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The choice of data collection methods and the tidal wave of data produced

Authors of this page:Dawn Clarke and Graham R. Gibbs

Affiliation: University of Huddersfield

Date written: 27th July 2008




Learning outcomes

  1. Learn


Initially Frances thought that she would do a survey with the GPs in the area to find out how they treated whiplash injuries; however, she realised that this method would produce data that would only show what type of intervention was used rather than their experiences of working with whiplash injuries. It is for this reason that she decided to interview the GPs. There was also a further concern about the use of surveys.

Loudspeaker iconFrances explains this concern:

A survey would have been completely off the wall because I would have had to set out with a pilot and then go on. I thought I was going to approach the GPs and use and mix the data [interviews and survey] to inform the findings. [I had to] take that out as it’s not workable it’s too big …you don’t often think when you’re starting out you don’t always realise how big something can be …now all these years down the line I can see actually what I’ve done. There were probably two major studies in their own right, and I’ve put it into one.


The issue of the amount of work involved in a research project is often under-estimated and yet it should be given a great deal of consideration in the research design if the project is to reach a satisfactory conclusion. The researcher needs to consider the following:

  • How much data is required;
  • How long it may take to collect the data;
  • How long the data analysis may take;
  • How long it will take to write up the findings.


Despite keeping her data collection to one seemingly manageable method Frances was still surprised at the amount of work involved.

Loudspeaker iconHear Frances explain her surprise.

I couldn’t see that at the time [the volume of work], but looking at it there is masses of stuff [data] one of the problems was when I started interviewing the patients and the data came in, particularly as I got over the second interviews the amount [of data produced], it’s like being in a tidal wave, I just felt  enveloped, I was swamped. It was [a question of] how the heck do I manage all this stuff [data]. It was like, oh my goodness so there’s a real feeling of being actually overwhelmed with the enormity of what you’ve set in place and then having that belief in yourself that you can do it. You have got to somehow just sit there and hold all this stuff [data] inside once you start to pick your way through …and I think that’s one of the hardest points,  when you get to that point for a novice… just  starting and, and then going back and so and so forth really. So that’s a difficult time.

Frances explained how overwhelmed she became from the data produced despite the relatively small number of participants in the project. Managing the amount of data is a problem for many researchers including those with a wealth of experience. Therefore, it is essential from the beginning of the project that effective systems are in place to record and store information so that it can be recovered for further exploration and analysis.


Creative Commons License
The resources on this site by Graham R Gibbs, Dawn Clarke, Celia Taylor, Christina Silver and Ann Lewins are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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