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Methods Of Data Collection Under Research Methodology

Non-doctrinal research, also known as socio-legal research is legal research that employs methods taken from other disciplines to generate empirical data to answer research questions. It can be a problem, policy or law reform based. The non-doctrinal approach allows the researcher to perform interdisciplinary research where he analyses law from the perspective of other sciences and employs these sciences in the formulation of the law.

There are some basic tools of data collection for socio-legal research, like the Interview, Questionnaire, Schedule, Interview guide, Observation, Participant or Non-participant and Published or Unpublished materials (such as Census Reports, Reports of Governmental and/or Non-Governmental Agencies, and appropriate literature on the sociology of law) etc.

Data Collection
Data collection is the process of gathering and measuring information on variables of interest, in an established systematic fashion that enables one to answer stated research questions, test hypotheses, and evaluate outcomes. The data collection component of research is common to all fields of study including physical and social sciences, humanities, business, etc. While methods vary by discipline, the emphasis on ensuring accurate and honest collection remains the same.

It involves identifying population which the researcher wants to make inferences and figuring out on what data need to be asked on the basis of the research question, theories and observable implications of those theories.

Identifying The Target Group
The target population or population in interest, is the population about which researcher want to make inferences. Group consist of all the units such as people, cases, countries about which we would collect data if our resources were unlimited, and depends on our research question.

Data Validation Techniques:
Data validation technique is a process of ensuring the accuracy and quality of the data. It is to ensure the logical consistency of input and stored data. Data validation techniques can be divided into several types. They are:

Range Check
Range Check is been used on the data which must fall into a particular range.

For example, a secondary school student is likely to be aged between 11 and 16. The computer can be programmed only to accept numbers between 11 and 16. This is a range check.

Format Check
Format Check means were the data which follows a predefined format. Data validation ensures that the data are in proper consistency throughout time.

For example; YYYY-MM-DD or DD-MM-YYYY are commonly used fixed format of data columns.

Consistency Check
Consistency Check is a type of logical check. The consistency check confirms the data that has been entered in a logically consistent way. A consistency check detects whether the value of two or more data items are not in contradiction.

Uniqueness Check
Data's like IDs or Email addresses are unique by nature. Uniqueness check ensures that an item is not entered multiple times into a database.

Code Check
In Code check the field is selected from a valid list of values or follows certain formatting rules.

For example: It is easier to verify that a postal code is valid by checking it against a list of valid codes.

Data Type Check
Data type check confirms that the data entered has the correct data type.

For example: A field might only accept numeric data. Then only data containing other characters such as letters or special symbols should be rejected by the system.

Common Method Bias
Common method bias can appear when both the independent and dependent variable is captured by the same response method. While the consequences of common method bias can be detrimental to a study's validity. Data collected from the respondents may arise potential common method variance as false internal consistency might be present in the data.

Common Method Bias describes the measurement error that is compounded by the respondents who want to provide positive answers. Simplest way to test Common Method Bias is by the use of Harman's single factor score, in which all items are loaded into one common factor. If the total variance is less than 50%, it suggests that Common Method Bias does not affect the data and hence the result.

Pilot Study
The term 'pilot studies' refers to mini versions of a full-scale study (also called 'feasibility' studies), as well as the specific pre-testing of a particular research instrument such as a questionnaire or interview schedule. Pilot studies are a crucial element of a good study design. Conducting a pilot study does not guarantee success in the main study, but it does increase the likelihood of success. Pilot studies fulfil a range of important functions and can provide valuable insights for other researchers. There is a need for more discussion among researchers of both the process and outcomes of pilot studies.

Sources Of Data Collection
Basically, there are two sources of data collection. They are:
  1. Primary Source
  2. Secondary Source

Primary source is where the researcher gets the information which is required directly from the respondents.

Some of the primary source of data collection are:
Interviewing, as a research method, typically involves you, as researcher, asking questions, and hopefully, receiving answers from the people you are interviewing. There are many types of interviews,

Fully structured interview:
has predetermined questions with fixed wording, usually in a pre-set order. The use of mainly open-response questions is the only essential difference from an interview-based survey questionnaire.

