Surveys in Research – An Effective Data Collection Technique

“Research is creating new knowledge.”

– Neil Armstrong

As the first man on the moon quips, the primary goal of research in common parlance is the quest for (and creation of) knowledge. Through research, a systematic search for obtaining new knowledge is embarked upon, using empirical techniques and methods that ensure reaching scientific conclusions. Many eminent academicians are of the opinion that research is the art of scientific investigation. A journey towards the discovery of the unknown, research is the process that piques the innate scientific inquisitiveness among humans.

An Effective Data Collection Technique

The systematic study of facts, materials, sources and data, research compels the human mind to look beyond conventions and search for further knowledge in a specialised discipline. The act of conducting a research follows a scientific and process-driven pattern that helps to open newer vistas and explore more into the realm of knowledge.

Objectives of Research

The objectives of research form the backbone of the entire study. It drives the research forward as it is conducted with the aim of fulfilling the objectives set at the very beginning. The quest for knowledge that follows a structured philosophical pattern delineating the purpose of the research may be broadly defined as a research objective. It is essentially the aim of the research, clearly described while formulating the research problem and constructing the hypothesis. Let us take a look at the objectives of research and how they contribute to the nature of the study and the formulation of research design.

  • The research objective to be familiarised with the occurrences and obtain more knowledge on it – this objective drives the research to take an exploratory or formulative course.
  • The research objective that seeks to provide an insightful explanation of a phenomenon, a person, or an event – this objective results in a descriptive research.
  • The research objective that deals with the measure of frequency of an occurrence or the frequency of its association with another factor – this objective drives the research along the diagnostic route
  • The research objective that aims at determining the causal relationships and their factors between two or more variables – this objective results in the formulation of a hypothesis-testing research design

Types of Research

Depending on the objective and focus of research as well as the research design, research can be categorised into multiple types. The typology of research is a much-debated issue among the renowned academics; many schools of thought have come up with their own typologies of research all through the time of the evolution of academia. Here we go through the factors of categorizations and two main branches of research types based on each of those factors.

Based on the objectives of research, it can broadly be categorised into two: descriptive and analytical.

Descriptive research deals with the description of phenomena and detailing of the occurrences elaborately. More of an exploratory kind of research, descriptive research looks into the study of phenomena and variables with the objective of delineating each aspect carefully and in great detail. The description of the present state of factors more often than not involve detailed descriptive studies and seek to explore the nuances of a particular discipline with a focus on what is happening or what has happened. A descriptive researcher does not seek to meddle with the variables trying to establish causal relationships between them, rather goes about describing the phenomena as they are or were.

Analytical research has an objective of gathering and collecting data and information from all available sources and establishing a relationship between them that explains the reasons for a certain occurrence. This kind of research relies heavily on the empirical and scientific methods of data collection and analysis. Using the scientific tools of analysis, analytical research moves on to explain the underlying reasons for an occurrence. It is also effective in identifying the factors responsible for causing the phenomena.

The dichotomous types of research based on the research philosophy are: conceptual and empirical.

This type of research concerns itself with the existing theories and principles. Testing the existing theories or formulating new ones is the outcome of conceptual research. More abstract in nature, delving deep into the theories of effective business models can thus be an example of conceptual research. Conceptual research follows a clear outline that traces an existing theory and seeks to refute or accept it. In some cases, conceptual research can also bring about new theories in the specialisation.

The scientific perspective of research, the one where all data and information gathered for the research seeks to prove or refute the hypothesis using scientific methods is called empirical research. The social sciences are inclined towards the usage of empirical research and scientific explanation of a phenomenon. Gathering of evidence and scientific analysis of the data that seeks to explain the causal relationships between the variables are the primary features of an empirical research.

The scope of research categorises the kinds of research into two types: applied and fundamental

Applied research takes the scope of research beyond studying of a phenomenon; it deals with the application of the results that were brought out by the study. Most government, as well as policymaking bodies, seek the refuge of applied research in case of administrative decisions of formation of public policy. The scope of applied research thus extends beyond the realms of research for the sake of gaining knowledge and takes it a step forward by determining a set of actions based on the research results. Marketing research and research undertaken to understand the socio-economic and political trends before the formation of public policy are examples of applied research.

Fundamental research is also known as basic or pure research. It is for the purpose of expanding knowledge and adding to the scholastic findings of the specialisation or discipline in question. Fundamental research mostly deals with the formulation of theories and concrete ideas and concepts about the phenomena and variables of the study. Purely mathematical research, as well as all research undertaken for the sake of broadening the knowledge and having limited practical applications, is called fundamental research.

