There are numerous techniques used to collect data when conducting a research. The type of technique to be used in collecting data when conducting a research will depend on the type of data required by that particular researcher. The data collected can either be primary data or secondary data. Primary data are the raw data that are obtained from the population directly and for the first time, whereas the secondary data is the data from sources that had already been collected by other researchers and stored in different storage materials (Ackroyd, Stephen & Hughes, 1981). In this report, the focus will be on techniques used to collect primary data and we will narrow down to two types and that is structured observation and face to face interview.

Both structured observation and face to face interviews are techniques used to obtain data directly from the population that research is being conducted on. Observation is a technique mostly used when the behavior of the population needs to be known by the researcher in order to make a reliable conclusion (Thody & Angela, 2006). Under this technique, the researcher does not involve any kind of respondents instead he or she studies the population behavior himself and makes a conclusion from his own observations. Observation can either be structured or unstructured. In this case we  are dealing with the structured observation which is mostly used in descriptive studies and it is characterized by standardized ways of observing subjects and the subject to be observed is clearly defined (Gillham & Bill, 2008).

When using structured observation as a technique for collecting data, the researcher should ensure that he understands and knows what is to be observed. The researcher should also take into consideration how what is observed will be recorded or measured if there is need to measure (Mallison & Christine, 2013). The third thing that the researcher must consider is the accuracy of the observed data. The researcher should ensure that he knows how he will ensure accuracy of the data observed before embarking on the observation exercise.

Structured observation can either be participatory, non-participatory or a disguised observation. Participatory observation is where the researcher becomes part and parcel of the population under study in order to be able to acquire information he or she needs to help him make informed conclusion. Non-participatory on the other does not require the researcher to be part of the population under study; instead he just observes from a distance and is able to get the information he needs (Guthrie & Gerard, 2010). While with the two types of structured observation mentioned above the population are aware that they are being studied, but with disguised observation, whoever is being observed have no idea that they are being observed because the researcher has disguised himself.

A structured observation like any other method of collecting primary data has a number of strengths and limitations. The main advantages of this method include:

  1. Bias due to lack of objectivity is eliminated. This is mainly so if the researcher makes the observation correctly and accurately and hence does not make subjective conclusion.
  2. The data collected is not post-dated data, but current data. This is because the observation was done at the time the event is happening and therefore it is not affected by a complication caused by past and future event.
  3. In the case of participatory observation, the researcher is able to collect information on the natural behavior of the population accurately and therefore the behavioral error is limited.
  4. Structured observation as a method of collecting data does not depend on the respondent’s willingness to answer the researcher’s question and hence it is less demanding as the researcher does not have to go through the hustle of trying to convince the respondent to be as honest as possible or even to at least agree to answer his questions.
  5. The fact that the willingness of the respondents is not a mandatory requirement for this method, then it is a suitable technique to use for collecting data where the respondents are not able to respond to the questions given to them either verbally or written.
  6. Where the researcher is part and parcel of the population, he can be able to verify the information that was given by the respondents in questionnaires or interviews. Therefore structured observation assists in ensuring accuracy of the information collected through questionnaires and interviews.

As much as this method has got numerous advantages, it also has a number of limitations. These include:

  1. It is a very costly method. This is because the researcher has to travel to the destination of the population being studied in order to observe their behavior (Olsen & Kay, 2012). Therefore the researcher has to consider the cost of relocating and resettling and these costs add to the cost of the researcher making this method a very expensive technique of collecting data.
  2. Some individuals in the population under the observation are not directly observable and therefore observing such people creates an obstacle for the researcher when they are doing their work.
  3. The data collected using this method may not be subjective, but it is very limited. This because the researcher can only observe the subject behavior, but cannot probe for additional information and the information collected is limited.
  4. It is also a very risky method as unforeseen events may interfere with the observation exercise.

Apart from structured observation, there are a number of techniques one can use to collect primary data. Another method this report is going to focus on is face to face interviews. Face to face interviews is a technique that requires the researcher to be at the exact spot as the respondent (Miller & Gerald, 1999). The researcher has to be physically present in order to collect the required information by directly asking the respondent the interview questions and in return he receives direct responses.

However, in some cases, the researcher may not be able to directly reach the direct person involved. In such cases he may decide to conduct someone that is indirectly related to the situation or individual under investigation or knows adequate information about the subject under investigation.

Face to face interviews just like observation can be structured or unstructured. Structured face to face interview involves the interviewer asking questions as written on the questionnaire using standardized rules of asking such questions (Gillham & Bill, 2008). Under structured interviews, the researcher does not add anything or eliminate any question while interviewing the respondents. Unstructured face to face interview on the other hand is not a rigid form of interview as the interviewer may decide to ask additional questions if he deemed such questions necessary or if he needs a clearer understanding of the respondent responses (Gillham & Bill, 2008). When conducting unstructured face to face interviews, the researcher can also decide to abandon some questions if  he realizes that some questions are making the respondent uncomfortable and that the respondent are not likely to be honest. The researcher may therefore decide to change such questions and instead ask such questions tactfully.

When doing a face to face interview, the researcher should be guided by certain principles. One of the principles the researcher should adhere to is that he must be able to create a friendly environment that enables the respondent to be comfortable and hence answer the questions honestly (Vogt & Paul, 2010). The interviewer should also assure the respondent that the information they give will be treated with absolute confidentiality. The interviewer should also ensure that the responses received from the respondent are recorded accurately and that when asking questions the interviewer demonstrates friendliness and does not show his opinion on the respondent response openly in front of the respondent.

