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Data collection methods

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Personal interviews

Face-to-face: involves trained interviewers visiting people to collect questionnaire data. It is a good approach for ensuring a high response rate to a sample survey or census, and trained interviewers gather better quality data. However, there are some disadvantages to this approach. Respondents may not always be available for interviews and the travel costs of the interviewer could be high.

Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI): is a form of personal interviewing, but instead of completing a questionnaire, the interviewer brings along a laptop or hand-held computer to enter the information directly into the database. This method saves time involved in processing the data, as well as saving the interviewer from carrying around hundreds of questionnaires. However, this type of data collection method can be expensive to set up and requires that interviewers have computer and typing skills.

Telephone interviews

Telephone: involves trained interviewers phoning people to collect questionnaire data. This method is quicker and less expensive than face-to-face interviewing. However, only people with telephones can be interviewed (about 98% of the Canadian population), and the respondent can end the interview very easily!

Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI): is a type of telephone interview, but with the interviewer keying respondent answers directly into a computer. This saves time involved in processing data, but can be expensive to set up, and requires interviewers to have computer and typing skills. Statistics Canada uses this approach for many of its surveys such as the Youth In Transition Survey, the Monthly Survey of Manufacturing, the General Social Survey and the Workplace Employee Survey.


Mail survey: a common method of conducting Statistics Canada's economic surveys. It is a relatively inexpensive method of collecting data, and one that can distribute large numbers of questionnaires in a short time. It provides the opportunity to contact hard-to-reach people, and respondents are able to complete the questionnaire in their own time. Mail surveys do require an up-to-date list of names and addresses, however. In addition, there is also the need to keep the questionnaire simple and straightforward.

A major disadvantage of a mail survey is that it usually has lower response rates than other data collection methods. This may lead to problems with data quality. Also, people with a limited ability to read or write English or French may experience problems.

Hand-delivered questionnaire: a self-enumerated survey where questionnaires are hand-delivered to people and mailed back by the respondent after completion. This method usually results in better response rates than a mail survey, and is particularly suitable when information is needed from several household members. The hand-delivered with pickup method has been used by Statistics Canada's Census of Population. The hand-delivered with respondent mail-back method can reduce the cost of collecting forms and gives a greater sense of privacy for respondents concerned with someone entering their home or business to collect the forms.

Other methods

Electronic Data Reporting (EDR): Electronic forms have been available at Statistics Canada for some surveys (mainly for business surveys) since the early 1990s. Although this type of data reporting is still quite rare, it gives the respondents the option of choosing how they would like to report the data: filling out the usual paper questionnaire or using the electronic version. Because the technology evolves so quickly, remaining up-to-date with good and secure applications requires major investments. Statistics Canada keeps up its efforts in this area.

The Internet: The growing popularity of the Internet brought a major shift in Electronic Data Reporting (EDR). It is hard to find a quick and easy way of reporting answers through the Internet without sacrificing any of Statistics Canada's principles concerning confidentiality, privacy and data quality. The Agency has begun introducing pilot projects for a diverse range of important surveys involving respondents from households, universities, businesses, and federal departments. Pilot projects include, most recently, the 2001 Census of Population, the Annual Retail and Wholesale Trade Survey, the Unified Enterprise Survey and the Business Payroll Survey.

Other methods include direct observation, such as that used in pricing surveys, or the use of existing administrative records. The choice of method depends on various factors: complexity and length of questionnaire, sensitivity of requested information, geographical dispersion of survey population, cost and time frame.

Often the most satisfactory collection strategy uses a combination of methods. For example, mail surveys have proven to be quite efficient when designed as a follow-up for those who did not respond by telephone interview.