functions can be studied as phenomena or used as tools to augment the ways in which you engage and communicate with the target group for your research.

You can also use the facilities that your computer offers to conduct interviews. Creative researchers can even use technologies in ways unintended by the designers. Also, what you are doing on your computer is mostly invisible to other people (unless you intentionally involve them in your work), which gives you a good measure of confidentiality.

Contexts of social construction. Computers and smart phones can filter our worlds to bring only information that we are interested in, to our attention. Different applications allow you to access and use many different sources of information and electronic tools. Some of the applications might be interactive, allowing you to participate in certain activities or communication while others allow you access but not to manipulate the information or services provided.

We often use different applications to communicate with different audiences. Some tools allow us to select the participants with whom we wish to communicate. This is especially useful for interviewing and communicating with focus groups.

The internet comprises expansive forms of presentation and interaction that can be observed immediately and archived. This capacity facilitates our ability to witness and analyse the structure of talk, the negotiation of meaning and identity, the development of relationships and communities, and the construction of social structures. Linguistic and social structures emerging through social interaction via the internet provide us with an opportunity to track and analyse how language builds and sustains social reality.

The internet is unique in that it leaves visible traces of actions, movements and interactions. Internet technologies allow us to see the visible artefacts of this negotiation process in forms divorced from both the source and the intended or actual audience. This can give you, as a researcher, a means of studying the way social realities are displayed or how these might be negotiated over time.


The internet:

  1. Is an umbrella term for innumerable technologies, capacities, uses and social spaces.
  2. Is associated with the use of data analysis software.
  3. Facilitates the formation of relationships and communities.
  4. Is a communication medium.
  5. Is dynamic and continually expands and improves.
  6. Brings many people who are geographically dispersed into contact with one another.
  7. Offers us different applications to communicate with different audiences.
  8. Facilitates the development of varied cultural forms.
  9. Is not time bound.
  10. Can filter out events and phenomena to bring only information that we are interested in, to our attention.
  11. Leaves visible traces of actions, movements and interactions.

Not only can you find data on the internet; you can also use it to construct meaning.

Internet presentation and interactions can be observed and archived.

Data found on the internet must be checked for validity and accuracy.

You must give recognition to internet data sources that you use in your research.

Both researchers using qualitative and quantitative research approaches can use the internet as a source of information and for many other purposes.


The internet has become so rich and flexible in the data and research facilities that it offers that we can no longer ignore it.

Even so, you still need to accept information that you find on the internet with great circumspection.

Because some of the information on the internet is false.

Some people deliberately post information with deviant motives in mind.

But this also applies to books and articles that people write.

Even things that people say are not always true.

Therefore, you need to corroborate all the data that you gather, regardless of the source where you found it.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 80: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Data Collection Methods: Interviewing Part 4 of 4 Parts: Conducting Interviews and Group Discussions

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

This article applies to one-to-one interviews as well as focus groups, which are just another variation of the interview.

I discuss several practical hints on how to conduct an interview.

Most of the hints deal with simple, perhaps even obvious issues.

However, your interview can easily fail if you don’t pay attention to the minor details.

Appearance is important when doing an interview. It is best for you, as the interviewer, to dress according to existing norms or in a fashion similar to the respondents, and not in a way that may lead the respondent to think that you represent a particular point of view, value system or institution. You need to be friendly, relaxed, and pleasant. Show an interest in the welfare of the respondent. Spend a few minutes with small talk to establish a proper relationship. To provide honest answers to questions, the respondent should feel comfortable in your presence. Appropriate appearance and demeanour provide a basis for establishing a comfortable relationship and rapport with the respondent.

Of course, you and the respondent should introduce yourselves if it is the first time that you are meeting. Before asking specific questions, you should briefly explain the purpose and scope of the interview. You should also explain to the respondent what you plan to use the information for. In practice you would already explain the purpose of the interview to the respondent when you approach him or her to ask for an interview. You should also give the respondent an opportunity to ask questions and to raise any concerns that she or he might have. The respondent should be allowed to question the purpose, scope and uses of the interview or discussion.

It is necessary to prepare an interview schedule as well as your interview questions, and then to address the questions in the words indicated on the interview schedule. Do your best not to rephrase questions, because this can spoil the consistency of your data collection process – it might not be possible to realistically compare information obtained with differently phrased questions posed to different respondents. Even so, you need to be ready to provide alternative explanations of questions if the respondent does not understand and asks for an explanation.

Conduct the interview in a professional and courteous manner and show sensitivity to issues of race, class and gender. Read questions without error or stumbling, in a natural, unforced manner. To accomplish this, you need to prepare thoroughly in advance and to practise asking the questions aloud so that you will be familiar with the questions.

