5 Methods of Data Collection

Learning Objectives

After completing this session, you will be able to:

  • describe  the concept of data collection.

The task of data collection begins after a research problem has been defined and research design/ plan chalked out. While deciding about the method of data collection to be used for the study, the researcher should keep in mind two types of data viz., primary and secondary. The are those which are collected afresh and for the first time, and thus happen to be original in character. The secondary data, on the other hand, are those which have already been collected by someone else and which have already been passed through the statistical process. The researcher would have to decide which sort of data he would be using (thus collecting) for his study and accordingly he will have to select one or the other method of data collection. The methods of collecting primary and secondary data differ since primary data are to be originally collected, while in case of secondary data the nature of data collection work is merely that of compilation. We describe the different methods of data collection, with the pros and cons of each method.


We collect primary data during the course of doing experiments in an experimental research but in case we do research of the descriptive type and perform surveys, whether sample surveys or census surveys, then we can obtain primary data either through observation or through direct communication with respondents in one form or another or through personal interviews.* This, in other words, means

* An experiment refers to an investigation in which a factor or variable under test is isolated and its effect(s) measured. In an experiment the investigator measures the effects of an experiment which he conducts intentionally. Survey refers to the method of securing information concerning a phenomena under study from all or a selected number of respondents of the concerned universe. In a survey, the investigator examines those phenomena which exist in the universe independent of his action. The difference between an experiment and a survey can be depicted as under:

that there are several methods of collecting primary data, particularly in surveys and descriptive researches. Important ones are: (i) observation method, (ii) interview method, (iii) through questionnaires, (iv) through schedules, and (v) other methods which include (a) warranty cards; (b) distributor audits; (c) pantry audits; (d) consumer panels; (e) using mechanical devices; (f) through projective techniques; (g) depth interviews, and (h) content analysis. We briefly take up each method separately.

Observation Method

The observation method is the most commonly used method specially in studies relating to behavioural sciences. In a way we all observe things around us, but this sort of observation is not scientific observation. Observation becomes a scientific tool and the method of data collection for the researcher, when it serves a formulated research purpose, is systematically planned and recorded and is subjected to checks and controls on validity and reliability. Under the observation method, the information is sought by way of investigator’s own direct observation without asking from the respondent. For instance, in a study relating to consumer behaviour, the investigator instead of asking the brand of wrist watch used by the respondent, may himself look at the watch. The main advantage of this method is that subjective bias is eliminated, if observation is done accurately. Secondly, the information obtained under this method relates to what is currently happening; it is not complicated by either the past behaviour or future intentions or attitudes. Thirdly, this method is independent of respondents’ willingness to respond and as such is relatively less demanding of active cooperation on the part of respondents as happens to be the case in the interview or the questionnaire method. This method is particularly suitable in studies which deal with subjects (i.e., respondents) who are not capable of giving verbal reports of their feelings for one reason or the other

However, observation method has various limitations. Firstly, it is an expensive method. Secondly, the information provided by this method is very limited. Thirdly, sometimes unforeseen factors may interfere with the observational task. At times, the fact that some people are rarely accessible to direct observation creates obstacle for this method to collect data effectively.

While using this method, the researcher should keep in mind things like: What should be observed? How the observations should be recorded? Or how the accuracy of observation can be ensured? In case the observation is characterised by a careful definition of the units to be observed, the style of recording the observed information, standardised conditions of observation and the selection of pertinent data of observation, then the observation is called as structured observation. But when observation is to take place without these characteristics to be thought of in advance, the same is termed as unstructured observation. Structured observation is considered appropriate in descriptive studies, whereas in an exploratory study the observational procedure is most likely to be relatively unstructured.

We often talk about participant and non-participant types of observation in the context of studies, particularly of social sciences. This distinction depends upon the observer’s sharing or not sharing the life of the group he is observing. If the observer observes by making himself, more or less, a member of the group he is observing so that he can experience what the members of the group experience, the observation is called as the participant observation. But when the observer observes as a detached emissary without any attempt on his part to experience through participation what others feel, the observation of this type is often termed as non-participant observation. (When the observer is observing in such a manner that his presence may be unknown to the people he is observing, such an observation is described as disguised observation.)

There are several merits of the participant type of observation: (i) The researcher is enabled to record the natural behaviour of the group. (ii) The researcher can even gather information which could not easily be obtained if he observes in a disinterested fashion. (iii) The researcher can even verify the truth of statements made by informants in the context of a questionnaire or a schedule. But there are also certain demerits of this type of observation viz., the observer may lose the objectivity to the extent he participates emotionally; the problem of observation-control is not solved; and it may narrow-down the researcher’s range of experience.