Using face to face interviews has a number of advantages and these include:

  1. Face to face interviews enables the researcher to get more information as he is able to probe the respondent for more information. This ensures that the information collected by the researcher is not limited only to the answers given by the respondent.
  2. It is a flexible method especially when unstructured questions are used because the interviewer can always change the questions to suit the respondent attitude.
  3. While using this method the researcher can decide which individual answers the question unlike in other methods like use of questionnaires that are mailed.
  4. The use of this method enables the researcher to get spontaneous responses from the respondents. This is because the researcher at times can find the respondent unaware of the interview and hence the respondent is likely to be honest because he would not have time to prepare answers that he considered right which in most cases are not as honest as the spontaneous responses.
  5. The method ensures that the respondent does not misinterpret the questions. This is because whenever the respondent does not understand the questions then the researcher is always there to clarify the question to the respondent. This ensures that the researcher gets information without error of misinterpretation.
  6. Because the interview is face to face, any resistance by the respondent can be overcome by the researcher. The researcher can use his own skill and convince the respondent to be more cooperating.
  7. The method also enables the researcher to obtain supplementary information that relate to the respondent. Such information can be very useful when the researcher is interpreting the results he has obtained from the face to face interview.

Despite the several advantages, face to face interview as a method of collecting data also has a number of disadvantages. These include:           

  1. The method is subjected to biasness of the respondent and hence this may lead to inaccurate conclusion as a result of inaccurate information.
  2. It is also a very expensive approach especially where the individual to be interviewed are geographically dispersed.
  3. Using this method to collect data takes a lot of time because the researcher has to interview each respondent at time and he will consume a lot of time in data collection. This can lead to the researcher spending less time on other phases of the research or even a longer period in the research period than earlier estimated.
  4. The researcher is also faced with the challenge of respondents who are not easily approachable. This can be individuals who are powerful in the society or people who are generally hostile.
  5. Most interviewers are usually faced with the problem of creating a rapport with the respondent yet this is a requirement that is necessary when interviewing someone. The difficulty is usually brought about by the fact that trusting someone the first time you meet them is something not very many people can do and therefore creating a rapport with respondents usually proves very difficult for most interviewers.

The two techniques discussed above share some characteristics and at the same time vary in some areas. Both structured observation and face to face interview are methods of collecting primary data. That is they are techniques used to collect fresh data directly from the population under study. Also the two methods are very costly way of collecting data as they both require the researcher to be physically present.

Face to face interview and structured observation also have a series of difference. One of the main differences is that when using face to face to collect data, a respondent is required. Structured observation on the other hand does not require any respondent as the researcher obtains the information he requires by studying his subjects by himself. The two methods also differ in term of the suitability of their use. Structured observation is suitable where the researcher requires explanatory information whereas the use of face to face interview is suitable where the research is more investigative rather than informative. When using the face to face interview there are questions involved whereas the structured observation does not involve any questions as there is no individuals to be asked questions. Instead, the researcher just observes the behaviour of the population under study. Face to face interview and structured observation also differ in terms of the amount of information collected by the researcher. When using face to face interview, the researcher can always probe for more information if he feels that the respondent is holding back. When using structured observation on the other hand, the researcher cannot probe for additional information because he only observes their behaviour and sometimes even disguise himself meaning his presence should not be known.

After critically studying both techniques, my recommendation for any researcher who wishes to use any of the two techniques is that they consider a number of factors affecting each of the methods and the research in general. If the study is about studying the behaviours of the population, then one should use structured observation because under this situation the method will provide more objective results. On the hand, if the study is more investigative then one should use face to face interview in order to allow for probing and to enable the interviewer gauge the reliability of the responses he receives. One should also consider the cost incurred and the result obtained that is the method chosen should be cost effective. For instance where the individuals to be personally interviewed are geographically far apart, then the researcher should think of an alternative method. Another element that one should consider on deciding which method to use between the two should be the availability and willingness of the respondent. My recommendation is that where the respondents are unable or not willing to answer questions then structured observation should be used. This is because if face to face is used in such a situation, the result obtained may not be reliable. This can be as a result of dishonest answers given by those who answered the question. It can also be as a result of only a small percentage of the sample selected actually being interviewed leading to a reduction in the sample size. When conducting a study, the sample size should be reasonable that is the sample size should not be too small or too big. A small sample size if used usually result into unreliable results when the data is finally analysed. Therefore one cannot always rely on one specific method to collect the data. Each of the two methods is suitable for different events hence the decision on what method to use depends on the event that is being studied.

In a nutshell, both techniques have their own strength and weaknesses and therefore the decision to use either of the technique will depend on a number of factors such as the suitability of the method. One should consider whether the research being conducted is a descriptive study or an investigative one. One should consider the cost of using a method and whether the information required in making reliable conclusion should be more or just enough. This will ensure that one does not spend a huge sum of money collected lots of information, most of which will be rendered useless when compiling results. Therefore when making a decision on whether to use face to face interview or structured observation to collect primary data, there is no good or bad technique. The decision on what method to use entirely depends on the factors mentioned above.


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