Collecting Data: A humbling and enriching experience

Collecting data is the most important part of a thesis. This is where theory is tested, and myths shattered. Data collection is of two kinds: Secondary and Primary. While Secondary data collection involves reading reports, journal articles, books, etc, primary data collection is where you get your hands dirty. It means you have to go out of the confines of your library and books to collect data in what is called the ‘field’. Often researchers go into the field thinking they know everything from the books they have read. While they are advised to be neutral, biases often creep up which can be exposed during data collection. Data collection thus shatters not only one’s prejudices and biases but often tends to throw up possibilities for revisiting theoretic framework upon which the study is based. During my fieldwork, I learnt that data collection can be a humbling and enriching experience giving you life lessons which will remain with you forever.

There are a few things to keep in mind while one is doing fieldwork:

Understand the field

An important task to do before initiate data collection is to understand the field or the area of the survey. Reconnaissance or recce of the field involves a brief survey of the study area that provides the researcher with valuable information about the area for data collection. Also, it helps the researcher establish links or networks which will help them in data collection.

Conduct a Pilot study

So, the tool has been designed. What next? Go do your survey. No. Before you go for that survey it is advised to test the tool. This is where a pilot study comes in handy. Pilot study is a survey undertaken with a smaller number of samples before data collection. This allows the researcher to understand the reliability and validity of the tool. The tool can then be revised as per the findings of the pilot study to identify and fill in the flaws.

Plan how you want to collect data

Establish a process by which you want to collect data. What is the information that is needed and how will you go around collecting the information. At each point of data collect establish links (local guide) which will act as access points to your data. Establishing networks with locals can be useful as they know the lay of the land and the people. Train your guide to identify and help you in collecting data. This is both time and cost-saving.

Speed of the work may vary every day

Often when we enter the field, we have in our mind a blueprint of what will happen. Say for instance if we are taking interviews, we set target of completing a certain number of interviews per day. However, the conditions in the field at times may not be suitable to achieve the set target. Sometimes we do not have adequate access to the population. This can be frustrating. It will slow you down but don’t lose heart. Take every day as a new day.

Record every piece of information

More often than not data collection can be an eye-opening exercise. Sometimes our biases and convictions are confirmed, and sometimes we get to dig in further. We get to know about things which our literature had not covered. No information is wasted. Record every scrap of information which has been collected. Make field notes every day. This will be useful in the writing part of your thesis.

Fieldwork can be exhausting but it is also exciting. It makes us learn something about both our research and ourselves. It is the most memorable part of the whole journey. Hope these tips come in handy for you while you go collect that data. Have any interesting tips to share with us? Let us know in the comments below.