Sometimes we talk of controlled and uncontrolled observation. If the observation takes place in the natural setting, it may be termed as uncontrolled observation, but when observation takes place according to definite pre-arranged plans, involving experimental procedure, the same is then termed controlled observation. In non-controlled observation, no attempt is made to use precision instruments. The major aim of this type of observation is to get a spontaneous picture of life and persons. It has a tendency to supply naturalness and completeness of behaviour, allowing sufficient time for observing it. But in controlled observation, we use mechanical (or precision) instruments as aids to accuracy and standardisation. Such observation has a tendency to supply formalised data upon which generalisations can be built with some degree of assurance. The main pitfall of non-controlled observation is that of subjective interpretation. There is also the danger of having the feeling that we know more about the observed phenomena than we actually do. Generally, controlled observation takes place in various experiments that are carried out in a laboratory or under controlled conditions, whereas uncontrolled observation is resorted to in case of exploratory researches.

Interview Method

The interview method of collecting data involves presentation of oral-verbal stimuli and reply in terms of oral-verbal responses. This method can be used through personal interviews and, if possible, through telephone interviews.

(a) Personal interviews: Personal interview method requires a person known as the interviewer asking questions generally in a face-to-face contact to the other person or persons. (At times the interviewee may also ask certain questions and the interviewer responds to these, but usually the interviewer initiates the interview and collects the ) This sort of interview may be in the form of direct personal investigation or it may be indirect oral investigation. In the case of direct personal investigation the interviewer has to collect the information personally from the sources concerned. He has to be on the spot and has to meet people from whom data have to be collected. This method is particularly suitable for intensive investigations. But in certain cases it may not be possible or worthwhile to contact directly the persons concerned or on account of the extensive scope of enquiry, the direct personal investigation technique may not be used. In such cases an indirect oral examination can be conducted under which the interviewer has to cross-examine other persons who are supposed to have knowledge about the problem under investigation and the information, obtained is recorded. Most of the commissions and committees appointed by government to carry on investigations make use of this method.

The method of collecting information through personal interviews is usually carried out in a structured way. As such we call the interviews as structured interviews. Such interviews involve the use of a set of predetermined questions and of highly standardised techniques of recording. Thus, he interviewer in a structured interview follows a rigid procedure laid down, asking questions in a form and order prescribed. As against it, the unstructured interviews are characterised by a flexibility of approach to questioning. Unstructured interviews do not follow a system of pre-determined questions and standardised techniques of recording information. In a non-structured interview, the interviewer is allowed much greater freedom to ask, in case of need, supplementary questions or at times he may omit certain questions if the situation so requires. He may even change the sequence of questions. He has relatively greater freedom while recording the responses to include some aspects and exclude others. But this sort of flexibility results in lack of comparability of one interview with another and the analysis of unstructured responses becomes much more difficult and time-consuming than that of the structured responses obtained in case of structured interviews. Unstructured interviews also demand deep knowledge and greater skill on the part of the interviewer. Unstructured interview, however, happens to be the central technique of collecting information in case of exploratory or formulative research studies. But in case of descriptive studies, we quite often use the technique of structured interview because of its being more economical, providing a safe basis for generalisation and requiring relatively lesser skill on the part of the interviewer.

We may as well talk about focussed interview, clinical interview and the non-directive interview. Focussed interview is meant to focus attention on the given experience of the respondent and its effects. Under it the interviewer has the freedom to decide the manner and sequence in which the questions would be asked and has also the freedom to explore reasons and motives. The main task of the interviewer in case of a focussed interview is to confine the respondent to a discussion of issues with which he seeks conversance. Such interviews are used generally in the development of hypotheses and constitute a major type of unstructured interviews. The clinical interview is concerned with broad underlying feelings or motivations or with the course of individual’s life experience. The method of eliciting information under it is generally left to the interviewer’s discretion. In case of non-directive interview, the interviewer’s function is simply to encourage the respondent to talk about the given topic with a bare minimum of direct questioning. The interviewer often acts as a catalyst to a comprehensive expression of the respondents’ feelings and beliefs and of the frame of reference within which such feelings and beliefs take on personal significance.

Despite the variations in interview-techniques, the major advantages and weaknesses of personal interviews can be enumerated in a general way. The chief merits of the interview method are as follows:

(i) More information and that too in greater depth can be obtained.

