Fieldwork - data collection and sampling

Fieldwork involves the collection of information or data. Quantitative data usually consists of factual information that can be counted and used in fieldwork. Qualitative data is more opinion-based, but is still useful for geographical investigations.

Exploring some of the numbers and data types that geographers handle

Data collection sheets

Data collection sheet being filled out by a person with a clipboard

Data can either be:

  1. primary - information that you collect yourself, eg tallies, measurements and photographs
  2. secondary - information that someone else has previously collected and made available, eg on the internet

The design of primary data collection sheets is important. Simple methods of noting down information leads to clear and accurate data. Informed conclusions can then be drawn.


It's important to collect enough data to give a good picture of events. Any data collected should not be biased, for example, some younger people might think that skate parks improve their city, but some older people might prefer gyms or cafes, so ask a mixture of different ages to gain a balanced view.

Sampling techniques help to avoid bias:

  1. Random sampling - selecting a person to interview or site to measure, at random. Random sampling is unbiased as particular people or places are not specifically selected.
  2. Systematic sampling - collecting data in an ordered or regular way, eg every 5 metres or every fifth person.
  3. Stratified sampling - dividing sampling into groups, eg three sites from each section of coastline, or five people from each age range. It is possible to combine stratified sampling with random or systematic sampling:
    • stratified random sampling - random samples are taken from within certain categories
    • stratified systematic sampling - regular samples are taken from within certain categories