It is important to take notes as the respondent answers your questions. This can be done by making an electronic voice recording of the interview, even though some people feel uncomfortable “talking to a machine”. Written notes can also be effective, although it can break your concentration and it is difficult to write everything at the speed that some people talk. Recording the answers electronically is generally most useful with open-ended questions, and such questions should be asked using clear language. Open-ended main questions can be supplemented with secondary questions which probe the respondent’s responses.

Probing for further clarification of an answer is a skill that, if misused, can lead to incomplete or inaccurate responses. You should allow sufficient time for the respondent to answer your questions without interrupting or cutting responses short. Probes should be neutral so as not to affect the nature of the response. You can write probes next to your main questions while doing the interview or in advance, so that you will have enough time to plan the probes well.

It is important to strictly manage the time spent on the interview. You might invoke negative responses to your questions if you make an appointment for thirty minutes and then keep on asking questions after an hour. On the other hand, spending too little time and rushing through the interview might lead to you not obtaining the data that you are looking for, so you will waste time rather than to save time. It might be necessary to remind the respondent of the purpose and scope of the interview from time to time just to make sure that she or he does not digress too much, thereby wasting time on irrelevant topics.

An interview should be prepared and conducted in such a manner that the flow of valid and reliable information is maximised while distortions of what the interviewee knows are kept to the minimum. The challenge in interviewing lies in excavating information as efficiently as possible, without contaminating it. To achieve this, you should formulate reliable questions and provide an atmosphere conducive to open communication. The following are some of the most popular interviewing techniques:

  1. Interviews may take place face to face or at a distance, e.g. over the telephone or by email.
  2. Interviews may take place at the interviewee’s or interviewer’s home or place of work, in the street or on some other ‘neutral’ ground.
  3. At one extreme, the interview may be tightly structured, with a set of questions requiring specific answers or it may be open-ended, taking the form of a discussion. In the latter case, the purpose of the interviewer may be simply to facilitate the subject’s talking at length. Semi-structured interviews lie between these two positions.
  4. Different forms of questioning may be practiced during the interview. In addition to survey questioning, you can also have classroom, courtroom and clinical questioning, as well as personal interviews, criminal interrogation and journalistic interviewing.
  5. Prompts, such as photographs, can be useful for stimulating discussion.
  6. Interviews may involve just two individuals – you, as the researcher, and the interviewee, or they may be group events (often referred to as focus groups), involving more than one subject and/or more than one interviewer.
  7. The interviewee may, or may not, be given advance warning of the topics or subjects to gather any necessary information.
  8. The interview may be recorded in a variety of ways. It may be electronically copied, or the interviewer may take notes, or one person may take notes while someone else asks the questions.
  9. Interviews may be followed up in a variety of ways. A transcript could be sent to the interviewee for comment. Further questions might subsequently be sent to the interviewee in writing. A whole series of interviews could be held over a period, building upon each other, or exploring changing views and experiences.

After asking and having all your questions answered, you should thank the respondent and allow time for him or her to make comments or suggestions regarding the topic of the questions or the interview in general. It is important to end the interview on a positive note. Sum the interview up for the participant to confirm or amend conclusions.

Finally, you need to go through the interview recordings and/or notes as soon as possible, while they are still fresh in your memory. You need to process and analyse the responses so that you will be able to report the outcomes of the interview accurately to the relevant person.


You should do the following when conducting an interview:

  1. Dress in a non-intimidating manner.
  2. Adopt a friendly, relaxed and pleasant attitude.
  3. Introduce yourself.
  4. Explain the purpose of the interview.
  5. Tell the respondent what you will use the data for.
  6. Allow the respondent to introduce him- or herself and to ask questions.
  7. Prepare well for the interview.
  8. Conduct the interview in a professional and courteous manner.
  9. Take notes during the interview.
  10. Strictly manage the time for the interview.
  11. End the interview on a positive note and thank the respondent.
  12. Work through your notes as soon as possible after the interview.

You can achieve flexibility in your interview through the following:

  1. The interview can take place face-to-face or online.
  2. The venue for the face-to-face interview can be your home, office or any other suitable and safe place.
  3. The interview can be structured, semi-structured or unstructured.
  4. You can use different forms of questions.
  5. You can use prompts to stimulate discussion.
  6. Interviews can involve one respondent or a group of respondents.
  7. The interview can be recorded in a variety of ways.
  8. Interviews can be followed up in a variety of ways.


There are three issues that are critically important for the success of an interview.

They are a positive attitude, proper preparation and professional execution.

If you pay attention to these three issues, you should succeed in gathering the data that you need for your research.

