There are many different ways that data can be organized and classified. In this post, we will look at data as it is classified by purpose. Essentially, data can be gathered for non-research or research purposes. Data collected for non-research purposes is called gathered data and data collected for research purposes is called designed data.
Gathered data is data that is obtained from sources that were not developed with the intention of conducting research specifically. Examples of gathered data would be data found in social media such as Twitter or YouTube and data that is scraped from a website. In each of those examples, data was collected but not necessarily for an empirical theory testing purpose.
Gathered data is also collected in many ways beyond websites. Other modes of data collection could be sensors such as traffic light cameras, transactions such as those at a store, and wearables such as those used during exercise.
Just because the data was not collected for research purposes does not mean that it cannot be used for this purpose. Gathered data is frequently used to support research as it can be analyzed and insights developed from it. The challenge is that the gathered data may not directly address whatever research questions a researcher may have which necessitates using this data as a proxy for a construct or rephrasing research questions to align with what the gathered data can answer. Gathered data is also referred to as big data or organic data.
Designed data is data that was developed and collected for a specific research purpose. Often this data is collected from people or establishments for answering scientifically designed research questions. A common way of collecting this form of data is the use of a survey and these surveys can be conducted in-person, online, and or over the phone. These forms of data collection are in contrast to gathered data which collects data passively and without human interaction. This leads to an important distinction in that gathered data is probably strictly quantitative because of its impersonal nature while designed data can be quantitative and or qualitative in nature because it is possible to have a human element in the collection process.
When a researcher wants designed data they will go through the process of conducting research which often includes developing a problem, purpose, research questions, and methodology. All of these steps are commonly involved in conducting research in general. The data that is collected for design purposes is then used to address the research questions of the study.
The purpose of this process is to ensure that the data collected will answer the specific questions the researcher has in mind. In other words, designed data is designed to answer specific research questions while gathered can hopefully answer some questions.
Understanding what data was collected for is beneficial for researchers because it helps them to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses the data may have based on its purpose. Neither gathered nor designed data is superior to the other. Rather, the difference is in what was the inspiration for collecting the data.