Semi-structured interview:
It has predetermined questions, but the order can be modified based upon the interviewer's perception of what seems most appropriate Question wording can be changed and explanations given; particular questions which seem inappropriate with a particular interviewee can be omitted, or additional ones included.

Unstructured interviews:
The interviewer has a general area of interest and concern, but lets the conversation develop within this area. It can be completely informal. Here, both the questions asked and responses given are left flexible and open. Semi structured and unstructured interviews are widely used in flexible, qualitative designs and they are referred as qualitative research interviews.

Questions to avoid in interview:
  • Long questions- The interviewee may remember only part of the question, and respond to that part.
  • Double barrelled (multiple-barrelled) questions.
  • Questions involving Jargon- Generally you should avoid questions containing words likely to be unfamiliar to the target audience.
  • Leading questions-Modify such questions if you realize that they are leading in a particular direction.
  • Biased questions- provided that you are alert to the possibility of bias, it is not difficult to write unbiased questions.

ii. Questionnaire
It refers to a set of questions that a lot of people are asked as way of getting information about what people think or do generally. The questions are usually systematically written and printed on papers. Most kinds of researches including legal research method involve the use of a questionnaire as the basic approach to fact or information collection. Most surveys also involve use of a questionnaire as the basic approach to survey data collection.

Three major ways in which questionnaire is administered:
Self-completion-Respondents fill in the answers by themselves. The questionnaire is often sent out by post, permitting large samples to be reached with relatively little extra efforts.

Face-to-face interview:
An interviewer asks the questions in the presence of the respondent, and also completes the questionnaire.

Telephone interview:
The interviewer contacts respondents by phone, asks the questions and records the responses.

iii. Surveys
Survey may be questionnaire based, interview based or observation based. Survey means questioning individuals on a topic and describing their responses.

Survey method can be broadly divided into three categories:
  • Mail survey
    Mail survey means a written survey that is self-administered.
  • Telephone survey
    Telephone survey means a survey that is conducted by telephone in which the questions are read to the respondents and answered by them.
  • Personal interview
    Personal interviews are face-to-face interviews to the respondent. Varies from person to person.

iv. Observations
Technique is to watch what they do, to record this in some way and then to describe, analyse and interpret what we have observed. It is commonly used in an exploratory phase, typically in an unstructured form, to seek to find out what is going on a situation as a precursor to subsequent testing out of the insights obtained.

Observation can also be used as a supportive or supplementary method to collect data that may complement or set in perspective data obtained by other means. Suppose that the main effort in a particular study is devoted to a series of interviews, observation might then be used to validate or corroborate the messages obtained in the interviews.

Two popular types are participant observation and non-participant observation. Participant observation is an essentially qualitative style which has been used in variety of disciplines including in the legal profession. Participant observation is a widely used method in flexible designs, particularly those which follow an ethnographic approach. Non-participant observation can be structured but is more usually unstructured and informal.

