Types of data and research materials

What are Data?

Research data isn’t just information on a spreadsheet. Research data is any material you use and analyse in your studies. Some disciplines prefer to talk about research materials rather than research data. For shorthand we are using data to cover both terms.

Research data can take many forms. One person’s work can be another person’s research data. Data can include moving images, numerical data, pictures, music scores, sound recordings, interview transcripts, experimental results, programming code and much more.

Categories of Data

Question: Has any prior research been conducted in this field? 

(Click on your answer below)

In either case, you would need to determine whether the research tools are sufficiently well developed to address your research idea.

Primary Data

Primary data is data that has not been gathered before. As a researcher you may collect data yourself using surveys, interviews, or experiments. You are in control of your research project and will know what type of data you need. At the heart of primary data collection are the acts of

  • Observing
  • Measuring
  • Recording

For further information take a look at this definition for Raw data (you will need the Virtual Private Network (VPN) Global Protect connected). 

Secondary Data

Not everyone has to collect their own data. You may want to use data that has already been collected by someone else, for example census data, data from previous studies, data from a commercial partner or governmental or non-governmental organisations. This data is known as secondary data as you have not directly collected it yourself. It can be gathered from a variety of sources, both published and unpublished. When using secondary data you should evaluate the quality of the data, check the definitions are comparable and look carefully at the supporting documentation so you know you are comparing like for like. You may even get the data directly from the original collector such as your supervisor.

Take a look at this definition for Secondary data

Qualitative vs Quantitative

Qualitative and quantitative research have frequently been presented as distinct and polarised choices for a research methodology. The Oxford English Dictionary define qualitative research as that which “seeks to describe the quality of something in size, appearance, value etc” while quantitative research is “the measurement of the quantity of something”. To put it another way, quantitative research may ask “how big is X?, “How many X’s are there?” whereas qualitative research could ask “what is X?”, “how does X vary in different circumstances?”.

Qualitative and quantitative research methodologies are not mutually exclusive. They can be used within the same research project, for example qualitative research (face to face interviews) can be used to inform the development of quantitative research (surveys) to avoid ambiguity in terminology (the British National Survey of Sexual attitudes and Lifestyles took this approach). Another example might be following up a quantitative survey results with qualitative interviews to help explain anomalies or patterns in the data. Mixed Methods research is when both methodologies are used together to answer a research question.

For related terms used in qualitative and quantitative research, see:

Margarete Sandelowski (2004) ‘Qualitative Research’ in The SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods, Michael S. Lewis-Beck, Alan Bryman & Tim Futing Liao (eds), Sage Publishing
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412950589.n783

Gudmund R. Iversen (2004) ‘Quantitative Research’ n The SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods, Michael S. Lewis-Beck, Alan Bryman & Tim Futing Liao (eds), Sage Publishing
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412950589.n787

The next section covers key policies relating to your data and data protection. It looks at practical tips and provides advice if you lose or disclose data.

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