Data Collection Tips for Speech-Language Pathologists

As an SLP, we all know that collecting data is a necessity. After all, how do we validate that what we are doing is effective as needed to ensure ethical standards? Despite this knowledge, there can be several barriers that impact our ability to collect data accurately and consistently. Some barriers that I personally have run into have included:

  • Being unfamiliar with different data collection types of methods

  • Not knowing what data to collect

  • Not wanting to disrupt the flow of therapy

  • Client response or reaction to having data being collected

  • Feeling overwhelmed with managing challenging behaviors

  • Assuming that the “best guess” is close enough

While all of these barriers can prove to be challenging, we nonetheless have to figure out a way to collect treatment data so that we can be armed to make the best clinical decisions for our clients. The good news is that there is an easier way than simply collecting trial-by-trial data which will not disrupt the flow of therapy or add to our feeling of over-whelm. One thing that has worked well for me is to recruit others to collect data on my behalf. For my learners that are older having them collect their own data can be a powerful tool to get them motivated to set their own goals for the session as well as to improve their self-monitoring skills. I have even recruited caregivers to collect data during session which has proven to be a great way to enhance my parent training as well as to increase caregiver carry-over.


While it may not always be feasible to have your client or client’s caregivers collect data during your therapy sessions, there are a few other options that can make your data collection easier which includes being familiar with different types of data collection methods. Some additional types of data collection that I like to use include:


Trial-by-Trial: This method requires collection of data after each teaching trial and can be used to calculate percentage correct or rate. This method works great for goals related to articulation or rate of words spoken per minute.

Following Directions Trial by Trial Data
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Download • 148KB

Initial Cold Probe: This can be a great alternative to trial-by-trial, especially when you are concerned about the flow of therapy. With this method, you collect data the first time that the target is presented in each session without prompts or teaching and do not collect data for the remainder of the lesson. Examples of targets you could use initial cold probes with include prepositions, word lists with target sounds, labels for common objects or pictures, etc. What I love about this method is that you can use it at the start of your session and then go straight into teaching without continuing your data collection.

Language Cold Probe Data Sheet
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Generalized Probe Data: For this type of data collection, the data is collected outside of the structured teaching session. Essentially, you are interested in the learner’s performance on trained items with new materials, people or environments. For example, you might be interested in the number of times a learner correctly produces a target phoneme in conversation with you using words not previously used in therapy, or perhaps showing the learner novel exemplars of “big” and “little” and probing correct versus incorrect responding. This can be great as it allows for you to collect data at set points in your intervention and not necessarily each session.

Generalization Probe Data Sheet
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Download PDF • 66KB

Duration: This method can be used when you are interested in the rate of occurrence of the target behavior. Do to this, you will need to set a timer for a desired duration and tally each occurrence of the behavior. For example, you could use this when trying to determine how many words on average are spoken per minute, or the number of dysfluencies in a 10-minute period or perhaps how many conversational turns occur in a 5-minute conversation. The key here is to keep the duration the same each time that you collect data this way as to not skew your data.

Speech Dysfluency Count Sheet
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Download PDF • 109KB

Permanent Product: This form of measurement, measures a behavior after it has occurred by measuring its effects on the environment and includes something tangible which allows for later analysis. An example would be video recordings. These can be used to later measure rate of speech, intelligibility, frequency of dysfluent speech, etc. The idea is that you can record perhaps once per month to assess progress versus every session.


Once you determine the best method to collect data for your learner, the next thing to decipher is which way to do so. We are all familiar with the trusted paper and pencil way, and while there is nothing wrong with that, there are some more discrete and efficient ways, which include:

Counters: I love using tally clickers, especially when working with little ones that move around a lot as I find that traveling around the room with my clipboard can become challenging at times. For my older students the benefit of a tally clicker is that it can be more discrete which works well for those students that do not like to see their data. Other discrete ways of counting can include moving a paperclip from one pocket to the other for each correct response or moving a marble.

Timers: You can set a timer for a specified duration of your session in which you are going to collect data. For example, you can collect data for 10-minutes of a conversation in which you can track the total number of dysfluent words.

Separating Stimuli: This is a simple way of collecting data in which you can separate your stimuli into piles of correct versus incorrect responses which works great with picture cards or objects. For older students, they can assist by putting marbles or other small objects into containers labeled with a thumbs up and a thumbs down.

Data Collection Apps: There are a ton of great apps that allow you to collect and store data on your smartphone or tablet. Some of my favorites include: “Vocabulary Tracker Pro”, “Tally Counters”, “TracknShare”, “Percentally Pro 2” and “Super Duper Data Tracker”


Once you have determined which form of data collection to use and the method to collect it, I always think that it is fun to then graph the data. A graph provides a wonderful visual analysis which is easy for learners and caregivers to interpret progress over time. For some students it can be very rewarding to see how close they are getting to achieving their goal. I like to include a goal line on my graphs for that exact reason. The two types of graphs that I tend to use the most are a bar graph which depicts a nice summary, and a cumulative graph.


Progress Summary Graph
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The cumulative graph is great at tracking things such as the total number of words a child has in their repertoire, total number of signs, total number of verbs, etc.


Cumulative Number of Retained Targets
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Download PD • 191KB

All in all, there is a better way than struggling to collect data using the traditional trial-by-trial data collection method, while maintaining the flow of therapy. So, whether you are successful at recruiting someone to assist with data collection or willing to try a new method that is easier, I sincerely hope that these tips can lesson your overwhelm and led to more accurate and consistent data collection. #datacollection #speechlanguagepathologist #slpdata #slpdatacollection

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