Data Collection Types

Options Within Types

Advantages of the Type

Limitations of the Type


  • Complete participant: research conceals role
  • Observer as participant: role of the researcher is known
  • Participant as observer: observation role secondary to participate role
  • Complete observer: researcher observes without participating
  • Researcher has a firsthand experience with participants
  • Researcher can record information as it is revealed
  • Unusual aspects can be noticed during observation
  • Useful in exploring topics that may be uncomfortable for participants to discuss
  • Researcher may be seen as intrusive
  • 'Private' information may be observed that the researcher cannot report
  • Researcher may not have good attending and observing skills
  • Certain participants (e.g., children) may present special problems in gaining rapport


  • Face-to-Face: one on one, in-person interview
  • Telephone: researcher interviews by phone
  • Group: researcher interviews participants in a group
  • Useful when participants cannot be observed directly
  • Participants can provide historical information
  • Allows researcher 'control' over the line of questioning
  • Provides 'indirect' information filtered through the views of interviewees
  • Provides information in a designated 'place' rather than the natural field setting
  • Researcher's presence may bias responses
  • People are not equally articulate and perceptive


  • Public documents such as minutes of meetings, and newspapers
  • Private documents such as journals, diaries, and letters
  • E-mail discussions


  • Enables a researcher to obtain the language and words of participants
  • Can be accessed at a time convenient to the researcher-an unobtrusive source of information
  • Represents data that are thoughtful, in that participants have given attention to compiling
  • As written evidence, it saves a researcher the time and expense of transcribing
  • May be protected information unavailable to public or private access
  • Requires the researcher to search out the information in hard-to-fine places
  • Requires transcribing or optically scanning for computer entry
  • Materials may be incomplete
  • The documents may not be authentic or accurate


Audiovisual Materials

  • Photographs
  • Videotapes
  • Art objects
  • Computer software
  • Film
  • May be an unobtrusive methods of collecting data
  • Provides an opportunity for participants to directly share their 'reality'
  • Creative in that it captures attention visually
  • May be difficult to interpret
  • May not be accessible publicly or privately
  • The presence of an observer (e.g., photographer) may be disruptive and affect responses

Note: This table includes material taken from Merriam (1998), Bogdon and Biklen (1992), and Creswell (2002).