Basic Forms – Data Collection

You are cornered in the street by a pollster who hands you a photo of Ronald Reagan standing next to David A Stockman. If you are like most people your answer is prompt: The President of the United States. But what if he had asked: Do you have any idea at all who this man is? When Stanford University psychologist Herbert H Clark tried that on 15 volunteers, only one identified Reagan. Most identified Stockman or asked for more information.

Polls and market surveys are a black art. Ask the questions one way, and the answers reflect what the public is thinking. But phrase them just slightly differently, and the results can be totally out of touch with reality. In 1984 a panel of experts from the National Research Council concluded that survey designer simply do not know much about how respondents answer questions.

While the above quotation may exaggerate the problems of collecting data by questioning there is no doubt that the field is treacherous. Useful data are collected by questioning every day, but no science has been developed. It is a subjective process. Observation is more objective but is still not scientifically objective.

When researchers have specified the information they need to solve the problem at hand, they must proceed to find that information. It is cheaper and simpler to use secondary data, data someone else has collected previously, if such data are available. If secondary data cannot be found, researchers are faced with the necessity of collecting original information themselves. The collection and analysis of primary data occupy most of the time of marketing researchers.

Questioning and observing are the two basic methods of collecting primary data. Regardless of which of these methods is used, some procedure must be developed to standardize the process and, thereby standardize the data accumulated. If researchers go out to ask people questions and ask each person somewhat different questions, they will get answers that are not directly comparable. If 50 different fieldworkers in cities and rural areas throughout the country are sent out to observe sales representatives in retail appliance stores, they will be extremely unlikely to observe the same things unless they are given a guide to follow. Thus, some standardized procedure must be developed if the data collected in the field are to be comparable.

A second reason for needing a standardized procedure is to achieve speed and accuracy in recording data. If the field workers have an established pattern to follow in their work and a standardized form on which to record the data collected, they can proceed more rapidly and more accurately. A third reason for standardized data collection procedures is to achieve speed and accuracy in handling the data in the office. If all the information coming into the central office from the field workers comes in a common form, It can be summarized more quickly and with less error than if field workers report data in whichever form they choose.

To collect good primary data, then, it is necessary to develop standardized forms to guide the procedure. These forms are one of the main sources of error in the typical marketing research project. This is particularly true in the case of questionnaire studies where verbal communication is involved. Because questionnaire studies are also more prevalent than observation studies, the major part of this article will be devoted to the problems encountered in constructing good questionnaires.

Importance of Questionnaire:

When information is to be collected by asking questions of people who may have the desired data, a standardized form called a questionnaire is prepared. The questionnaire is a list of questions to be asked respondents. Each question is worded exactly as it is to be asked, and the questions are listed in an established sequence. Spaces in which to record answers are provided in questionnaires except in the case of telephone interviews. The modern technique for telephone interviews is to have the questions programmed in a computer so they come up in proper sequence; the interviewer records the answer directly into the computer.