Research Instrument

Market research is a common practice used by companies to learn about customer behaviour and design suitable marketing campaigns. However, researching the market is not easy. To simplify the process, researchers can make use of research instruments. These are tools for collecting, measuring, and analysing data. Read along to learn what research instruments are used for and how they can be applied.

Research Instrument Research Instrument

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Table of contents

    Research Instrument Meaning

    Research instruments are tools used for data collection and analysis. Researchers can use these tools in most fields. In business, they aid marketers in market research and customer behaviour study.

    Some examples of research instruments include interviews, questionnaires, online surveys, and checklists.

    Choosing the right research instrument is essential as it can reduce data collection time and provide more accurate results for the research purpose.

    A research instrument is a tool for collecting and analysing data in research.

    Data in research is a form of evidence. It justifies how marketers reach a decision and apply a particular strategy to a marketing campaign.

    In research, marketers often collect data from various sources to produce and validate research results.

    Research Instrument Examples

    There are many examples of research instruments. The most common ones are interviews, surveys, observations, and focus groups. Let's break them down one by one.

    Research Instrument: Interviews

    Research Instrument Interview example StudySmarterInterview as a research instrument, Unsplash

    The interview is a qualitative research method that collects data by asking questions. It includes three main types: structured, unstructured, and semi-structured interviews.

    • Structured interviews include an ordered list of questions. These questions are often closed-ended and draw a yes, no or a short answer from the respondents. Structured interviews are easy to execute but leave little room for spontaneity.

    • Unstructured interviews are the opposite of structured interviews. Questions are mostly open-ended and are not arranged in order. The participants can express themselves more freely and elaborate on their answers.

    • Semi-structured interviews are a blend of structured and unstructured interviews. They are more organised than unstructured interviews, though not as rigid as structured interviews.

    Compared to other research instruments, interviews provide more reliable results and allow the interviewers to engage and connect with the participants. However, it requires experienced interviewers to drive the best response from the interviewees.

    Tools used in interviews may include:

    • Audio recorder (face-to-face interview)

    • Cam recorder & video conferencing tools (online interview)

    Check out our explanation Interview in Research to learn more.

    Research Instrument: Surveys

    Survey research is another primary data collection method that involves asking a group of people for their opinions on a topic. However, surveys are often given out in paper form or online instead of meeting the respondents face-to-face.

    An example is a feedback survey you receive from a company from which you just purchased a product.

    The most common form of a survey is a questionnaire. It is a list of questions to collect opinions from a group. These questions can be close-ended, open-ended, pre-selected answers, or scale ratings. Participants can receive the same or alternate questions.

    The main benefit of a survey is that it is a cheap way to collect data from a large group. Most surveys are also anonymous, making people more comfortable sharing honest opinions. However, this approach does not always guarantee a response since people tend to ignore surveys in their email inboxes or in-store.

    There are many types of surveys, including paper and online surveys.

    Check out our explanation of Survey Research to learn more.

    Research Instrument: Observations

    Observation is another research instrument for marketers to collect data. It involves an observer watching people interacting in a controlled or uncontrolled environment.

    An example is watching a group of kids playing and seeing how they interact, which kid is most popular in the group, etc.

    Observation is easy to execute and also provides highly accurate results. However, these results might be subjected to observer bias (the observers' opinions and prejudice) which lowers their fairness and objectivity. Also, some types of observations are not cheap.

    Tools for observations can vary based on the research purpose and business resources.

    Simple observations can be carried out without any tool. An example might be an observer "shopping along" with a customer to see how they choose products and which store section catches their eyes.

    More complex observations can require special equipment such as eye-tracking and brain-scanning devices. Websites may also use heat maps to see which areas are most clicked by page visitors.

    Check out our explanation of Observational research to learn more.

    Research Instrument: Focus groups

    Research Instrument Focus group example StudySmarterFocus group as a research instrument, Unsplash

    Focus groups are similar to interviews but include more than one participant. It is also a qualitative research method which aims to understand customers' opinions on a topic.

    Focus groups often consist of one moderator and a group of participants. Sometimes, there are two moderators, one directing the conversation and the other observing.

    Conducting focus groups are quick, cheap, and efficient. However, the data analysis can be time-consuming. Engaging a large group of people is tricky, and many participants may be shy or unwilling to give their opinions.

    If focus groups are conducted online, tools like Zoom or Google Meeting are often used.

    Check out our explanation Focus Groups to learn more.

    Research Instrument: Existing data

    Unlike the others, existing or secondary data is an instrument for secondary research. Secondary research means using data that another researcher has collected.

    Secondary data can save a lot of research time and budget. Sources are also numerous, including internal (within the company) and external (outside the company) sources.

    Internal sources include company reports, customer feedback, buyer personas, etc. External sources might include newspapers, magazines, journals, surveys, reports, Internet articles, etc.

    Collecting from existing data is pretty simple, though the sources need validating before use.

    Check out our explanation of Secondary Market Research to learn more.

    Research Instrument Design

    Research instrument design means creating research instruments to obtain the most quality, reliable, and actionable results. It is an intricate process that requires a lot of time and effort from the researchers.

    A few things to keep in mind when designing research instrument1 :

    • Validity means how well the participants' answers match those outside the study.

    • Reliability means whether the research method will produce similar results multiple times.

    • Replicability means whether the research results can be used for other research purposes.

