Online Data Collection: Fors and Againsts

Nasim Ahamed Mondal

Though several benefits have been identified when it comes to online data collection, still it was not very popular among academic researchers. This comparatively unpopular online data collection method is in trend now among the Indian academic researchers in particular and global academic researchers in general in the wake of COVID-19. It is crystal clear that no data collection method is without drawbacks. This writes up has been confined to discuss some of the most important pros and cons that take place in using the online data collection method.

Online data collection has the potential of accessing a large and geographically distributed population along with being time and cost-efficient for the researcher. It gives researchers a unique opportunity to collect data through the internet. The researcher can particularly use it for collecting preliminary data and for pretesting research design and question comprehension. In addition to that, it is very advantageous for outside researchers. Some of the most important advantages of online data collection include 1. Reduced cost (i.e., labor, copying, postage, etc.), 2. Higher response rates, lack of geographical boundaries, 3. Fewer respondent errors and omissions than paper surveys. 4. The marginal cost of surveying is also reduced by making larger samples possible. Like any other survey, response rates can be increased if messages and questions are concise.

Keeping all the above points in mind, one may think that data collection in academic research through paper-and-pencil (in person) might be replaced by the online data collection method in the near future, but this is not accepted by all researchers. A number of known problems are faced by the researcher when they collect data through an online survey. Some of the most crucial disadvantages are discussed here:

 Inherent biases are there in the data collection process itself when it comes to online data collection. The lion’s share of the Indians neither has internet access nor experience with the electronic survey. Many are unprivileged youth, older women and men and minority household heads, or those with modest incomes and education. Even many privileged people, especially older women and men, are not enough experienced to execute the online survey process either as a sample or as a researcher to conduct because of its technical difficulties.

 The willingness to participate in online surveys: Most of the time, the researcher sends a link through different social media (i.e., Whatsapp, Facebook, etc.) to random people with a humble request “could you please help me by participating in my online survey? It will not take more than 15 minutes”. It is evident from the several studies that the response rate for the online data collection method varies from 15 percent to 30 percent. Moreover, the response rate in online data collection is not beyond the questions since there is hardly any use of the entire population lists. A response rate cannot be determined unless the target audience for a Web-based survey is a known and finite group. By having a big heart, even if one assumes that the response rate for the online data collection method is 30, then also one has to understand that whether that 30 percent of people executed the survey by reading the entire questionnaire carefully or not. Because many times, respondents execute the survey for the sake of close friends, seniors, and faculty’s requests without carefully reading the entire questionnaire. Most of the time, An online questionnaire is click-based (one has to click only, and that is possible without reading), not descriptive.

 In an online data collection method, reaching the target population also posses certain difficulties. The control of the population can be achieved through the use of population lists, but it is very difficult to acquire.

 Security and confidentiality are one of the biggest issues involved in the online data collection method. Any scientific research should be done after taking ethical clearance from the respective committee. But many times, researchers are circulating the link to anyone randomly without taking prior ethical clearance from the respective committee. Even if one assumes that online data collection is taking place after taking ethical clearance from the respective committee, then also it is not beyond question in its authenticity, especially in the wake of COVID-19.

 It is vivid from the above discussion that data quality would be very poor through the online data collection method unless it is executed very carefully. So, it is praiseworthy to carry out research even in a situation where we all are under lockdown. All the aforesaid points are imperative to know for both a researcher as well as a respondent before enjoining any online data collection method. Careful consideration must be given on whether an online questionnaire contains any personal information or not.

Nasim Ahamed Mondal, International Institute for Population Sciences,Mumbai – 400088

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Jul 6, 2020

Nasim Ahamed

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