Observation as a data collection method can be structured or unstructured. Structured or systematic observation, data collection is conducted using specific variables and according to a pre-defined schedule. Unstructured observation, is conducted in an open and free manner in a sense that there would be no pre-determined variables or objectives.
  1. Participant observation: A key feature of participant observation is that the observer seeks to become some kind of a member of the observed group. This involves not only a physical presence and a sharing of life experiences but also entry into their social and 'symbolic' world through learning their social conventions and habits, their use of language and non-verbal communication, and so on. The observer also has to establish some role within the group. The primary data are the interpretations by the observer of what is going on around him. The observer is the research instrument, and hence great sensitivity and personal skills are called for if worthwhile data are to be collected. Participant observation might be useful in a small project: with small groups, for events or processes that take a reasonably short time, for frequent events, for activities that are accessible to observers, when your prime motivation is to find out what is going on, and when you are not short of time.
  2. The complete participant: The complete participant role involves the observer concealing that she is an observer, acting as naturally as possible and seeking to become a full member of the group.
  3. The participant as observer: It is a feasible alternative to have the participant as observer role. The fact that the observer is an observer is made clear to the group from the start. The observer then tries to establish close relationships with members of the group. This stance means that as well as observing through participating in activities, the observer can ask members to explain various aspects of what is going on. It is important to gain the trust of key members of the group. It would appear that this role would have more of a disturbing effect on the phenomena observed than that of the complete participant, and several experienced participant observers have documented this. However, one effect may be that members of the group are led to more analytical reflection about processes and other aspects of the group's functioning.
  4. The marginal participant: In some situations, it may be feasible and advantageous to have a lower degree of participation than that envisaged in the preceding sections. This can be done by adopting the role of a larger passive, though completely accepted, participant - a passenger in a train or bus, or a member of the audience at a concert or sports meeting.
  5. The observer as participant: This is someone who takes no part in the activity but whose status as a researcher is known to the participants. Such a state is aspired to by many researchers using systematic observation. However, it is questionable whether anyone who is known to be a researcher can be said not to take part in the activity - in the sense that their role is now one of the roles within the larger group that includes the researcher.

Focus Group
A focus group is a small set of six to ten people who usually share common characteristics such as age, background, geography, etc. The set comes together to discuss a predetermined topic. A focus group is a part of marketing research technique. A focus group is useful in analysing a topic or getting an opinion on a predetermined topic for research.

The information collected is used in making refinements to the product. With the help of focus groups, a company can collect information pertaining to what different groups or a set of people feel about a particular topic or a product.

Feedback is collected from a set of people in case the company plans to change the appearance or the quality of a product and it wants to get the first reaction from different sets of people as to what they think, focus groups help the company to do just that. Based on the responses, the company can quickly analyse if people in the group like the refined product or not.

They could also track the consumption patterns by asking them if they would increase the consumption once the refined product is introduced in the market. Focus groups can vary in size, depending on the issue, problem or the product that needs to be discussed.

The term "Ethnos" means People, race, or cultural group and 'Graphe' means writing; so, the literary meaning of ethnography is "writing culture". Ethnographies are an in-depth study of the way of life of a group of people in their natural setting. They are typically very in-depth and long-term and aim for a full (or 'thick'), multi-layered account of the culture of a group of people.

Participant Observation is typically the main method used, but researchers will use all other methods available to get even richer data – such as interviews and analysis of any documents associated with that culture.

In terms of data gathering, ethnographers directly enter into the field, for understanding people's daily life including behaviour, relationships, social action, art, and other cultural values which took a long period. Initial features of an ethnographic research study:
  1. Ethnographic studies require an empirical approach. Researchers need to engage empirical observation for studying social phenomena. So, the investigators engaged in real-life situations and collected data through methods in social research.
  2. Need to remain open; ethnography promotes an open method of communication with those involved in the research rather than making plans for research observation. The researchers observe and interact with research participants in their real-life settings rather than a laboratory experiment.
  3. Facts obtained through observations from the field need to be linked to historical and cultural matters. Empirical observations can be used to interlink between facts for the formation of general laws.

Visual Ethnography
Visual ethnography includes the creation and examination of still photographs and movies, the investigation of craftsmanship and material culture, and the study of signals or gestures, facial expression as well as behaviour and interaction. An ethnographic examination is in like manner interweaved with visual pictures and sociocultural representation.

Ethnography pictures are as inescapable as sounds, smells, tastes, words, or some other part of culture and society. After ethnographic fieldwork, when ethnographers produce photos or video as a research product, that is turned out to be an important part of the ethnographic knowledge.

Oral History
It is one of the cores used methods in qualitative research. In this method, the researcher asks people to talk about their overall life experiences and memories or to discuss specific experiences and events in a narrative form. This method of qualitative interview demanding well-prepared questions and recording the respondent responses with either audio or video equipment.

