August 10, 2023

Your report: Data collection (1)

Your report: Data collection (1)

RESEARCH is a crucial part of your data collection process after you have done sufficient planning of your report. If you fail to undertake proper research, your report won’t stand out, even though doing good research doesn’t necessarily mean that you would write a great report! You just need to know your onions regarding report writing.

Recall that in earlier series we referred to your skeletal framework. Your subsequent research would facilitate fleshing out the framework. We may think of the process of data collection as doing the following: locating sources of relevant information; obtaining the information; sorting and grouping the findings; evaluating the findings; prioritising the findings; and checking your findings. I’ll discuss them one after the other.

There are four sources of information you may refer to: people, books and other publications, information technology, and events and places. Keep in mind that before you look to these sources of information, you already figured out the why of your report, the needs of your readers, your objectives, your resources, and your skeletal framework (I already discussed these points in previous column posts). How might you refer to people in seeking information? This simply is a recourse to individuals or groups you know, who can support your research purpose. These individuals or groups could be your colleagues, members of the public, politicians, producers, manufacturers, retailers, non-governmental organisations, and other groups not here captured but known to you.

Asides talking with people, you may also make recourse to electronic or printed materials, such as textbooks, journals, previous reports, newspapers, correspondence, guides, and maps. These have a way of giving you more insight in your chosen research. Regarding information technology, isn’t it true that there is limitless access to information nowadays? All that’s required is your readiness to invest time and effort into tracking down the facts and figures you really want.

There is information overload; however, with consistency and practice, you become skilled at sifting through the weeds and locating the wheat you desire. The Internet hosts a wide array of information from computer systems around the world. With it, you can search and unearth tremendously valuable information that could make your research rock! Currently we talk about artificial intelligence and how it has propelled an unleashing of information to a degree never known before. 

In addition to the aforementioned, there are other places or events that you could extract information for your research. You could check out libraries, museums, exhibitions, galleries, theatres, concerts, learning resources centres, and other programmes where information is regularly shared. Now you may wonder how to go about obtaining the information, having known the sources you wish to extract them from. There are several methods you can deploy to achieve this. Firstly, you could conduct an experimentation.

But this will work if you are a trained scientist who can design and perform it in an acceptable way. How should you go about it? Begin with a dated heading clearly stating the objective of the experiment. For example, you could write, ‘To study xyz’, or ‘To find xyz’. Then go ahead to give a brief account of the theory that underlies the experiment; provide a hypothesis (i.e., suggested answer), if you have one; give a clear and full account of how the experiment was carried out.

It is usually necessary to provide a diagram of the apparatus used; provide a complete list of the readings you obtained; provide a full statement of the result, showing the estimated limits of error; and then conclude with a clear and concise statement of what your results lead you to infer or deduce about the problem posed. If you have a hypothesis, refer to it at this point. If you have any relevant views on the experiment or the result obtained, include these. 

Also, if you believe that the experiment could have been improved in some way, explain why and how. By doing all of this, your approach to conducting the experiment would not be faulted by anyone. Another way to gather information is through reading. Not all materials require the same level of focus. Some are more complex than the others, and some are read just for entertainment or knowledge-gathering, or for some other reason. If you are reading to understand, absorb, or master a topic, you must read the material with a lot of focus, not necessarily in a slow manner. Of course, when reading for entertainment you could do so rapidly. I am sure you have heard about the SQ3R method of reading. It has been tried and is now trusted. The acronym is a representation for ‘Survey’, ‘Question’, ‘Read’, ‘Recall’, and ‘Review’. 

What this means is that you begin by undertaking a survey of the material you want to read. Do a preliminary review by skimming – i.e., glancing over the material and getting the feel of it, and scanning – i.e., looking at specific aspects of the publication – the title, the author, the date, the preface, the introduction, the contents, any chapter summaries, and the index. If it is a book, it is best to read the first and last paragraphs of potentially relevant chapters and the first and last sentences of a sample of paragraphs within these chapters.

Such scanning should give you an overall impression of the publication. Some of the things that will immediately occur to you as you do this will be thoughts of whether the material is pitched at the right level; if it is up to date; if the author is a recognised authority in the field; and if the book is factual or based on opinion. Then you could explore questions such as, ‘What would I expect to gain if I read some or all of this material?’ ‘Are some or all of the material directly relevant to my report?’ and ‘Does some or all of it provide a useful background to my report?’ 

Remember the 80/20 rule. In this case it means to use 20 per cent of your time to read up 80 per cent of your material. In other words, can you decide where the 80 per cent of the information you seek appears in the material so you can dedicate less time to the reading? And once you have decided to read some or all of a publication, divide your reading into manageable segments, probably chapters or sections. Read any summaries or conclusions first. Next read the chapter or section quickly to get a grasp of the material. Finally, read it again, with more focus on the parts that contain the points you are looking for.

•Dr. Oji is a Senior Lecturer of English at the Institute of Humanities, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos