9 Data Collection Methods Every Manager Should Know


Businesses of all sizes are now catching on to the power of data analytics. But fancy analytics mean nothing without good quality information to analyze. Let’s look at some of the best ways businesses can collect data for analysis – from the humble survey to machine sensors.

Quantitative Surveys

A quantitative survey seeks to quantify something from a numerical or statistical point of view, such as market size, market share, or opinion. Quantitative surveys pose specific closed questions along with a selection of answers. The respondent must select the answer that is most correct for them. Quantitative surveys are particularly useful in testing business assumptions and help you to build up a clearer picture of how a target population or audience behaves or what they think about a particular topic.

Tip: Make sure your survey is as easy and convenient to complete as possible, otherwise people won’t bother.

Qualitative Surveys

Where a quantitative survey seeks to quantify a topic through numbers, a qualitative survey looks to gain more subjective opinions. A qualitative survey helps you to understand the underlying reasons and motivations behind a target group’s actions and behaviors. Potentially, this provides much more nuanced and detailed information about how a target groups thinks, feels, and acts regarding a particular product or topic. This can help businesses understand an issue from the respondent’s point of view, generate ideas for improvement, and uncover trends in thought and opinion.

Tip: Keep the survey small, as response rates dwindle when answering the survey seems like too much hard work.

Focus Groups

A focus group is a form of qualitative research in which a group of individuals come together to discuss a specific topic. Participants are usually recruited based on their demographics, psychographics, buying attitudes, or past buying behavior. A moderator will ask questions and participants will answer and/or discuss the issue with the other members while the moderator listens, makes notes, and asks additional questions. Focus groups are frequently used in product development and marketing.


An interview is a one-to-one or one-to-many conversation in which the interviewer asks questions in order to understand a topic or gather more information. The benefits of using interviews to gather data is the ability to dig behind the initial answers to get to the nuggets of information or useful insights. Interview data can paint a very vivid picture of what really happened or what someone is really thinking.

Tip: It is always preferable to record the interview to ensure all data is captured.


Ethnography is the study of people in a group setting. It is the observation and documentation of the social behaviors, interactions, and perceptions that occur within certain groups or cultures. This type of data collection provides rich, broad, and far-reaching insights into people’s opinions, views, beliefs, values, and behavior within a particular setting or environment. Crucially, rather than asking what someone might do in a certain situation, the researcher witnesses what people actually do in that situation.

Tip: A natural, “fly on the wall” perspective helps ensure that participants or those being observed don’t feel threatened or on display.

Text Capture

In most businesses, a vast amount of text data is already available that could be analyzed, although it needs to be captured in a form that is conducive to analysis, i.e., the text needs to be available electronically and it needs to be datafied. Advances in analytics mean that many more insights can be drawn from text than ever before, relating not only to what the text actually says, but also to the meaning, emotion, and sentiment behind the words.

Tip: Don’t be scared of text data, there are lots of tools out there to help you analyze it.

Image Capture

With the increase of social media platforms and smart phones, there is now an abundance of images that could potentially be useful for analysis. There is a huge amount of information that can be gleaned from a photograph or image above and beyond what is contained in the image – think of metadata, which tells you when and where the photograph was taken, for example.

Tip: Encourage your customers and employees to send in or share photographs of your products and services in use. With those, you can build up a database of images that can then be analyzed to discover trends.

Sensor Data Capture

A sensor is a device, usually electronic, that takes a physical quality such as temperature or light, measures it, and converts it into information or data that can then be analyzed for insights. Sensors allow us to collect and analyze important data that can be used to deliver a whole range of benefits, from improving performance to warning about a fault to measuring activity or safety.

Tip: The biggest issue with data from sensors is that it can be so easily generated in large quantities that we often collect too much data instead of the right data. Make sure you collect the most relevant and meaningful data for your business.

Machine Data Capture

Machine data capture is basically sensors that are embedded into machines – particularly useful for manufacturers or businesses that use machines in the creation of their products. Data captured from machines allows a manufacturer to monitor and measure the health and efficiency of machines and to manage operations more effectively and minimize downtime. When sensors are embedded into products, they can also provide the owner and/or manufacturer with important information that can improve the product over time.

Tip: Most modern equipment already has sensors built in. However, if you have older, pre-sensor equipment, you can always retrofit sensors – sensors are very affordable now and offer significant value for the money.

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