(ii) Interviewer by his own skill can overcome the resistance, if any, of the respondents; the interview method can be made to yield an almost perfect sample of the general population.

(iii) There is greater flexibility under this method as the opportunity to restructure questions is always there, specially in case of unstructured interviews.

(iv) Observation method can as well be applied to recording verbal answers to various questions.

(v) Personal information can as well be obtained easily under this method.

(vi) Samples can be controlled more effectively as there arises no difficulty of the missing returns; non-response generally remains very low.

(vii) The interviewer can usually control which person(s) will answer the This is not possible in mailed questionnaire approach. If so desired, group discussions may also be held.

(viii) The interviewer may catch the informant off-guard and thus may secure the most spontaneous reactions than would be the case if mailed questionnaire is used.

xi) The language of the interview can be adopted to the ability or educational level of the person interviewed and as such misinterpretations concerning questions can be avoided.

(x) The interviewer can collect supplementary information about the respondent’s personal characteristics and environment which is often of great value in interpreting results.

But there are also certain weaknesses of the interview method. Among the important weaknesses, mention may be made of the following:

(i) It is a very expensive method, specially when large and widely spread geographical sample is taken.

(ii) There remains the possibility of the bias of interviewer as well as that of the respondent; there also remains the headache of supervision and control of interviewers.

(iii) Certain types of respondents such as important officials or executives or people in high income groups may not be easily approachable under this method and to that extent the data may prove inadequate.

(iv) This method is relatively more-time-consuming, specially when the sample is large and re- calls upon the respondents are necessary.

(v) The presence of the interviewer on the spot may over-stimulate the respondent, sometimes even to the extent that he may give imaginary information just to make the interview interesting.

(vi) Under the interview method the organisation required for selecting, training and supervising the field-staff is more complex with formidable problems.

(vii) Interviewing at times may also introduce systematic errors

(viii) Effective interview presupposes proper rapport with respondents that would facilitate free and frank responses. This is often a very difficult requirement.

Pre-requisites and basic tenets of interviewing: For successful implementation of the interview method, interviewers should be carefully selected, trained and briefed. They should be honest, sincere, hardworking, impartial and must possess the technical competence and necessary practical experience. Occasional field checks should be made to ensure that interviewers are neither cheating, nor deviating from instructions given to them for performing their job efficiently. In addition, some provision should also be made in advance so that appropriate action may be taken if some of the selected respondents refuse to cooperate or are not available when an interviewer calls upon them.

In fact, interviewing is an art governed by certain scientific principles. Every effort should be made to create friendly atmosphere of trust and confidence, so that respondents may feel at ease while talking to and discussing with the interviewer. The interviewer must ask questions properly and intelligently and must record the responses accurately and completely. At the same time, the interviewer must answer legitimate question(s), if any, asked by the respondent and must clear any doubt that the latter has. The interviewers approach must be friendly, courteous, conversational and unbiased. The interviewer should not show surprise or disapproval of a respondent’s answer but he must keep the direction of interview in his own hand, discouraging irrelevant conversation and must make all possible effort to keep the respondent on the track.

(a)  Telephone interviews: This method of collecting information consists in contacting respondents on telephone itself. It is not a very widely used method, but plays important part in industrial surveys, particularly in developed regions. The chief merits of such a system are:

  1. It is more flexible in comparison to mailing method.
  2. It is faster than other methods i.e., a quick way of obtaining information.
  3. It is cheaper than personal interviewing method; here the cost per response is relatively low.
  4. Recall is easy; callbacks are simple and economical.
  5. There is a higher rate of response than what we have in mailing method; the non-response is generally very low.
  6. Replies can be recorded without causing embarrassment to respondents.
  7. Interviewer can explain requirements more easily.
  8. At times, access can be gained to respondents who otherwise cannot be contacted for one reason or the other.
  9. No field staff is required.
  10. Representative and wider distribution of sample is possible.

But this system of collecting information is not free from demerits. Some of these may be highlighted.

  1. Little time is given to respondents for considered answers; interview period is not likely to exceed five minutes in most cases.
  2. Surveys are restricted to respondents who have telephone facilities.
  3. Extensive geographical coverage may get restricted by cost considerations.
  4. It is not suitable for intensive surveys where comprehensive answers are required to various questions.
  5. Possibility of the bias of the interviewer is relatively more.
  6. Questions have to be short and to the point; probes are difficult to handle.


