Definition

For most research projects the data collection phase feels like the most important part. However, you should avoid jumping straight into this phase until you have adequately defined your research problem, and the extent and limitations of your research. If you are too hasty you risk collecting data that you will not be able to use. Consider how you are going to store and retrieve your data.

Introduction to literature reviews

You should set up a system that allows you to:. There are many systems that support effective data collection and retrieval. These range from card indexes and cross-referenced exercise books, through electronic tools like spreadsheets, databases and bibliographic software, to discipline-specific tools. You should talk about how you plan to store your data with your supervisor, an information librarian, or a study adviser in the Learning Development. As you undertake your research you are likely to come up with lots of ideas. It can be valuable to keep a record of these ideas on index cards, in a dedicated notebook, or in an electronic file.


  • Planning and conducting a dissertation research project.
  • Studies preparing students for the thesis process.
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They may be useful as ideas in themselves, and may be useful as a record of how your thinking developed through the research process. A pilot study involves preliminary data collection, using your planned methods, but with a very small sample. It aims to test out your approach, and identify any details that need to be addressed before the main data collection goes ahead. For example, you could get a small group to fill in your questionnaire, perform a single experiment, or analyse a single novel or document.

When you complete your pilot study you should be cautious about reading too much into the results that you have generated although these can sometimes be interesting. The real value of your pilot study is what it tells you about your method. Spend time reflecting on the implications that your pilot study might have for your research project, and make the necessary adjustment to your plan. Even if you do not have the time or opportunity to run a formal pilot study, you should try and reflect on your methods after you have started to generate some data.

Once you start to generate data you may find that the research project is not developing as you had hoped. Do not be upset that you have encountered a problem. Research is, by its nature, unpredictable. Analyse the situation.