Good luck with your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 76: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Qualitative Data Collection Methods

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

This is the most exciting part of academic research.

Collecting data is an adventure.

It is an opportunity for you to discover things that you never knew or saw before.

The more you set your imagination and creative spirit free, the more original will your research findings be.

And this applies to natural scientists making use of quantitative research approaches as well.

All the data collection methods that I will discuss in the next three videos can also be used as quantitative methods.

It all depends on your imagination and creativity.

I discuss qualitative data collection methods, that can also be used in quantitative research, in this article.

Qualitative research means any type of research that produces findings not arrived at by statistical procedures or other means of quantification. It, therefore, implies qualitative data collection methods. Qualitative techniques collect data primarily in the form of words rather than numbers. The study provides a detailed narrative description, analysis, and interpretation of phenomena. Most interactive qualitative researchers employ several techniques in a study but usually select one as the central method.

To some extent participant observation, observation from the outside and interviewing are part of all interactive research. Other methods are used to supplement or to increase the credibility of the findings. Non-interactive research primarily depends on documents. Qualitative techniques provide verbal descriptions to portray the richness and complexity of events that occur in natural settings from the participants’ perspectives. Once collected, the data are analysed inductively to generate findings. The following are examples of qualitative data collection methods.

1.         Artefacts.

2.         Graphics and drawings.

3.         Interviewing.

4.         Observation.

5.         Online data sources.

6.         Written documents.

Artefacts. Artefacts are material objects and symbols of a current or past event, group, person, or organisation. These objects are tangible entities that reveal social processes, meanings, and values. Examples of symbols are logos and mascots of school teams; some examples of objects are diplomas, award plaques, and student products such as art work, papers, posters, models, etc. The meaning assigned to an artefact and the social processes that produced the artefact are often more important than the artefact itself.

Graphics and drawings. Graphics include any kind of visual data. Researchers tend not to use visual data to the full in qualitative research. Participants in the research can all be encouraged to collect and generate visual data. However, it is you, the researcher, who should use your imagination to illustrate data visually. Visual aids such as diagrams and photos are two dimensional and can be used with good effect. However, in some instances three dimensional visual artefacts, such as models, can also be used. Electronics offer good opportunities to collect and generate visual data, including human-computer interaction.

Visual representations. Not only can you use visual representations to communicate your research data in a report, you can also gather substantial data and obtain comprehension by consulting such representations. Visual representations can be figures, matrices, integrative diagrams, flow charts, graphs, and many more.

As clear as visual representations can be, so can they also mislead you to come to false interpretations and conclusions. It is not always easy to illustrate concepts graphically, with the result that such representations should as far as possible be augmented with clarifying narratives.

Visual data collection and the generation of visual material can include visual material generated by you or other participants in the research and visual material obtained from other sources. Both categories can include photographs, paintings, illustrations, models, clipart, demonstrations and many more.

Visual material can be used to invite responses from readers, to summarise, explain, inform, demonstrate, simplify or add to text or to illustrate systems, processes, etc. An important trend in the use of visual material is what is popularly called ‘participatory’ approaches.  Especially electronic devices, such as desk top computers, cell phones, iPads, etc. enable you to capture discussions, demonstrations, presentations, events, and other images which can be used as sources of data or as additional information supporting a research report.

Visual material can, of course, also be the subject of investigation, for example the effect of erosion on farmland, student riots at universities, the daily routine in a correctional facility, oral presentations by lecturers, and many more. Simple observation can offer a way to answer diverse questions about the topic of the research. Video recordings are mostly used for this purpose. Electronic material, however, changes so rapidly that even the term ‘video recording’ is regarded as archaic by some. Videos are no longer used – even CDs are already outdated. People now record moving images on their cell phones, desktop computers, tablets, I Pads, etc. Chances are good that even more modern devices and processes might be in vogue by the time this article is published. Even so, the term ‘video’ seems to be still in use when referring to any recording of moving objects, including people.

Video recordings. Video can be used with good effect to capture and analyse action and interaction. A substantial range of insights and findings have been captured concerning the social organisation of activities within a broad range of everyday environments including the workplace, the home and more public settings such as universities, sport fields, classrooms, etc. In different ways, these studies have built on and developed the rich and diverse range of research concerned with language use and speech that arose over the last three decades or so, and have powerfully demonstrated the ways in which social actions and activities are accomplished in and through the visible, the material as well as the spoken word.

The growing interest in embodied action and multi-modal communication is reflected in the growing commitment to using video in naturalistic research throughout a range of disciplines, including sociology, organisation studies, applied linguistics, education, management and many more.

