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September 01, 20206 min read

The Three Ways of Primary Data Collection

Primary data is when the data is gathered directly from the genuine source. Basically, every information you gather from first-hand experience is primary data.

Data is the cornerstone of all statistical research. But the origin of your data and the way you gather it influences heavily the outcome of your results.

Technically, there are three types of data based on their source and availability: primary, secondary and mosaic.

In this article, we will familiarize you with primary data and the three main methods of collection.

What Is Primary Data?

The main criterion is that the data is always collected from your research instead of books or any other written material that comes from second-hand sources. The fact that this data derives from the original source makes it even more valuable and credible.

On the other hand, researchers can tailor and specify their interest and data collecting methods when gathering primary data. This means, they can choose the perfect group or sample for their research and create a specific environment to collect the desired data.

The three main ways of collecting primary data is asking, observing and experimenting this target group.

Explore your data

Survey or Interview?

Conducting a survey is the most common data collecting method. The process may look very easy: after we have a sample or focus group, we just ask the questions, record the answers and analyze the survey results. The tough part is finding the perfect group and the right questions. You can use both close-ended and open-ended questions during the process and the form of the questionnaires can be structured or unstructured.

Both online or offline questionnaires can be used for making a survey, this depends only on the specifications of the target group. If they live in a place without internet connection, your questions will (supposedly) not be answered this way.

In this case you can use a printed survey, but make sure that the filled papers will be collected back and try to control that the right person fills the survey. Also pay attention to digitalizing the answers. The manual administration can cause dirty data by accidental mistakes.

Recording an Interview

Another way to ask questions is by making an interview. Although this method is really expensive and needs a professional interviewer for the wanted results, its biggest advantage is the vast amount of data you can get this way and that you can dive deep into a specific topic and discover the background of the answers you get.

However, the value of the data might not be as satisfying. The interviewee or the participants might not give you perfectly correct answers. Unconsciously or consciously, they will lie and this can distort the results.

Another drawback can be the processing of the answers. At the end of the day you will have hours long voice records that you will listen to over and over again, then take notes of it and then make conclusions. Besides there are some tools to analyze speech or text but it is 99% manual work, which is a tiring and time consuming process.

Recommended Tools for Surveys

Observing From Distance

The second option is observation. Compared to questionnaires, observation has a big advantage: the observed persons do not know that they are being observed, so their behavior will be natural. In this case, you can lock out the unconscious or conscious lies.

Observing From Distance

If it is offline, this data collecting method can only be used on a small scale. You can collect data about in-store consumers’ behaviors, for example, such as their walking routes or their behavior while standing in front of a shelf.

However, online observation methods are widely used nowadays in order to better understand customer habits while surfing in their free time, or during a purchase in a webshop.

By using specific cookies on a site, it is pretty easy to gather useful information on how to make your buying processes more streamlined.

Of course, according to GDPR this has to be with the consent of the site viewer, but in most cases the observation can be done.

Observing From Inside

Beside external observation there is a method when the observer is incorporated in a group, but without the group being aware of it. In this way the group can be observed in its natural habitats. The observer can control the situation with specific questions and by that, focusing on a specific person’s reactions of the group.

There is a very common method of observing when the group knows that they are being observed and they also know the observer. This situation can be a job interview where the candidates have to work together on specific tasks and the HR professionals analyze their behaviour. It is called the Assessment centre.

Recommended Tools for Observation

Experiment and Simulate

The third primary data collecting method is the experiment. It is a creative and fast-developing type of data collecting.

The common characteristics of every experiment are laboratory conditions and simulated market. In this structured environment, researchers are trying to find the causes, effects and processes that lead to a phenomenon.

The steps of data collection are controlled by the researchers. First, they select a subject to consider. Actions are then conducted, while primary data is being recorded throughout the experiment.

After this, data will be processed, explored and analyzed and conclusions are drawn based on the results of analysis.

Experiment and Simulate

The biggest advantage of this data collecting method is that you can find answers to questions that could not be answered with any other measuring techniques.

However, only a few companies are qualified enough to lead experiments. This makes the method expensive while it also needs planning and preparation before collecting usable data.


Gathering data from primary sources may be costly, but the value of the original data and the insights gained during the process of collection make these above explained methods undoubtedly essencial.

Before you start collecting primary data, always check if there are any secondary sources that you can get the information from. Only collect primary data when you are convinced that there is no other source that you could use.

However, collecting data is not the end of the process. You have to organize, systematize, and evaluate the collected data. And the best way to understand your data is to visualize it.With AnswerMiner, data visualization can be done instantly and no coding is required.

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