This method of data collection is quite popular, particularly in case of big enquiries. It is being adopted by private individuals, research workers, private and public organisations and even by governments. In this method a questionnaire is sent (usually by post) to the persons concerned with a request to answer the questions and return the questionnaire. A questionnaire consists of a number of questions printed or typed in a definite order on a form or set of forms. The questionnaire is mailed to respondents who are expected to read and understand the questions and write down the reply in the space meant for the purpose in the questionnaire itself. The respondents have to answer the questions on their own.

The method of collecting data by mailing the questionnaires to respondents is most extensively employed in various economic and business surveys. The merits claimed on behalf of this method are as follows:

  1. There is low cost even when the universe is large and is widely spread geographically.
  2. It is free from the bias of the interviewer; answers are in respondents’ own words.
  3. Respondents have adequate time to give well thought out answers.
  4. Respondents, who are not easily approachable, can also be reached conveniently.
  5. Large samples can be made use of and thus the results can be made more dependable and reliable.

The main demerits of this system can also be listed here:

  1. Low rate of return of the duly filled in questionnaires; bias due to no-response is often indeterminate.
  2. It can be used only when respondents are educated and cooperating.
  3. The control over questionnaire may be lost once it is sent.
  4. There is inbuilt inflexibility because of the difficulty of amending the approach once questionnaires have been despatched.
  5. There is also the possibility of ambiguous replies or omission of replies altogether to certain questions; interpretation of omissions is difficult.
  6. It is difficult to know whether willing respondents are truly representative.
  7. This method is likely to be the slowest of all.

Before using this method, it is always advisable to conduct ‘pilot study’ (Pilot Survey) for testing the questionnaires. In a big enquiry the significance of pilot survey is felt very much. Pilot survey is infact the replica and rehearsal of the main survey. Such a survey, being conducted by experts, brings to the light the weaknesses (if any) of the questionnaires and also of the survey techniques. From the experience gained in this way, improvement can be effected.

Main aspects of a questionnaire: Quite often questionnaire is considered as the heart of a survey operation. Hence it should be very carefully constructed. If it is not properly set up, then the survey is bound to fail. This fact requires us to study the main aspects of a questionnaire viz., the general form, question sequence and question formulation and wording. Researcher should note the following with regard to these three main aspects of a questionnaire:

1. General form: So far as the general form of a questionnaire is concerned, it can either be structured or unstructured questionnaire. Structured questionnaires are those questionnaires in which there are definite, concrete and pre-determined questions. The questions are presented with exactly the same wording and in the same order to all respondents. Resort is taken to this sort of standardisation to ensure that all respondents reply to the same set of questions. The form of the question may be either closed (i.e., of the type ‘yes’ or ‘no’) or open (i.e., inviting free response) but should be stated in advance and not constructed during questioning. Structured questionnaires may also have fixed alternative questions in which responses of the informants are limited to the stated alternatives. Thus a highly structured questionnaire is one in which all questions and answers are specified and comments in the respondent’s own words are held to the minimum. When these characteristics are not present in a questionnaire, it can be termed as unstructured or non-structured questionnaire. More specifically, we can say that in an unstructured questionnaire, the interviewer is provided with a general guide on the type of information to be obtained, but the exact question formulation is largely his own responsibility and the replies are to be taken down in the respondent’s own words to the extent possible; in some situations tape recorders may be used to achieve this goal.

Structured questionnaires are simple to administer and relatively inexpensive to analyse. The provision of alternative replies, at times, helps to understand the meaning of the question clearly. But such questionnaires have limitations too. For instance, wide range of data and that too in respondent’s own words cannot be obtained with structured questionnaires. They are usually considered inappropriate in investigations where the aim happens to be to probe for attitudes and reasons for certain actions or feelings. They are equally not suitable when a problem is being first explored and working hypotheses sought. In such situations, unstructured questionnaires may be used effectively. Then on the basis of the results obtained in pretest (testing before final use) operations from the use of unstructured questionnaires, one can construct a structured questionnaire for use in the main study.

2. Question sequence: In order to make the questionnaire effective and to ensure quality to the replies received, a researcher should pay attention to the question-sequence in preparing the questionnaire. A proper sequence of questions reduces considerably the chances of individual questions being misunderstood. The question-sequence must be clear and smoothly-moving, meaning thereby that the relation of one question to another should be readily apparent to the respondent, with questions that are easiest to answer being put in the beginning. The first few questions are particularly important because they are likely to influence the attitude of the respondent and in seeking his desired cooperation. The opening questions should be such as to arouse human interest. The following type of questions should generally be avoided as opening questions in a questionnaire:

  1. questions that put too great a strain on the memory or intellect of the respondent;
  2. questions of a personal character;
  3. questions related to personal wealth, etc.