Video is well-suited to analyse naturally occurring activities. One of the most important contributions of video-based research has been to improve our understanding of education and training and the ways in which learning is accomplished. Lessons and demonstrations are captured on video, thereby substantially multiplying the number of students who benefit from the lectures and demonstrations. Furthermore, researchers can watch the videos any time they want in their offices or homes, which gives them substantial freedom of movement, which, in turn, renders the research process much more effective and efficient.

The use of graphics to clarify spatial relationships is a powerful source of data that can often be used in visual format to report on events, processes and phenomena. A suitable map of a study area may orient readers better than any narrative description of the area. Maps are especially valuable when a qualitative study focuses on a geographic area, such as a place where a natural disaster occurred, a riot took place, and many more.

Maps. Maps can be used even where the focus of your study is not on a geographic area. For example, maps can be used in studies of immigrant movement, including where they come from, the routes that they follow and where they settle. The three types of maps that are often used in research are situational maps, social world/arena maps and positional maps.

Situational maps show the layout of major human, nonhuman, discursive and other elements in the research situation of inquiry and provoke analysis of relations among them.

Social world/arena maps show the layout of the collective role players, key nonhuman elements and the arena(s) of commitment and discourse within which they are engaged in ongoing negotiations, i.e. the meso level interpretations of a situation.

Positional maps show the layout of the major positions taken and not taken in the data, compared to particular variables in terms of which they may differ, including concern and controversy around issues in the situation of enquiry.

Photographs and reproductions. Photographs can be anything of which one can take a photo that is relevant to your research. It may be a place of interest to your study, an event, an individual, even yourself. Thanks to electronics you can take as many photos as you like and then use only the best and most relevant ones in your research. You can often take photos on the spur of the moment with your cell phone.

Reproductions collected during your fieldwork can be reproductions of photographs, but also of works of art, drawings, artefacts, etc. Photographs are often taken by you while reproductions are mostly the work of other people.


Qualitative data collection methods imply that the collected data will be processes and analysed without making use of statistics or other numerical procedures.

Both etic and emic observation are used in qualitative data collection.

Findings gained from data collected through observation can be corroborated and supplemented by other methods, for example literature study and interviews.

Collected data are analysed inductively to generate findings.

Artefacts are used to reveal historical or current social processes, meaning and values of events and phenomena.

Graphics include any kind of visual data other than artefacts.

You, as the researcher, can and should create visual data.

Visual data include visual representations, visual recordings, maps, etc.

Visual material can be used for the collection of a vast variety of purposes, for example to summarise, explain, illustrate, etc.

Visual material can also be the subject of investigation.

Video recordings and more recent electronic recordings of movement can be used to capture and analyse action and interaction.

Maps can be used in studies of immigrant movements, historical developments, military operations, the spread or contraction of disease, etc.

Photographs can facilitate the research on any visual objects, events or phenomena.


I hope you can now already see the exciting and endless opportunities for research that data collection methods offer.

It is all about imagination, innovation and creativity.

This is where you can make your research an adventure full of surprises and fun.

You can even provide your study leader with a thesis or dissertation that will blow them away.

Enjoy your studies.

Thank you.

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ARTICLE 75: Research Methods for Ph. D. and Master’s Degree Studies: Quantitative Data Collection Methods

Written by Dr. Hannes Nel

Hello, I am Hannes Nel and I will discuss quantitative data collection methods in this video.

It is not possible to deal with all the intricacies and formula that natural scientists use to process data for research purposes.

Most, if not all, dedicated computer programmes use five basic calculations to analyse data, namely the mean, standard deviation, regression analysis, sample size determination and hypothesis testing.

It would not be possible to discuss even a fraction of all the computer programmes that are available for data analysis.

And I do not think there are many researchers who know and use many such software.

The data collection methods that I discuss can also be used with qualitative research.

But then the data will be processed and analysed without making use of statistics.

Or the statistical analysis will be simple enough so that dedicated computer software will not be needed.

Quantitative research deals with statistical and other numerical data collection methods and requires the processing of data which can require the use of dedicated computer software. Structured observation, questionnaires, paper and pencil tests, and alternative assessment are some of the more popular and simple quantitative data collection methods which can be used in combination with qualitative research.

Structured observation. In structured observation the researcher directly observes some phenomenon, and then systematically records the resulting observations. The observer doing research on, for example, guidance and support provided to students can record how many times students ask questions, how long the lecturer took to respond to the questions, etc. It is used to record predetermined categories of behaviour.

Questionnaires. Questionnaires encompass a variety of instruments in which the subject responds to written questions to elicit reactions, beliefs, and attitudes. You choose or construct a set of appropriate questions and ask the subjects to answer them, usually in a form that asks the subject to check the response. This is a common technique for collecting data in most research methods, and most survey research uses questionnaires.

