Data Collection Methods for Qualitative and Quantitative Research

In the process of conducting a market research project, the method you choose to collect your data is one of the most critical decisions you’ll make. It’s important to know the different methods of data collection in order to make an objective and informed decision on the optimal collection approach to get the information you need. Being knowledgeable about the different collection methods also enables you to better understand data that was collected in a method that is not necessarily in your wheelhouse. In addition, it enables you to plan a holistic research project while using a mixed-method approach.

The best way to choose your data collection method is to understand the pros and cons of each method. Since each research project is its own beast, you must consider which trade-offs you can and can’t live with. For example, you might need to make speed and price a top priority over other factors such as control of the sample and of the collection environment. In this case, you would probably choose to conduct online research versus a face-to-face mall intercept test, which is considerably more expensive and time-consuming.

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Quantitative Data Collection methods

Quantitative research accounts for 78% of the global spend and is used to assess the prevalence of the behavior being studied. While there are many methods used to collect quantitative data, the most common methods involve a survey.

Survey Method

A structured questionnaire administered to a set of individuals selected from a population. Surveys are constructed with the intent of extracting particular information. The questions are usually presented in a pre-arranged order and require respondents to choose a set of options that were predetermined. Common ways to collect data using the survey method are:

1. Online Research

A survey that is administered over the internet, using a computer, tablet, mobile phone, etc.


  • Efficient
  • Quick
  • Lower cost
  • Enables usage of a diverse range of question types and media
  • Respondent anonymity reduces bias


  • Theoretical coverage (can only reach a population with internet access)
  • Control of the sample’s environment

2. Telephone Research

An interview that is administered over the phone.


  • Theoretical coverage (almost all of the population has a landline and/or a mobile phone)
  • Quick
  • Can be lower cost


  • Limited range of question types
  • Can’t expose respondents to physical stimuli
  • Sample control

3. Face-to-face

An interview that is conducted face to face, either in-home, on-street or at a specialist location (for example, mall intercepts).


  • The stimuli options are only limited by how much the interviewer can carry with them -unless the interview is on-street, then this becomes a con!
  • The interviews can be longer – unless the interview is on-street, then this becomes a con!
  • Mall intercepts allow for full control of the research environment


  • Inefficient
  • Expensive
  • Bias: with both with the interviewer and the respondent
  • No anonymity: would be difficult to interview about sensitive topics
  • Low incidence rate
  • Slow: number of recruits limited to the people available to conduct the interviews and mall hours

4. Mail Surveys

A questionnaire that is physically sent to a preselected respondent via mail


  • Theoretical coverage (almost all the population can be reached by mail)
  • Generally lower cost


  • Inefficient
  • All the questions can be seen by the respondent
  • Stimuli is restricted to what can be shipped via mail
  • Low incidence rate, which may increase costs

Observational Data

Qualitative observation is arguably the most primal of methods, comprising your five main senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. It involves the use of descriptive language rather than hard numbers. Quantitative observational documents behavioral patterns in a systematic form. It mostly involves counting the frequency of an attribute or behavior. Some of the common ways to collect data with the observational method are:

1. Personal observation

An interviewer records the event being studied as it occurs.


  • Not dependent on respondents’ recall, instead counting actual behavior


  • Increased danger of human error
  • Increased danger of bias
  • Inability to understand the reasons behind the observed behavior

2. Mechanical observation

A mechanical device records the event being studied as it occurs. Usually used to measure ongoing activities. Mechanical observation can include counting how many people are watching a TV channel, how many people entered/exited a building, how many visited a website, and so on.


  • Not dependent on respondents’ recall, instead counting actual behavior
  • Does not require respondent’s direct participation


  • Inability to understand the reasons behind the observed behavior

3. Mystery Shopping

A respondent poses as a shopper to assess certain attributes such as quality of service, different products, and compliance with regulations. The respondent provides their detailed report or feedback about their experience.


  • Can help generate research ideas
  • Can potentially help understand the consumer experience


  • Small sample size
  • Typically needs to be combined with other research methods since further research is often needed

Qualitative Data Collection Methods

As with quantitative research, qualitative research has strengths and weaknesses. Methods of qualitative data collection are classified as being direct or indirect in approach. The direct approach is when the purpose of the qualitative research is disclosed or otherwise obvious to the respondents, whereas the indirect approach is when the purpose is disguised or kept hidden.

Direct Approach

A direct approach is appropriate when the goal of the research is to understand a respondent’s understanding, attitude, assumptions, and feelings. A direct approach is generally less expensive and less time-consuming and enables us to learn about the respondent’s opinions and beliefs – not just their behavior. It’s important to keep in mind that our learnings would be a result of our respondent’s reported behavior, which might not match actual behavior or motivations. There are 2 popular methods to conduct a direct approach to data collection:

1. Focus Groups

Probably the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about market research. Focus groups are interviews conducted by a moderator among a small group of respondents.


  • Group synergy and dynamics might generate interesting findings
  • Client involvement


  • Peer pressure or influence of a dominant group member might bias the data or lead to “group think”
  • Difficult to discuss sensitive topics
  • The sample size is small and likely homogeneous

2. In-depth interviews

One-on-one interviews conducted by a moderator.


  • Uncovers deeper insights
  • Easier to interview professionals or even competitors
  • Enables usage of a diverse range of question types and media
  • Respondent anonymity reduces social desirability bias


  • Labor intensive and slow
  • Lack of structure makes it more susceptible to bias
  • The sample size is small
  • High cost

Indirect Approach

An indirect approach is appropriate when the goal of the research is to understand a respondent’s behavior or habits. While it’s a good method to gain an accurate picture of a respondent’s behavior, it can be labor-intensive and more expensive when compared to a direct approach.

1. Projective Technique

The projective technique is an unstructured and indirect way of research that encourages respondents to project their underlying motivations regarding the issue researched. There are multiple ways to use a Projective technique. For example:

  • Association exercises: respondents are asked their first come-to-mind reaction to stimuli
  • Completion exercises: respondents complete an incomplete scenario
  • Construction exercises: respondents construct a story or description
  • Expressive exercises: respondents relay what they think others would feel towards stimuli


  • May elicit insights that wouldn’t be possible if the respondent knows the purpose of the research
  • Reduces the risk of bias
  • Better at gaining insights related to subconscious behaviors


  • Risk of interpretation bias
  • Difficult to analyze results due to the open-ended and creative nature of the data captured
  • Expensive
  • It’s impossible to know whether the behavior presented would be the same if not observed.

Where does Invoke fit?

Invoke takes the best of the methods described above and combines them into one neat package that yields the rich and deep results of qualitative research with the confidence of quantitative research. Invoke’s unique methodology and technology empower you to make same-day decisions guided by your consumers. Contact us today to schedule a demo and see how we can help save you time, money, and energy without sacrificing the quality of your research.

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