In this blog post I will reflect on a variety of data methods that I have investigated.
Gathering data through secondary sources involves consuming research that has already been done by others. This can include, for example, reading books, journal articles, blog posts, and the like. I have found that a study of secondary sources is particularly useful for gathering preliminary knowledge and information about a subject, to familiarise oneself with the context and the current state of research. Use of secondary sources does present some limitations: for example, there may be gaps in the literature where there is a lack of information about a particular subject.
Observation as a data method involves passively observing people in the particular context that one is studying. This method is advantageous because it features people behaving candidly; one gets an honest and accurate result about how people behave when they are not necessarily aware that they are being observed – e.g. observing spectators at a sports game as part of an investigation into how sports intersect with national culture/identity. However, as this involves observation of others, this method presents some ethical quandaries as participants in a research study must typically give informed consent. One must tread carefully and not cross any ethical lines in observing (and then writing about) others.
As well as offering valuable first-hand data, interview is a very flexible data collection method. A researcher can choose any topic they wish to discuss and explore with others, and so long as there are willing participants, information can be gathered on practically any subject. However, it can be hard to find willing participants who are willing to give up their time; incentives may need to be offered. Furthermore, just as in any research involving other people, informed consent is an important issue and care must be taken that interviewees are sufficiently informed of the nature of the research and how their responses and identities will be used and portrayed (Butterfield 2009).
The pros and cons of surveys are similar to those of interviews. Researchers can craft their ideal set of questions and receive first-hand direct responses. The advantages of these direct-engagement methods of data collection are summed up by Ross (1974), who claims ‘If you want to know something, find someone who can tell you about it.’ Surveys are additionally often more time- and money-efficient than interviews, as they can be easily conducted en masse, particularly due to the advent of computer technology (Hult 1996).
This data collection method is suited to testing out designs at the prototype stage, before committing to a final choice. In a Visual Communication subject this semester, I conducted user testing using a paper prototype of a web interface I had designed, to test its functionality and ease of use. The tests revealed some problem areas (e.g. instructions were hard to find, some icons were confusing) which I could then rectify in my final design. User testing is a valuable real-world test of a design and essential before committing to any large-scale decisions that will have a broad reach and consequences.
Butterfield, L. D. 2009, ‘The Impact of a Qualitative Researh Interview on Workers’ Views of their Situation’, Canadian Journal of Counselling, vol. 43, no. 2, p. 120.
Ross, R. 1974, ‘Obtaining Original Evidence’, in Research: An Introduction, Barnes & Noble, New York, pp. 57-82.
Hult, C. R. 1996, ‘Primary Rsearch Methods: Writing a Research Report’, in Researching and Writing in the Social Sciences, Allyn & Bacon, Needham Heights, pp. 61-66.
Library-shelves-bibliographies-Graz 2003, photographed by M. Gossler, viewed 14 June 2016, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Library-shelves-bibliographies-Graz.jpg.