Following the opening questions, we should have questions that are really vital to the research problem and a connecting thread should run through successive questions. Ideally, the question- sequence should conform to the respondent’s way of thinking. Knowing what information is desired, the researcher can rearrange the order of the questions (this is possible in case of unstructured questionnaire) to fit the discussion in each particular case. But in a structured questionnaire the best that can be done is to determine the question-sequence with the help of a Pilot Survey which is likely to produce good rapport with most respondents. Relatively difficult questions must be relegated towards the end so that even if the respondent decides not to answer such questions, considerable information would have already been obtained. Thus, question-sequence should usually go from the general to the more specific and the researcher must always remember that the answer to a given question is a function not only of the question itself, but of all previous questions as well. For instance, if one question deals with the price usually paid for coffee and the next with reason for preferring that particular brand, the answer to this latter question may be couched largely in terms of price- differences.

3. Question formulation and wording: With regard to this aspect of questionnaire, the researcher should note that each question must be very clear for any sort of misunderstanding can do irreparable harm to a survey. Question should also be impartial in order not to give a biased picture of the true state of affairs. Questions should be constructed with a view to their forming a logical part of a well thought out tabulation plan. In general, all questions should meet the following standards—(a) should be easily understood; (b) should be simple i.e., should convey only one thought at a time; (c) should be concrete and should conform as much as possible to the respondent’s way of thinking. (For instance, instead of asking. “How many razor blades do you use annually?” The more realistic question would be to ask, “How many razor blades did you use last week?”

Concerning the form of questions, we can talk about two principal forms, viz., multiple choice question and the open-end question. In the former the respondent selects one of the alternative possible answers put to him, whereas in the latter he has to supply the answer in his own words. The question with only two possible answers (usually ‘Yes’ or ‘No’) can be taken as a special case of the multiple choice question, or can be named as a ‘closed question.’ There are some advantages and disadvantages of each possible form of question. Multiple choice or closed questions have the advantages of easy handling, simple to answer, quick and relatively inexpensive to analyse. They are most amenable to statistical analysis. Sometimes, the provision of alternative replies helps to make clear the meaning of the question. But the main drawback of fixed alternative questions is that of “putting answers in people’s mouths” i.e., they may force a statement of opinion on an issue about which the respondent does not infact have any opinion. They are not appropriate when the issue under consideration happens to be a complex one and also when the interest of the researcher is in the exploration of a process. In such situations, open-ended questions which are designed to permit a free response from the respondent rather than one limited to certain stated alternatives are considered appropriate. Such questions give the respondent considerable latitude in phrasing a reply. Getting the replies in respondent’s own words is, thus, the major advantage of open-ended questions. But one should not forget that, from an analytical point of view, open-ended questions are more difficult to handle, raising problems of interpretation, comparability and interviewer bias.*

In practice, one rarely comes across a case when one questionnaire relies on one form of questions alone. The various forms complement each other. As such questions of different forms are included in one single questionnaire. For instance, multiple-choice questions constitute the basis of a structured questionnaire, particularly in a mail survey. But even there, various open-ended questions are generally inserted to provide a more complete picture of the respondent’s feelings and attitudes.

Researcher must pay proper attention to the wordings of questions since reliable and meaningful returns depend on it to a large extent. Since words are likely to affect responses, they should be properly chosen. Simple words, which are familiar to all respondents should be employed. Words with ambiguous meanings must be avoided. Similarly, danger words, catch-words or words with emotional connotations should be avoided. Caution must also be exercised in the use of phrases which reflect upon the prestige of the respondent. Question wording, in no case, should bias the answer. In fact, question wording and formulation is an art and can only be learnt by practice.

Essentials of a good questionnaire: To be successful, questionnaire should be comparatively short and simple i.e., the size of the questionnaire should be kept to the minimum. Questions should proceed in logical sequence moving from easy to more difficult questions. Personal and intimate questions should be left to the end. Technical terms and vague expressions capable of different interpretations should be avoided in a questionnaire. Questions may be dichotomous (yes or no answers), multiple choice (alternative answers listed) or open-ended. The latter type of questions are often difficult to analyse and hence should be avoided in a questionnaire to the extent possible. There should be some control questions in the questionnaire which indicate the reliability of the respondent. For instance, a question designed to determine the consumption of particular material may be asked.

