Data Collection Plan For Dissertation

During the formative research stage, in which the goal is to learn as much as possible about how the target audience thinks and behaves in relation to the issue being addressed, a host of research methods provides many different data "viewpoints" for seeing the big picture. Exploratory research conducted at the beginning of the project reviews previous research involving both quantitative and qualitative data and can include interviews with those who have previously attempted to address the issue. This research will help in the initial development of the project strategy to delineate the parameters of the project, steer the selection of the target audience, specify the potential behaviors to be promoted and identify lessons learned and potential pitfalls. Focus groups conducted for exploration also yield valuable qualitative data regarding the target audience, providing insights into their language, issues and obstacles they identify, and meanings attributed to beliefs and behaviors.

Information learned from the initial focus groups can then be used to inform questionnaire construction for a population survey to collect hard numbers for baseline data. The survey will also help to segment the target audience based upon its distribution across the stages of behavior change, as described by the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (Prochaska and DiClemente, 1983), or other characteristics. In addition, commercial marketing databases, while quantitative in nature, provide highly detailed profiles of target audience segments for message development and channel selection.

The messages and materials developed based upon the exploratory research should be pretested using both qualitative and quantitative methods so that the results provide depth of understanding as well as generalizability. Focus groups provide a valuable means to pretest messages and materials, for audience members can provide spontaneous reactions and explain their responses. This method, however, can only indicate trends and cannot yield hard quantitative data needed for definitive decision making. If enough focus groups are conducted and participants are considered representative of the target audience, a survey questionnaire may be administered either before or after the focus group to collect numerical data as well.

A central-site intercept survey, in which potential audience members are approached in a public area and asked to respond to a quick questionnaire, provides another method of pretesting materials. The fast turnaround nature of this method and high volume of responses makes it ideal for testing draft executions of materials such as print or television ads prior to production and implementation. This method is considered semi-quantitative because respondents are not selected from a random sample, but questions are usually closed-ended and tabulated statistically. Final decisions, such as choosing from among several possible ads, can be made based on the numbers this method yields.

Integrating Process Evaluation
Upon implementation of the program, process evaluation helps to keep the project on track and signals when changes are needed in the program strategy. The most common data collection activity in this phase involves counting--materials distributed, number of people attending activities, broadcasts of the television or radio ads, media coverage of events, phone calls to the organization--to ensure that the project proceeds as intended. Other quantitative tracking mechanisms, such as consumer surveys, identify whether the program's message is reaching the target audience and is getting its attention and motivating action. In an ongoing multi-year project, this may be a repetition of the population survey conducted at the beginning; for a shorter-term project, a survey may target a very specific audience segment.

Qualitative process evaluation methods can include periodic interviews or focus groups with target audience members to assess their progress toward behavior change. Through these activities, participants may inform program administrators of unforeseen barriers or opportunities to adopting the behavior that need to be addressed to increase chances of success. Observations of audience members may also provide clues to needed changes in program strategy or messages in case they are using the product in an unsafe manner or performing the target behavior incorrectly. The quantitative and qualitative process research can be conducted simultaneously to collect and react to data.

Integrating Outcome Evaluation Both types of research are instructive in identifying the program outcomes. A repeat of the quantitative population survey will provide an indication of whether the program realized its objectives in raising awareness, changing attitudes and initiating behavior change. Related decreases in morbidity and mortality or other major indices will be more difficult to claim without also conducting a matched community intervention study, with the only difference between the communities being the presence of the social marketing program.

In the end, the quantitative data emerging from the survey are generally used as the final arbiters of success. However, qualitative research can point out successes that may have occurred on a more human scale through anecdotes about how the social marketing program made a difference in someone's life. Focus groups, interviews and other methods of collecting individual people's stories and responses to the campaign are valuable in learning which components of the program were successful and how the next project can be improved. Both types of research are necessary to assess the full extent of the program's impact upon the target audience.

Conclusion Integrating quantitative and qualitative research methods lends depth and clarity to social marketing programs. This combination of approaches is necessary because of the wide range of data needed to develop effective communications. However, the potential for problems exists when attempting to combine such divergent research paradigms; one may end up not doing either type of research well. This integrative approach therefore requires a research team with expertise in both types of methods. Using multiple approaches can also be time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive. Another obstacle, which will likely change as social marketing gains in usage, is that combining multiple methods is still not widely accepted as a viable research strategy--at least in mainstream public health circles. As social marketers demonstrate that such research is necessary to fully understand and address many health-related issues, the research norms and scientific dogma regarding appropriate methods may shift to a new, more integrative paradigm.


Keep your electronic files on the University network (N drive) as it is reliable and backed up.

If you are storing data directly on your own laptop or PC outside the University network, make sure you have a rigorous backup system in case your device crashes, or is lost or stolen. Use an external hard drive or USB stick and save your data regularly. Have a safe place to keep your USB stick or hard drive and remember to take it with you when you leave the library!

A cloud service such as Dropbox (link below) can automate backups for you and is accessible online anywhere. Dropbox is suitable for sharing files and short-term storage or backup for any newly-written documents before they can be saved to a more secure location. Public cloud services, like Dropbox, are not suitable for personal or confidential data.


Collect the minimum amount of personal data necessary and avoid collecting any personal information that you don't need.

Store any personal data in an appropriate, secure location, e.g. a locked filing cabinet, or password-protected or encrypted online files.

Avoid sending or storing personal data over unsecure networks such as via email or in cloud services like Dropbox.

Process and safely destroy any personal data as soon as they are no longer needed, for example promptly downloading and saving interview recordings from your phone or recording device into a password protected file.

If you have said on your ethics form that you will be annonymising data (e.g. interview responses) to protect participants' confidentiality, make sure you do this. Have a system for anonymously labelling each response such as assigning a letter, number, or changing their name (Participant A, Interviewee 1, 'Johnny').


Have a systematic and clear way of naming your online files and, most importantly, stick to it!

You should be able to tell what's in a file without opening it.
Including a date formatted like YYYY-MM-DD means you can sort files chronologically
Having a version control number means you can easily distinguish between your 1st, 2nd, or 10th draft!

For example:

2015-07-05_InterviewRecording_ClassroomAssistant A




MethodsChapter_Draft 1_2015-07-10


Store your electronic files in a logical folder structure to make them easier to locate and manage, e.g. creating folders to group files according to content type, activity, or date. For further examples see guidance from the UK Data Service (link below).

Also have a system for safely storing any field notes. You don't want to lose vital parts of your research on site or in an unfamiliar library that you won't be returning to. Simple systems are the best, for example putting things in box files is easier than having to find a hole-punch and ring binders.


As well as making good notes from the books and journal articles you read (including the full bibliographic details for your references) it is also important to keep clear records of other parts of your research process:

  • Record your search strategy: Note down the combinations of keywords you use and the library databases you have searched to avoid duplication and confusion later.
  • Keep your lab book up to date: If you are doing primary scientific research, a good lab book helps you record what you did whilst it is fresh in your mind; it makes writing your methods and results much easier.
  • Label your equipment and any work in progress: If you are using a shared research space, clearly identify your work, as you don't want people accidentally moving it or throwing it away!


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