Questionnaires are not necessarily easier than other techniques and should be employed carefully. Even so, questionnaires are one of the most widely used qualitative research techniques. The idea of formulating precise written questions, for those opinions or experiences you are interested in, seems an obvious method to use. However, if the questionnaire is not correctly developed you might not obtain the data that you need or people might not respond to it and you might need to start all over again.

There are several ways in which questionnaires can be administered. They can be sent by post to the intended respondents, who are then expected to complete and return them. They can be administered over the telephone or face to face. You can personally deliver them or have them delivered and collect them once they have been completed. You can also ‘facilitate’ the process of completing the questionnaires so that you can answer questions and collect the completed questionnaires afterwards. You can also send and receive them by email. Questionnaires can also be placed on a web site where people can complete them voluntarily. 

Each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages. Face-to-face surveys may get a better response rate, but are more time consuming for you as the researcher. Postal and email surveys are likely to have lower response rates, and possibly poorer answers because the respondent has no one available to answer any queries; but they may allow a larger number of people to be surveyed.

The following are examples of the nine basic question types that you can use in your questionnaire:

1.         Quantity or information: How many years’ experience do you have in conducting assessment of learner performance? ……………………………….

2.         Category: In what capacity are you involved in facilitating learning?




3.         List or multiple-choice: Do you regard workplace-learning as any of the following?

A waste of time

Not learning at all

It improves productivity

It promotes lifelong learning

Other – please specify: ……………………………………………………………………..

4.         Scale: How important is quality assurance for university education?


Very important

Not sure

Not very important

A waste of time

5.         Ranking: What do you see as the main purpose of your studies? Please rank the following starting with 6 for the most important to 1 for the least important.

Personal development

Subject interest

Career advancement


Intellectual stimulation

Social interaction

Other – please specify: ………………………………………………………………….

6.         Complex grid or table: How would you rank the benefits of your studies for each of the following? Please rank each item.

                                                Positive          Neutral           Negative        Very negative

For you

For your family

For your employer

For the country

For your friends

7.         Open-ended questions: Please give me your opinion of the social life at your university in one short paragraph.


8.         Closed-ended questions: Do you think the lecturers who teach you are sufficiently qualified? (The answer should only be “yes” or “no”.)


9.         A combination of question types. You can, for example, ask respondents for their opinion on an issue, inviting a choice between either “yes” or “no”, followed by a multiple-choice question in which options to choose from are given. Here is an example:

Question 1: Do you think the lecturers (at the university where you study) provides enough guidance and support to students? (yes or no)

Question 2: How can the guidance and support provided to students be improved?

  1. Appoint more suitably qualified psychologists.
  2. Schedule special classes where students may ask questions on study problems that they encounter.
  3. Insist that lecturers allow each student a one-hour private appointment per month to discuss personal study challenges.
  4. Task a post-graduate student to do research on student guidance and support at the university.

Paper and pencil tests. In a paper and pencil test the respondent is asked a series of questions that are objectively scored. Typical items include multiple-choice, matching item, true-false, and completion. The resulting test scores are used as data. Because these types of tests are well established and have strong technical qualities, they are often used in educational research as a measure of student performance.

Alternative assessment. Alternative assessments are measures of performance that require the demonstration of a skill or proficiency by having the respondent create, produce, or do something. One type of alternative assessment is performance-based, such as making a speech, writing a paper, making a musical presentation, demonstrations, athletic performance, and other projects. Portfolios constitute another type of alternative assessment. Many alternative assessments are authentic, reflecting real-life problems and contexts. While alternative assessments have become popular in recent years, as a technique to use in research these approaches are fraught with technical difficulties. This is primarily because of the subjective nature of the scoring of the performance or product.


Structured observation entails observing a phenomenon.

Relevant observations are systematically recorded.

Conclusions can be made from recorded observations.

Questionnaires can be used to collect responses to written questions.

Questionnaires can be distributed by post, electronically or be delivered to the members of the target group for the research.

Face-to-face surveys mostly achieve better response rates than surveys by post or electronically.

There are nine basic question types that you can use in questionnaires. They are:

  1. Quantity or information.
  2. Categories.
  3. List or multiple-choice.
  4. Scale.
  5. Ranking.
  6. Complex grid or table.
  7. Open-ended questions.
  8. Closed-ended questions.
  9. A combination of question types.

In a paper and pencil test the respondent is asked a series of questions that are objectively scored.

Alternative assessments evaluate the demonstration of skills or proficiency.

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