Varying according to the research design, the two types of research are quantitative and qualitative.

Quantitative research seeks to explain variables and their relationships using quantitative methods of numbers and statistics. For example, the study of the changing patterns of the demography of a certain area can be expressed in numbers and explained in the quantitative research with the data that is collected. Varied enumeration techniques and statistical tools are mostly used to form the research design of quantitative research.

Qualitative research deals with the study of phenomena that is related to quality or kind. The survey determining happiness index of a specific company over a particular period of time can be defined as a qualitative kind of research. Especially important in the study of behavioral sciences, qualitative research studies occurrences and variables that cannot be quantified in numbers of statistically.

Research design and research methods

One of the most crucial stages while undertaking a research is preparing the research design. Research design is essentially the process of determining the methods of the collection of data. The research design should ideally answer the questions of what, who, when and how pertaining to the data collection and analysis methods used throughout the research. Laid out clearly with a focus on the collection and analysis of data and information relevant to the research, the research design part of research is closely linked to deciding the research methods that are aligned with the research objectives and purposes.

Research methods are the tools that are used for the collection of data while conducting a research. They are varied in number, and each caters to the different needs of the research objective. Research methods are essentially scientific tools by which data can be collected empirically for the study. Survey is one such research method that is effective in collecting data quickly and in an empirical way that helps to analyse the data and information collected in order to reach the desired results.

Types of Surveys

Surveys are a data collection tool used in research to gather data from the research participants using a series of questions and answers. Aiming to uncover factual information about the respondents or seeking the opinions of the research participants, a survey is the most commonly used tool for data collection in research. It can be used to identify and investigate the characteristics, behaviours, or perspectives of a group of people participating as respondents in a research.

The surveys can be divided into two major categories according to the method and technique of data collection, also known as the method of instrumentation for surveys. The two types of surveys according to the method of instrumentation are as follows.

A questionnaire is a survey conducted by delivering a series of question to the respondents, either in person or through the post or email. It may contain close-ended questions that have options from which the respondents can choose the answers to the respective questions. It may also contain open-ended questions that give the respondents the space to express their opinions as per the questions. A mailed questionnaire has a low response rate while a questionnaire administered by the researcher has more chances of providing valid answers that is needed for the data collection through the survey for research.

Interviews are surveys where the researcher asks the respondents a series of questions and notes down the responses accordingly. Interviews can be conducted in person or by the telephone. The questionnaire for an interview is called an interview schedule and has the set of questions relevant to the data collection stage of research for that particular study. Interviews are more personal and pertinent in nature and are mostly used when the researcher needs to have specific answers to a set of questions that are essential for his or her research.

Benefits of using surveys in research papers

The most widely used method of collecting data, surveys have gained popularity among the researchers over the ages for reasons more than one. Here is why designing a research with survey as the data collection tool is a wise decision, giving the research more focus and newer dimensions of gathering information.

Surveys are cost-effective and do not take a lot of research resources to conduct one. Depending on the sample size, surveys are administered at comparatively lower costs than other data collection techniques in research.

  • Huge amount of data gathered

Surveys are effective in collating a huge amount of data in a short span of time. Catering to the responses of the entire sample size at the same time, surveys, when completed, hoard a massive amount of information for the data analysis stage of the research.

  • Easy to create and administer

Surveys are probably the easiest to create among the data collection tools. Developing a questionnaire or interview schedule requires patience, motivation and a thorough knowledge of the research objectives. Combining the three, creating an effective survey for the respondents is comparatively easy and the administration is also simple.

The all-encompassing trait of surveys makes it a very popular tool for data collection among the researchers. Through a survey, a researcher can ask a varied number of questions to collect data that is relevant to his or her study of the particular specialisation. Covering a number of topics and sections, surveys also help the researcher create an effective demographic profiling for the respondents through a few simple questions.

Surveys are one of the most reliable methods of data collection in research. The validity and reliability parameters of a well-constructed survey are usually quite high. The dependability of the surveys comes from the foolproof data collection method of questionnaires and interview schedules that ask direct questions demanding direct responses.

The types of surveys are varied and they can be used over a particular span of time (such as, over the years at regular intervals), over a particular group of people (such as residents of a block in town), and they can combine the two factors together to create a comparative study of the residents of a block in town for the last seven years. The varied nature of the surveys makes it fit for any kind of research that involves gathering the responses of a group of people using a set of scientifically framed questions.

The usage of surveys in research is a tried and tested method. Not only does a survey act as an effective tool for data collection but it also helps delineate the crucial patterns of the data gathered in order to tabulate and prepare it for the data analysis stage of the research.

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