top of page

Data Collection Methods

Types of Data

Primary Data

Is gathered by the researcher through their chosen methods (interviews, surveys etc)


Secondary Data

The data has already been published by somebody else and is being used and referenced by the researcher as part of their work. The researcher needs to use this data to develop new and original insights​

There are multiple different ways that data can be collected. Different methods will be appropriate to different types of research design depending on what is being researched.


Are one of the most relational ways of obtaining data for research that allows for in-depth exploration and analysis.

Interviews can be structured, semi-structured and unstructured.

Structured - are highly controlled and overlap with the researcher administered questionnaires.

Semi-Structured - is the most widely used interview format for research as it allowed for both structure and standardisation of questions but also allows the interview and process of the person to take its own path through those questions.

Unstructured - Allows the person being interviewed to talk about whatever they would like to on a given topic. This is an ethnographic technique that is predominantly concerned with exploring somebodies knowledge or experience, without an agenda. 

Questionnaires/ Surveys

Questions are designed and standardised on paper or online often using a mixture of open and closed questions to elicit peoples responses. the responses are then analysed to produce statistical data. The sample size that can be reached through this method means the results can be generalised to larger populations. They are either administered as a self-completed survey or an interviewer-administered one. To reach larger samples often self-completed are used.

Five Principles for Questions

  • Use clear, concise language

  • Only express one idea per question.

  • Avoid jargon, abbreviations and colloquialisms

  • Word questions positively

  • Avoid leading questions


Allows the researcher to witness and document behaviour in a natural setting that could not be observed under laboratory conditions. Observations can be participatory, controlled or naturalistic.

Controlled Observations - usually take place in laboratory conditions, which are highly structured. The researcher decides the time, place, variables and the procedure for observation is standardised. Participants are assigned randomly to the test group or the control group. Observed behaviour is often coded.


This was the design used by Mary Ainsworth when she developed the Strange Situation Test. 

The participants know that they are being observed and the researcher is non-participant.


  • Can be easily replicated therefore easier to test for reliability.

  • Data is easier and quicker to analyse, which makes it less time consuming for the researcher

  • They are quicker to conduct, which means larger sample sizes can be used, which increases the perceived validity of the research.


  • Can trigger the Hawthorne Effect (where participants change their behaviour due to being observed) which reduces validity.

  • Can be highly stressful for children and their parents due to wanting to get it right.

  • Is a false setting therefore results may not necessarily be able to be generalised to less controlled conditions.

Naturalistic Observations

Take place in the context in which the child is naturally and involves observing spontaneous behaviours without seeking to intervene. This is often recorded as an anecdotal written account of everything. Often these are non-participant but can be participatory observations as well.


  • Carries greater ecological validity because it allows for observation in context.

  • As it allows the researcher access to the bigger picture and world of the child or young person, deeper insight can be generated as a result, leading to more personalised interventions.


  • Can be time consuming and analysis is subjective.

  • Only usually are used for very small scale studies, which may mean they lack the validity of lager sclae studies.

  • Not easily replicable

  • Naturalistic observations are not manipulated nor is there control of extraneous variables, which means there are too many variables unaccounted for to be able to infer cause and effect at any point.

Participant Observation

Participant observation is a variation on naturalistic observation, but the researcher joins in rather than remains detached. The researcher can either participate and observe overtly or covertly. Overtly, the researched know that the researcher is there and what they are doing. Covert participant observation is where the researcher is acting undercover and this has ethical issues to consider.


  • The researcher can really experience the position the people they are researching are in.

  • It is less dry than a non-participatory observation, where children or young people might feel apprehensive and curious about the researcher and try to engage them.


  • Being a participant may mean the researcher loses their objective stance. They may identify strongly with people or a position, which then biases their reporting and recording. This reduces the validity of their data.

  • The researcher is directly influencing the data through their interactions, which may change the outcomes


Adheres to a strict scientific design including the formulation of hypothesis and the inclusion of fixed and manipulatable variables that are conducted under controlled conditions.

Within the therapeutic world Gestalt theory also refers to experiments where the therapist might invite their client to participate in a therapeutic experiment as a way of gaining further insight or healing. This might be to challenge self-limiting beliefs.

Focus Group

A select group of people who come together to explore thoughts, theories on a chosen issue through interaction with each other. These may be used as part of the process of designing a research study based on the outcomes or when the results of the arch are disseminated to discuss them and future interventions further.

Literature Review

The researcher conducts a thorough review of the research literature that already exists on the subject that interests them/ they are considering researching with a view to critically analysing, and identifying gaps where a future research study might be appropriate

Creative Methods

Creative methods can be just as easily applied to research as they can to therapeutic work. The Mosaic Approach is such a way of working to understand children's worlds. Creative approaches can be woven into different approaches depending on the creativity of the researcher.

Data Collection Methods

bottom of page