Data Collection Methods: Pros and Cons

Data Collection Methods: Pros and Cons

Method Description Pros Cons
Archival Data that have already been collected by an agency or organization and are in their records or archives
  • Low cost
  • Relatively rapid
  • Unobtrusive
  • Can be highly accurate
  • Often good to moderate validity
  • Usually allows for historical comparisons or trend analysis
  • Often allows for comparisons with larger populations
  • May be difficult to access local data
  • Often out of date
  • When rules for recordkeeping are changed, makes trend analysis difficult or invalid
  • Need to learn how records were compiled to assess validity
  • May not be data on knowledge, attitudes, and opinions
  • May not provide a complete picture of the situation
Key Informant Interviews Structured or unstructured one-on-one directed conversations with key individuals or leaders in a community
  • Low cost (assuming relatively few)
  • Respondents define what is important
  • Rapid data collection
  • Possible to explore issues in depth
  • Opportunity to clarify responses through probes
  • Sources of leads to other data sources and other key informants
  • Can be time consuming to set up interviews with busy informants
  • Requires skilled and/or trained interviewers
  • Accuracy (generalizability) limited and difficult to specify
  • Produces limited quantitative data
  • May be difficult to analyze and summarize findings
Focus Groups Structured interviews with small groups of like individuals using standardized questions, follow-up questions, and exploration of other topics that arise to better understand participants
  • Low cost
  • Rapid data collection
  • Participants define what is important
  • Some opportunity to explore issues in depth
  • Opportunity to clarify responses through probes
  • Can be time consuming to assemble groups
  • Produces limited quantitative data
  • Requires trained facilitators
  • Less control over process than key informant interviews
  • Difficult to collect sensitive information
  • Accuracy (generalizability) limited and difficult to specify
  • May be difficult to analyze and summarize findings
Surveys Standardized paper-and-pencil or phone questionnaires that ask predetermined questions
  • Can be highly accurate
  • Can be highly reliable and valid
  • Allows for comparisons with other/larger populations when items come from existing instruments
  • Easily generates quantitative data
  • Relatively high cost
  • Relatively slow to design, implement, and analyze
  • Accuracy depends on who and how many people sampled
  • Accuracy limited to willing and reachable respondents
  • May have low response rates
  • Little opportunity to explore issues in depth

Epidemiologists and planners use a combination of methods and resources to find relevant data to inform program development and assessment. Learn more about finding and analyzing epidemiological data.

Last Updated: 03/15/2016