Irrespective of your research methods and study type, during the course of your thesis research you will collect a lot of data. It is essential that before you begin collecting data that you have drafted a plan for:
- Managing your data so that it remains secure, confidential and isn’t at risk of being lost or destroyed
- Ensuring the quality of the recorded data
Be sure to establish a procedure for double storing data. Both qualitative data (e.g. transcribed interviews) and quantitative data (e.g. survey responses) should be stored in duplicate. If you are doing a desk study, it is a good idea to save a copy of all reviewed papers in duplicate in the event of a laptop failure. One copy may be kept on your laptop while another copy is saved to an affordable remote server like Dropbox (see dropbox.com). If you do not have access to data storage on a remote server, be sure to back up data to a separate hard drive than the one on your PC. Data should be backed up every 24-48 hours.
Paper copies of interviews and surveys that contain participant data should be kept securely locked to ensure confidentiality. It is also a good idea to make photo copies of paper based data and either scan them or store them separately in case of loss or damage.
A number of things can go wrong when collecting data. Some of the more common issues reported include:
- The incorrect selection of participants (e.g. choosing participants who don’t meet the inclusion criteria)
- Incorrect case definitions, so that symptoms, signs and characteristics are misinterpreted
- Poor recording of data on printed forms
- Misreading of printed forms and protocols
- Failure to save data collected via electronic data collection devices such as smart phones and iPads
- Mistakes made during data transfer or data entry
Learn how to control data quality in the following.