    • Generalizability means whether the research data can be generalised or applied to the whole population.

    Research instrument design best practices

    Here are some good practices for creating research instruments:

    Define the research objective

    Good research always starts with a hypothesis. This is the proposed explanation based on the evidence that the business currently has. Further research will be needed to prove this explanation is true.

    Based on the hypothesis, the researchers can determine the research objectives:

    • What is the research's purpose?

    • What result does it try to measure?

    • What questions to ask?

    • How to know the results are reliable/actionable?

    Prepare carefully

    "To be prepared is half the victory". Preparation means designing how researchers will carry out the research. This may include creating questions and deciding on what tools to use.

    Survey research design might include creating questions that are simple to understand and do not include biased language. The researcher can also use typography, spacing, colours, and images to make the survey attractive.

    Create a guideline

    The person carrying out the research may not be the same as who designs it. To ensure smooth implementation, an important step is to create a guideline.

    For example, when using interviews in research, the researcher can also create a document that provides a focus for the interview. This is simply a document that defines the structure of the interview - what questions to ask and in which order.

    Avoid interviewer bias

    Interviewer bias happens when the researcher/observer/interviewer interacts directly with the participants. Interviewer bias means letting the interviewers' viewpoints and attitudes affect the research outcome. For example, the interviewer reacts differently around different interviewees or asks leading questions.

    When designing research instruments, researchers should keep this in mind and leave out questions that might lead the respondent to their favourable responses.

    Test and implement

    To avoid mistakes, the researcher can first test it in a small sample before applying it to a large group. This is extremely important, especially in large-scale data collection methods like questionnaires. A minor error can make the whole process futile. A good practice is to ask a team member proofread the survey questions to spot any errors or inaccuracies.

    After testing, the next task is to apply it to the target group. The response rate is a crucial KPI to determine the research's reliability. The higher the response rate, the more reliable the results are. However, other factors like the depth of answers are also important.

    Research Instrument in quantitative research

    Quantitative research means collecting and analysing numerical data. This kind of research helps spot patterns and trends to make predictions or generalise results to the whole population. Research instruments in quantitative research include surveys, questionnaires, telephone, and interviews.

    Research Instrument: Surveys

    The main component of surveys is questionnaires. These are lists of questions to collect data from a large group. In survey research, the questions are primarily closed-ended or include rating scales to collect data in a unified fashion.

    The reliability of survey results greatly depends on the sample size. The larger the sample size, the higher validity it will have, though not cheap to execute.

    There is limited interviewer bias and errors in surveys. However, the refusal rate is high as few people are willing to write down their answers.

    Research instrument questionnaires

    Questionnaires as a research instrument can be self-administered or with interference from the researcher.

    Self-administered questionnaires are ones completed in the absence of the researcher.2 The respondent fills out the questionnaire themselves, which gives the term "self-administered". Self-administered surveys allow participants to keep their anonymity and be more comfortable sharing their opinions. When surveys are self-administered, researcher bias can be removed. The only drawback is that the researcher can't track who will fill the questionnaires and when they will return the answer.

    Questionnaires with interference from the researcher are primarily found in focus groups, interviews, or observational research. The researcher hands out the questionnaire and remains there to help the respondents fill it. They can answer questions and clear out any uncertainties the respondent might have. This type of questionnaire has more risk of researcher bias but will give more quality responses and have a higher response rate.

    Research Instrument: Telephone

    The telephone is another research instrument for quantitative research. It is based on random sampling and also has low interviewer bias. However, phone calls tend to be short (less than 15 minutes), giving interviewers little time to collect in-depth information. Customers can also hang up when they are distracted by something else.

    Research Instrument: Interviews

    Most interviews are qualitative in nature, but some are quantitative, especially those carried out in a structured manner. An example is structured interviews which include closed-ended questions arranged in a specific order.

    Research Instrument - Key takeaways

    • A research instrument is a tool for collecting and analysing data in research.
    • Popular research instruments are interviews, surveys, observations, focus groups, and secondary data.
    • When designing research instruments, the researcher needs to consider the research results' validity, reliability, applicability, and generalizability.
    • Research instruments mostly used in quantitative research are telephone, interviews, and surveys.
    • Questionnaires as a research instrument can be self-administered or with the researcher's interference.


    1. Vision Edge Marketing, How to Design an Effective Survey Instrument,
    2. Form Plus Blog, Self Administered Survey: Types, Uses + [Questionnaire Examples],, 2022.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Research Instrument

    What instruments are used to collect quantitative data?

    Instruments used to collect quantitative data include surveys, telephone, and (structured) interviews.

    What is questionnaire in research instrument?

    Questionnaires are lists of questions to gather data from the target group. It is mainly used in surveys to collect quantitative data. 

    What are research instruments for data collection?

    There are many research instruments for data collection. The most popular are interviews, surveys, observations, focus groups, and secondary data. Different research instruments can be used depending on the type and purpose of the research. 

    What are research instrument examples?

    Some research instrument examples are surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Surveys can be used to collect quantitative data from a large group while interviews and focus groups gather qualitative data from a smaller group of participants.

    What are instrument design in research?

    Research instrument design means creating research instruments to obtain high-quality and reliable research data. Good research instruments must match four qualities: validity, reliability, applicability, and generalizability. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What are research instruments?

    The research instrument that involves watching people interacting in a controlled or uncontrolled environment is __________.

    Focus groups can be organised online. 


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