Primary Data Collection

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Primary data collection is the process of gathering data through surveys, interviews or experiments. A typical example of primary data is household surveys. Researchers can personally direct primary data collection to ensure that data meets the standards of quality, availability, statistical power and sampling required for a particular research question. With globally increasing access to specialized survey tools, survey firms, and field manuals, primary data has become the dominant source for empirical inquiry in development economics.

Read First

  • Primary data collection typically requires a great deal of foresight, planning and coordination.
  • DIME's Research Standards provide a comprehensive checklist to ensure that collection and handling of research data are in line with global best-practices.
  • The large majority of primary data comes from personal interviews. Depending on the research, these may take the form of household surveys, business (firm) surveys, or agricultural (farm) surveys.
  • iefieldkit is a Stata package that aids primary data collection. It currently supports three major components of that workflow: survey design; survey completion; and data-cleaning and survey harmonization.


The following are critical steps in preparing for and conducting primary data collection:

Pre-register research

Pre-register and consider producing a pre-analysis plan.

Acquire approval from human subjects

Acquire human subjects approval and get set up with the proper tools for encryption and de-identification.

Compile the survey budget

Compile the survey budget

Determine and set the relevant sampling parameters.

Determine the sampling frame, calculate sample size, conduct sampling and power calculations, and randomize treatment.

Desing and translate the survey instrument

Design and translate the survey instrument

Program the instrument

Program the instrument f data is being collected electronically via a Computer-Assisted Personal Interviews (CAPI) or Computer-Assisted Field Entry (CAFE) survey.

Establish survey protocols

Establish survey protocols.

Pilot the survey instrument

Pilot the survey instrument–both the content and protocols.

Procure a survey firm

Procure a survey firm, taking care to prepare detailed Terms of Reference.

Train enumerators

Train enumerators

Monitor data quality

Monitor data quality can be done through back-checks, high frequency checks, and other methods.

Maintain an organized data folder

via iefolder.

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This article is part of the topic primary data collection

Additional Resources

  • Oxfam provides a detailed case study of how to use electronic data collection (SurveyCTO) combined with Stata code to improve data quality in the field.