Oral history gives more importance to the participant's perspectives. If you trace out the history of 'oral history' methods, it has a relation with anthropological traditions. It is used to access the experiential knowledge of respondents directly from the field. Many cultural anthropologists used this method to understand real and past cultural aspects, including the different social organizations, of the people.

Case Study
It involves researching a single case or example of something using multiple methods – for example researching one school or factory. An ethnography is simply a very in-depth case study. In social research, an approach emphasizing the study of social units as totalities, in contrast to the type of approach where aspects of social units are studied more or less in isolation from another, is called case study. Case study is a holistic approach.

Perhaps it is the only method in social research involving the holistic approach. Whatever be the unit selected it is studied in its entirety. The method involves a thorough investigation and intensive analysis of the unit with view to preserving its unitary character.

Unlike the quantitative methods, the case study method aims at maintaining the wholeness of the case. A case is non comparable and yields non additive and non-quantitative data. Such a case is selected for study because the usual quantitative methods fail to take into account the unique features of the case that are extremely important. The case unit may be described by an indefinite number of facts.

These facts may be obtained from many diverse sources such as documents, life histories, interviewing the individuals, from participant observation, etc. Expressed in other words, the data collection techniques and tools employed in case study include interviewing, interview, schedule questionnaire, documents, life history records etc.

Secondary Source Of Data
Secondary source of information includes all types of published and unpublished, public or private documents and other such types of information. Data or information acquired indirectly by researchers. Secondary data means that might be already available, these data are already been gathered and compiled by another person.

Some examples of published data:
  1. Various publication of the central, state or local government
  2. Various publications of a foreign government or international bodies and their subsidiary organization
  3. Technical and trade journals
  4. Books, magazines, and newspapers
  5. Reports and publications of various associations connected with business and industry, banks, Stock Exchange
  6. Reports prepared by research scholars, universities, economist, etc in different fields
  7. Public records and statistics, historical documents, and other sources of published information.

Documents And Records
Document analysis is a method of data collection which involves analysis of content from written documents in order to make certain deductions based on the study parameters. Research records refer to any type of records or materials that document the research effort. These can be electronic or hard copy of notebooks, videos, computer databases, audio or digital records etc. This can be an inexpensive way to gather information & consists of examining existing data.

Data is a collection of facts, figures, objects, symbols, and events gathered from different sources. Primary data is collected from the first-hand experience and is not used in the past. The data gathered by primary data collection methods are specific to the research's motive and highly accurate.

Primary data refers to the first hand data gathered by the researcher himself. Secondary data means data collected by someone else earlier. The secondary data collection methods, too, can involve both quantitative and qualitative techniques. Secondary data is easily available and hence, less time-consuming and expensive as compared to the primary data. However, with the secondary data collection methods, the authenticity of the data gathered cannot be verified.

  1. Burriesci, Sara E. "Guides: Statistics and Empirical Legal Studies Research Guide: Data Collection." Accessed September 27, 2022.
  2. Payne, Tracy. "Pilot Study: Overview.", January 5, 2016.
  3. ResearchGate. "What Is Meant by Common Method Bias? How Do We Test and Control It?" Accessed September 27, 2022.
  4. Corporate Finance Institute. "Data Validation - Overview, Types, Practical Examples," n.d.
  5. Qualtrics. "Secondary Research: Definition, Methods, & Examples." Accessed September 27, 2022.
  6. Allen, Mike. "Ethnography - SAGE Research Methods.", 2017.
  7. Scott, Lisa-Jo K. van den. "Visual Methods in Ethnography." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 47, no. 6 (November 7, 2018).
  8. "Library Guides: Oral History Research and Resources: About Oral History," 2011.
  9. QuestionPro. "Focus Group Research | Focus Group in Qualitative Research." QuestionPro, April 19, 2018.
  10. Cherry, Kendra. "How to Write a Psychology Case Study." Verywell Mind. Verywell Mind, May 2, 2021.
  11. "Primary Data Source - SAGE Research Methods," n.d.

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