* Interviewer bias refers to the extent to which an answer is altered in meaning by some action or attitude on the part of the interviewer. first in terms of financial expenditure and later in terms of weight. The control questions, thus,  introduce a cross-check to see whether the information collected is correct or not. Questions affecting the sentiments of respondents should be avoided. Adequate space for answers should be provided in the questionnaire to help editing and tabulation. There should always be provision for indications of uncertainty, e.g., “do not know,” “no preference” and so on. Brief directions with regard to filling up the questionnaire should invariably be given in the questionnaire itself. Finally, the physical appearance of the questionnaire affects the cooperation the researcher receives from the recipients and as such an attractive looking questionnaire, particularly in mail surveys, is a plus point for enlisting cooperation. The quality of the paper, along with its colour, must be good so that it may attract the attention of recipients.


This method of data collection is very much like the collection of data through questionnaire, with little difference which lies in the fact that schedules (proforma containing a set of questions) are being filled in by the enumerators who are specially appointed for the purpose. These enumerators along with schedules, go to respondents, put to them the questions from the proforma in the order the questions are listed and record the replies in the space meant for the same in the proforma. In certain situations, schedules may be handed over to respondents and enumerators may help them in recording their answers to various questions in the said schedules. Enumerators explain the aims and objects of the investigation and also remove the difficulties which any respondent may feel in understanding the implications of a particular question or the definition or concept of difficult terms.

This method requires the selection of enumerators for filling up schedules or assisting respondents to fill up schedules and as such enumerators should be very carefully selected. The enumerators should be trained to perform their job well and the nature and scope of the investigation should be explained to them thoroughly so that they may well understand the implications of different questions put in the schedule. Enumerators should be intelligent and must possess the capacity of cross- examination in order to find out the truth. Above all, they should be honest, sincere, hardworking and should have patience and perseverance.

This method of data collection is very useful in extensive enquiries and can lead to fairly reliable results. It is, however, very expensive and is usually adopted in investigations conducted by governmental agencies or by some big organisations. Population census all over the world is conducted through this method. The representativeness of the panel relative to the population and the effect of panel membership on the information obtained after the two major problems associated with the use of this method of data collection.

1.  Use of mechanical devices: The use of mechanical devices has been widely made to collect information by way of indirect means. Eye camera, Pupilometric camera, Psychogalvanometer, Motion picture camera and Audiometer are the principal devices so far developed and commonly used by modern big business houses, mostly in the developed world for the purpose of collecting the required information.

Eye cameras are designed to record the focus of eyes of a respondent on a specific portion of a sketch or diagram or written material. Such an information is useful in designing advertising material. Pupilometric cameras record dilation of the pupil as a result of a visual stimulus. The extent of dilation shows the degree of interest aroused by the stimulus. Psychogalvanometer is used for measuring the extent of body excitement as a result of the visual stimulus. Motion picture cameras can be used to record movement of body of a buyer while deciding to buy a consumer good from a shop or big store. Influence of packaging or the information given on the label would stimulate a buyer to perform certain physical movements which can easily be recorded by a hidden motion picture camera in the shop’s four walls. Audiometers are used by some TV concerns to find out the type of programmes as well as stations preferred by people. A device is fitted in the television instrument itself to record these changes. Such data may be used to find out the market share of competing television stations.

2.   Projective techniques: Projective techniques (or what are sometimes called as indirect interviewing techniques) for the collection of data have been developed by psychologists to use projections of respondents for inferring about underlying motives, urges, or intentions which are such that the respondent either resists to reveal them or is unable to figure out himself. In projective techniques the respondent in supplying information tends unconsciously to project his own attitudes or feelings on the subject under study. Projective techniques play an important role in motivational researches or in attitude surveys.

The use of these techniques requires intensive specialised training. In such techniques, the individual’s responses to the stimulus-situation are not taken at their face value. The stimuli may arouse many different kinds of reactions. The nature of the stimuli and the way in which they are presented under these techniques do not clearly indicate the way in which the response is to be interpreted. The stimulus may be a photograph, a picture, an inkblot and so on. Responses to these stimuli are interpreted as indicating the individual’s own view, his personality structure, his needs, tensions, etc. in the context of some pre-established psychological conceptualisation of what the individual’s responses to the stimulus mean.

We may now briefly deal with the important projective techniques.

