Collecting data

For most research projects the data collection phase feels like the most important part. However, you should avoid jumping straight into this phase until you have adequately defined your research problem, and the extent and limitations of your research. If you are too hasty you risk collecting data that you will not be able to use.

Consider how you are going to store and retrieve your data. You should set up a system that allows you to:

  • record data accurately as you collect it
  • retrieve data quickly and efficiently
  • analyse and compare the data you collect
  • create appropriate outputs for your dissertation like tables and graphs, if appropriate.

There are many systems that support effective data collection and retrieval. These range from card indexes and cross-referenced exercise books, through electronic tools like spreadsheets, databases and bibliographic software (like RefWorks), to discipline-specific tools. You should talk about how you plan to store your data with your supervisor, a subject librarian, or an Academic Development Tutor. As you undertake your research you are likely to come up with lots of ideas. It can be valuable to keep a record of these ideas on index cards, in a dedicated notebook, or in an electronic file. You can refer back to this ‘ideas store’ when you start to write. They may be useful as ideas in themselves, and may be useful as a record of how your thinking developed through the research process.