Literature vs Primary Data Collection: Getting The Timing Right

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However many weeks you have to write your thesis (whether Bachelor’s or Master’s) at the beginning it can seem a lifetime and it’s not so easy to know what to do when.

If your research involves collecting primary data (interviews, surveys etc) and secondary data (literature, previous research etc), then even the order here can be problematic.

The greatest stress in writing a thesis, students often agree, are in the parts that involve other people e.g. interviews or questionnaires. After all, we could, if pushed for time, do 24 hour stints writing, relying on any form of caffeine available, but we can’t plan our interviews for 2 a.m. and we have to live with the fact that people get sick, take holidays, have meetings, lose interest or simply cancel our planned appointment.

So, it seems logical to do the interviews/questionnaires first and get the stress out of the way? Seems logical but isn’t…

DON’T COLLECT PRIMARY DATA BEFORE YOU’VE READ THE LITERATURE!!!!!!

You can’t run before you can walk!

  • Read, read, read and when you’ve finished reading, read some more….. Choose your sources wisely and use your research question and objectives. When ploughing through long journal articles, take a step back and ask yourself ‘Does this help me answer my research question? Does this help me fulfill my research objectives?’ If not, stop reading and either you’ve now read enough or you need to go back to selecting relevant sources. You can’t plan your surveys or interviews without having read relevant literature.
  • Have a parallel document open whilst reading, where you draft a provisional list of interview/questionnaire questions or list focal points to concentrate on in whatever other form of data collection you are planning.
  • Finish your literature review, but don’t yet worry about the details and how tidy it looks on paper. Doesn’t matter yet, it’s enough to know you have all the important points and you’ve considered them in your data collection tool. Don’t forget, you have one take at the interview/questionnaire – if you forget to ask a relevant question, you can rarely go back and ask it later. This means, if you already conduct your interviews and then read the literature, there is a really big chance that you discover some vital aspects you would like to include/ask people about, but you have failed to put them into your questions.

Your analysis will compare your findings with the literature – so there must be a clear link.

For example, you are carrying out a survey on the effects of music on motivation in the workplace and the literature shows that males and females react differently to music. You’ve already done an online survey on the topic and never asked the respondents’ gender.

OOPS.. you can’t go back now, but have a big problem with the data collection analysis as you have failed to include a very relevant variable.  Therefore, when you describe your results it’s impossible to comment on gender as you simply forgot to include it – or to put it bluntly, wrote the questionnaire before you had actually read up on the relevant issues.

Creating a data analysis table can help.

So create a data analysis table. For example, analyze your data collection tool (interview questions, survey, etc.) and check each item you ask about has been discussed in the literature.

Here is one example I came up with for you to have an idea:

With the above tool, it’s easy to check whether your questions have been discussed in the literature. As you can see with number 1, not all questions (mostly demographic ones) necessarily need to be in the literature but are a vital part of knowing your sample better.

In this case of work experience, we presume the literature did not discuss work experience as a vital factor, but the researcher (you) has decided to include it, to see if answers vary according to how long the interviewee has worked in HR. There are lots of ways of structuring such a table and there’s no one correct version – see what fits your needs best.

However, that’s not the end of it…. You need to look at the literature review you have written and check that your questions (interview, survey etc) address all the relevant topics.

• Data analysis doesn’t just involve your primary data, but also comparing it with the secondary data i.e. the literature. Now you will be glad you created that data analysis table…. You can make clear comparisons with what you found and what previous literature found.


SUMMARY

After reading this you should be able to:

1. Time manage your literature reading and writing and your data collection.
2. Link your literature to your data collection.
3. Show clear links to the literature when analyzing the data.

Things that strike me when researching: Star Wars really is cool, Film music is sooo vital in a good film.

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