(i)  Word association tests: These tests are used to extract information regarding such words which have maximum association. In this sort of test the respondent is asked to mention the first word that comes to mind, ostensibly without thinking, as the interviewer reads out each word from a list. If the interviewer says cold, the respondent may say hot and the like ones. The general technique is to use a list of as many as 50 to 100 words. Analysis of the matching words supplied by the respondents indicates whether the given word should be used for the contemplated purpose. The same idea is exploited in marketing research to find out the quality that is mostly associated to a brand of a product. A number of qualities of a product may be listed and informants may be asked to write brand names possessing one or more of these. This technique is quick and easy to use, but yields reliable results when applied to words that are widely known and which possess essentially one type of meaning. This technique is frequently used in advertising research.

(ii) Sentence completion tests: These tests happen to be an extension of the technique of word association tests. Under this, informant may be asked to complete a sentence (such as: persons who wear Khadi are…) to find association of Khadi clothes with certain personality characteristics. Several sentences of this type might be put to the informant on the same subject. Analysis of replies from the same informant reveals his attitude toward that subject, and the combination of these attitudes of all the sample members is then taken to reflect the views of the population. This technique permits the testing not only of words (as in case of word association tests), but of ideas as well and thus, helps in developing hypotheses and in the construction of questionnaires. This technique is also quick and easy to use, but it often leads to analytical problems, particularly when the response happens to be multidimensional.

(iii) Story completion tests: Such tests are a step further wherein the researcher may contrive stories instead of sentences and ask the informants to complete them. The respondent is given just enough of story to focus his attention on a given subject and he is asked to supply a conclusion to the story.

(iv) Verbal projection tests: These are the tests wherein the respondent is asked to comment on or to explain what other people do. For example, why do people smoke? Answers may reveal the respondent’s own motivations.

(v) Pictorial techniques: There are several pictorial techniques. The important ones are as follows:

(a)  Thematic apperception test (T.A.T.): The TAT consists of a set of pictures (some of the pictures deal with the ordinary day-to-day events while others may be ambiguous pictures of unusual situations) that are shown to respondents who are asked to describe what they think the pictures represent. The replies of respondents constitute the basis for the investigator to draw inferences about their personality structure, attitudes, etc.

(b)  Rosenzweig test: This test uses a cartoon format wherein we have a series of cartoons with words inserted in ‘balloons’ above. The respondent is asked to put his own words in an empty balloon space provided for the purpose in the picture. From what the respondents write in this fashion, the study of their attitudes can be made.

(c)  Rorschach test: This test consists of ten cards having prints of inkblots. The design happens to be symmetrical but meaningless. The respondents are asked to describe what they perceive in such symmetrical inkblots and the responses are interpreted on the basis of some pre-determined psychological framework. This test is frequently used but the problem of validity still remains a major problem of this test.

(d)  Holtzman Inkblot Test (HIT): This test from W.H. Holtzman is a modification of the Rorschach Test explained above. This test consists of 45 inkblot cards (and not 10 inkblots as we find in case of Rorschach Test) which are based on colour, movement, shading and other factors involved in inkblot perception. Only one response per card is obtained from the subject (or the respondent) and the responses of a subject are interpreted at three levels of form appropriateness. Form responses are interpreted for knowing the accuracy (F) or inaccuracy (F–) of respondent’s percepts; shading and colour for ascertaining his affectional and emotional needs; and movement responses for assessing the dynamic aspects of his life.

Holtzman Inkblot Test or H.I.T. has several special features or advantages. For example, it elicits relatively constant number of responses per respondent. Secondly, it facilitates studying the responses of a respondent to different cards in the light of norms of each card instead of lumping them together. Thirdly, it elicits much more information from the respondent then is possible with merely 10 cards in Rorschach test; the 45 cards used in this test provide a variety of stimuli to the respondent and as such the range of responses elicited by the test is comparatively wider.

There are some limitations of this test as well. One difficulty that remains in using this test is that most of the respondents do not know the determinants of their perceptions, but for the researcher, who has to interpret the protocols of a subject and understand his personality (or attitude) through them, knowing the determinant of each of his response is a must. This fact emphasises that the test must be administered individually and a post-test inquiry must as well be conducted for knowing the nature and sources of responses and this limits the scope of HIT as a group test of personality. Not only this, “the usefulness of HIT for purposes of personal selection, vocational guidance, etc. is still to be established.”1

In view of these limitations, some people have made certain changes in applying this test. For instance, Fisher and Cleveland in their approach for obtaining Barrier score of an individual’s personality have developed a series of multiple choice items for 40 of HIT cards. Each of these cards is presented to the subject along with three acceptable choices [such as ‘Knight in armour’ (Barrier response), ‘X-Ray’ (Penetrating response) and ‘Flower’ (Neutral response)]. Subject taking the test is to check the choice he likes most, make a different mark against the one he likes least and leave the third choice blank. The number of barrier responses checked by him determines his barrier score on the test.

