Columns

August 17, 2023

Your report: Data collection (2), By Ruth Oji

Your report: Data collection (2), By Ruth Oji

EFFECTIVE listening is a skill to deploy when you seek to gather data for your report. Avoid getting into the trap of thinking that the topic is boring or irrelevant. As a good listener, be ready to sift, screen, and hunt for relevant information. That helps you take what you require while showing an active interest in your speaker. Do not also fall into the trap of being overly critical of the speaker, perhaps judging their grammatical expressions or pronunciation flaws. 

Rather, you should focus on the content they’re delivering, which is what you need to finish up your report. When you listen effectively, you think of the main ideas, concepts, and structure, and how the values, attitudes, and prejudices of the speaker leads to bias and affects the presentation. Do not tolerate distractions or listen passively. Keep thinking about the evidence the speaker presents and assess it for its objectivity, accuracy, and completeness. That will help you know whether you should use the information.  In all, be thoroughly involved in the process so that you sift the wheat from the chaff. In addition to listening effectively, you may engage in observing and recording your findings.

Another skilled technique that may assist you with data collection is that of interviewing. It is not enough to simply ask people a few questions and then move on. You need to know how to do it well. While the interview should appear to be reasonably casual, it must be planned and structured to enable you achieve the objectives of your research. Without preplanning and structuring of the interview, you are likely to be all over the place and not know what’s what. How might you go about an interview session? You could greet the interviewee but be sure to do so in a friendly manner. Don’t engage in much small talk; rather, maintain a professional image. 

Let the interviewee know precisely why you’re interviewing them and assure them you will appreciate their input. Use open questions culled from the 5w’s and 1 h (who, what, when, why, where, and how). You could follow up with auxiliary questions that show that you were paying attention. The follow up questions could help the interviewee shed more light on the issue being discussed. Remember to give time for the responses. Don’t be in a hurry to jump to the next question, and do not ask too many questions at a time. Be patient. After the interview, do what is called concept checking to ensure your own understanding of what has been said tallies with that of the interviewee. And lastly, do not fail to thank the interviewee for their time. It is so precious a commodity and should never be taken for granted. 

You may decide not to use the interview mode because it may not yield the right results for you or does not fit the context you are writing about. You may then choose the option of writing a letter to source information. There are certain things you need to keep in mind to get this done well. You must know whom you’re writing to and their designation and organisation (for example, Dr Ruth Oji, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Humanities, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos). What this does is that it ensures the letter is well received by the intended recipient. 

Again, be sure to give the letter a heading and explain in the first paragraph the purpose of your report. Remember, no one has the time for long-winded letters that are not explicit. Do not perambulate. Be courteous in your request for information but keep it short, simple, and pointed. Give a timeline you wish to receive the response but be sure to send yours way ahead of time. Always thank the person for their time. Nobody owes you their time!

At other times, your data collation may be through a phone call, but this is not always advisable because when issues are complex or numbers are involved, it might be dicey. While it is true that you can always ask them to spell what they said, imagine how awkward that would be to do so all through the conversation. So, if you decide to proceed with making a phone call, do the following: write down the questions you want to ask; have a pen and notebook. Before you start, check your call balance, and ensure you have enough airtime to make the call. Save yourself the embarrassment of having the call end abruptly and you having to call back to apologize for your line’s airtime getting exhausted. You just wouldn’t have a leg to stand on!  Having put those in place, then place the call. Give your name and ask for the right person. I sometimes get calls and I get put off when people do not introduce themselves properly and want to begin acting all friendly. You quickly need to explain why you are telephoning. Don’t hesitate to emphasize that you are not selling anything. Be polite as you request the information you seek and let them know (always do this) that their input would be much appreciated. End your call by thanking the person by their name. 

If you do not speak clearly, it’d be taken that you are not confident, so speak distinctly, deliberately, and a little more slowly than you normally do. Make your voice pleasant, cheerful, and positive. And most important, keep your conversation short – you do not own people’s time (I cannot emphasize this enough!).

How about you decide to gather your information through sending out a questionnaire? To do this, you need to know whom your respondents would be. There are two kinds of information you may seek to obtain in a questionnaire – it could be factual, or opinion based. A survey is necessary only if the information sought is not already available or if the information at your disposal is out of date. Remember also that most of the people you’re looking to answer your questionnaire are those you don’t know, so do not impose on their time. Be courteous with your wording of the questionnaire and your general approach. Keep in mind that a good questionnaire must answer the following questions: Does it have a title? Does it have a reference or questionnaire number? Does it record the name of the interviewer? Is it well spaced? Does it explain the purpose of the questionnaire? Where appropriate, does it emphasize that all replies will be treated confidentially?

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