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Data-collecting instruments

Data collection is an important step in the research process. The instrument you choose to collect the data will depend on the type of data you plan on collecting (qualitative or quantitative) and how you plan to collect it.

A number of common data-collecting instruments are used in construction research:

  • Questionnaires
  • Interviews
  • Observations
  • Archival documents and government sources
  • Laboratory experiments
  • Quasi experiment
  • Scales (measuring and weighing tapes)

Let’s look at three of the most used data-collecting instruments in more detail.


The questionnaire is a tool designed for the collection of quantitative data, and is widely used in construction research as it is a good research instrument for collecting standardised data and making generalisations. Questionnaires can provide quick responses but adequate care must be taken when developing questionnaires, to ensure you don’t influence the response you receive. The design of your questionnaire should reflect your research aims and objectives.


Interviews are a tool mainly for the collection of qualitative data and are popular as a data-collection tool because of their flexibility.

According to Silverman (1997: 98), interviews are:

… active interactions between two or more people leading to a negotiated contextually based result.

These interactions can come in a structured or semi-structured form to generate insights and concepts.

When planning and considering an interview, the following factors are taken into consideration:

  • Completeness
  • Tact
  • Precision
  • Accuracy
  • Confidentiality

Interviews require specialised skills from the interviewer, who will need to negotiate a good partnership with the respondent to ensure a highly detailed and valid set of qualitative data is collected and transcribed effectively.

Jones (1985: 46) explains the reason behind conducting an interview:

In order to understand other persons’ constructions of reality, we would do well to ask them […] and to ask them in such a way that they can tell us in their terms […] and in a depth which addresses the rich context that is the substance of their meanings.

There are different types of interview:

  • Individual, face-to-face verbal interchange
  • Face-to-face group interviews (focus groups)
  • Telephone surveys

Interviews can be:

  • Conducted as a one-time occurrence
  • Conducted as multiple, longer sessions
  • Structured, semi-structured, unstructured


Observation is a systematic data-collecting technique that involves watching individuals in their natural environment or in a naturally occurring situation.

The processes under observation are normal and not contrived. They can range from individual cases, through to groups and whole communities. They provide highly detailed information about natural processes. The data collection is laborious and time-consuming and may have to be repeated to ensure reliability. However, observation schedules based on a set of expectations can make data collection easier.

The level of observer participation can vary from wholly participant to non-participant. The non-participant observer has limited interaction with the people being observed.

Observers can collect data through field notes, video or audio recording, which can be analysed using qualitative analytical tools. If you code your observations to exact numerical data, it can be analysed using a quantitative approach.

One of the main benefits of using a wholly or partial participant observation is that the level of immersion and prolonged involvement with participants can lead to a good rapport, thereby encouraging participants to speak up freely. This helps with the rich details of the collected data.


Jones, S. (1985) ‘Depth Interviewing’. Applied Qualitative Research. Aldershot, UK: Gower

Silverman, D. (1997) Qualitative Research: Theory, Method and Practice. London: Sage.

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This article is from the free online course:

Research for Construction Management

Coventry University