(e)  Tomkins-Horn picture arrangement test: This test is designed for group administration. It consists of twenty-five plates, each containing three sketches that may be arranged in different ways to portray sequence of events. The respondent is asked to arrange them in a sequence which he considers as reasonable. The responses are interpreted as providing evidence confirming certain norms, respondent’s attitudes, etc.

(vi)    Play techniques: Under play techniques subjects are asked to improvise or act out a situation in which they have been assigned various roles. The researcher may observe such traits as hostility, dominance, sympathy, prejudice or the absence of such traits. These techniques have been used for knowing the attitudes of younger ones through manipulation of dolls. Dolls representing different racial groups are usually given to children who are allowed to play with them freely. The manner in which children organise dolls would indicate their attitude towards the class of persons represented by dolls. This is also known as doll-play test, and is used frequently in studies pertaining to sociology. The choice of colour, form, words, the sense of orderliness and other reactions may provide opportunities to infer deep-seated feelings.

(vii)  Quizzes, tests and examinations: This is also a technique of extracting information regarding specific ability of candidates indirectly. In this procedure both long and short questions are framed to test through them the memorising and analytical ability of candidates.

(viii)  Sociometry: Sociometry is a technique for describing the social relationships among individuals in a group. In an indirect way, sociometry attempts to describe attractions or repulsions between individuals by asking them to indicate whom they would choose or reject in various situations. Thus, sociometry is a new technique of studying the underlying motives of respondents. “Under this an attempt is made to trace the flow of information amongst groups and then examine the ways in which new ideas are diffused. Sociograms are constructed to identify leaders and followers.”2 Sociograms are charts that depict the sociometric choices. There are many versions of the sociogram pattern and the reader is suggested to consult specialised references on sociometry for the purpose. This approach has been applied to the diffusion of ideas on drugs amongst medical practitioners.

1 S.L. Dass, “Personality Assessment Through Projective Movie Pictures”, p. 17.

3. Depth interviews: Depth interviews are those interviews that are designed to discover underlying motives and desires and are often used in motivational research. Such interviews are held to explore needs, desires and feelings of respondents. In other words, they aim to elicit unconscious as also other types of material relating especially to personality dynamics and motivations. As such, depth interviews require great skill on the part of the interviewer and at the same time involve considerable time. Unless the researcher has specialised training, depth interviewing should not be attempted.

Depth interview may be projective in nature or it may be a non-projective interview. The difference lies in the nature of the questions asked. Indirect questions on seemingly irrelevant subjects provide information that can be related to the informant’s behaviour or attitude towards the subject under study. Thus, for instance, the informant may be asked on his frequency of air travel and he might again be asked at a later stage to narrate his opinion concerning the feelings of relatives of some other man who gets killed in an airplane accident. Reluctance to fly can then be related to replies to questions of the latter nature. If the depth interview involves questions of such type, the same may be treated as projective depth interview. But in order to be useful, depth interviews do not necessarily have to be projective in nature; even non-projective depth interviews can reveal important aspects of psycho-social situation for understanding the attitudes of people.

4. Content-analysis: Content-analysis consists of analysing the contents of documentary materials such as books, magazines, newspapers and the contents of all other verbal materials which can be either spoken or printed. Content-analysis prior to 1940’s was mostly quantitative analysis of documentary materials concerning certain characteristics that can be identified and counted. But since 1950’s content-analysis is mostly qualitative analysis concerning the general import or message of the existing documents. “The difference is somewhat like that between a casual interview and depth interviewing.”3 Bernard Berelson’s name is often associated with. the latter type of content- analysis. “Content-analysis is measurement through proportion…. Content analysis measures pervasiveness and that is sometimes an index of the intensity of the force.”4

The analysis of content is a central activity whenever one is concerned with the study of the nature of the verbal materials. A review of research in any area, for instance, involves the analysis of the contents of research articles that have been published. The analysis may be at a relatively simple level or may be a subtle one. It is at a simple level when we pursue it on the basis of certain characteristics of the document or verbal materials that can be identified and counted (such as on the basis of major scientific concepts in a book). It is at a subtle level when researcher makes a study of the attitude, say of the press towards education by feature writers.

2 G.B. Giles, Marketing, p. 40–41.

3 Carter V. Good and Douglas E. Scates, Methods of Research, p. 670.

4 Ibid., p. 670.


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