8 RESEARCH METHODS FOR GATHERING
More than the selection of the research methods, it is your involvement and conscious commitment to
work for the cause of the community, which is of greater significance in understanding the audience.
However, among different methods, observations, in-depth interviews, focused group discussions and such
other methods as allow intensive interaction with the audience show better results.
Selection of Research Methods
Several research methods are available for data collection. They can be used singly or in combination with
each other. In fact, very often, a combination of methods is used in order to improve both the reliability and
validity of the data gathered. The following guidelines will help you in search of the best methods to use.
The first selection issue to consider is based on your specific information requirements: Does some or all of
the necessary information already exists as secondary data ?
If the answer is YES, then go in for appropriate secondary sources. These could be reports, documents, films,
For extracting useful information from secondary data, go with a checklist of your information needs. In other
words, the checklist should comprise a set of open ended questions to be systematically posed to the data.
If the answer to the above question is NO, or if the available secondary data does not completely answer your
information needs, then, you will need to gather new information from primary sources. These could be
target population, extension functionaries or other persons knowledgeable about the target population.
This leads to the second guiding question--what types of data are needed? Qualitative (descriptive or visual)
or quantitative (numerical). Quantitative data are needed when a number or proportion of the population in
relation to certain variables must be measured. Qualitative data are needed when the attitude, beliefs, perceptions
and needs of the people, context, constraints and solutions to the problem must be known. Most of the time
you would require collection of both quantitative and qualitative data.
Knowing Your Audience
The choice of the research methods also depends on whether you wish to take participatory or non-participatory
approach to data collection. Resource mapping, group discussions and observation methods involve
At this point, one has to distinguish between research methods and research tools. Some methods may use
more than one tool to gather data. For instance, surveys as a research method are done to gather a large
volume of quantitative data from a large population under study by using the tool of written questionnaire.
These are surveys at a macro level. Data that emerge from surveys are quantitative in nature. However, we
might also use the survey as a method to gather information about a particular small community. The survey
then becomes a micro survey and the tools we might use are structured interviews and also in-depth interviews
of some selected cases.
Similarly, when we try to gauge cause and effect, and when we try to establish if there has been any impact as
a result of our media intervention, we would use an experimental method. In this case, we design the method
with control group (a set of persons who have not been exposed to the media intervention) and an experimental
group (a group of persons similar in all respects to the control group but exposed to the media intervention).
As tools to gauge the impact, we might use tests of knowledge, understanding, and application. We may also
use attitude scales to measure any change of attitude. The tools would be administered before and after the
intervention and the results compared---thereby helping us to determine the impact of the project.
What bears repetition is that we often use different tools to enhance the quality of data that we
gather while the research method may broadly remain the same. For example, case study method may
use a variety of tools to record both quantitative and qualitative data.
Widely used research methods for collecting primary quantitative data are:
Surveys based on questionnaires
Surveys based on structured interviews
Experimental methods based on pre-post tests and attitude/opinion scales
The main research methods for primary qualitative data collection are:
Observation techniques-participant and non-participant
For these methods, the tools most commonly used are: We may use different tools to
Questionnaires gather data while the research
method may broadly remain
Structured and semi-structured interview schedules
Group discussions, and
Depth examination of selected cases
Research Methods for Gathering Information
Choosing the Best and the Most Appropriate Methods
Select the most appropriate methods to do a particular task.
A combination of methods is
most effective It is wise to combine different research methods and tools to give
added dimensions to your findings. For example, you may find that
structured interviews have ended up with answers that are rather superficial. You
can overcome this by supplementing the information with some in-depth interviews
of a smaller sub-sample.
Also, keep your data collection work sharply focused and precise in scope so
that you do not end up with lot of unnecessary data, and spending extra time
In the following pages, we shall examine different research methods in greater detail.