Definitive Guide to Secondary Research

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published July 27, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Conducting research is one way many individuals and businesses find the information they need to help them solve problems, answer questions and make decisions. Secondary research is a method of searching for data others have gathered to find useful information quicker. Understanding how to conduct secondary research can help you find helpful answers when you have limited time or a small budget. In this article, we define secondary research, list examples of secondary sources, describe how to conduct it and list its advantages and disadvantages.

Related: How To Put Research on Your Resume (With Examples)

What is secondary research?

Secondary research is information, statistics and other data that primary researchers have already studied and documented. Secondary research doesn't generate any new data. Instead, secondary researchers often gather data from several sources, summarize it and reorganize it into new documents. This makes the data more accessible for those who want it for educational or business purposes.

Related: Research Skills: Definition and Examples

Primary research vs. secondary research

Primary and secondary research each have their own goals, uses and methods. Though they both attempt to answer a question, the two types of research follow different paths. Some of the biggest differences between primary and secondary research include:

Sources

Primary research uses original sources to generate new data for publishing. This is data they gather themselves through finding firsthand accounts or making observations themselves. Researchers can find their data by methods such as conducting interviews, leading focus groups, administering surveys or collecting and analyzing data.

Secondary research typically uses the data primary researchers published as a major source of information. This can include published volumes of market research, internet searches or university and government archives. Although secondary research often involves comparing multiple sources to develop your own conclusions, it's based on primary researchers' findings.

Goals

Primary researchers hope to find answers to questions and solutions to unsolved problems. The data to answer these questions is typically unavailable or incomplete, meaning they need to perform their own research to gather the data and information.

A secondary researcher also seeks an answer to a question or issue. However, the hope is the question is common enough for the research and data to exist already. This is because the primary goal of secondary researchers is educating themselves and their organization quickly and easily, which can be helpful when you have limited time available or a smaller budget.

Researcher involvement

Primary research often requires the researcher to have direct contact with the subjects they study because they typically perform the research themselves. Primary researchers also may hire a firm or an outside source to conduct the research on their behalf.

Secondary research often is less involved because the researcher typically organizes and studies previously published work to find the information they need. This means secondary research is usually quicker and easier to perform.

Cost

Primary research typically involves the cost of interviewing sources and collecting data. This can also include the travel costs of sending researchers into the field or hiring a firm to conduct the research. With that research already completed, secondary research can cost very little to perform. If the data is available for free online, some secondary research can cost nothing, and you can often perform it from your own home or office. Because of this, some refer to it as "desk research."

Secondary research methods

The methods for conducting secondary research typically involve finding and studying published research. There are several ways you can do this, including:

  • Finding the data online: Many market research websites exist, as do blogs and other data analysis websites. Some are free, though some charge fees.

  • Searching data educational institutions have published: Many institutions perform thorough and trustworthy research, and some allow requests from businesses to see or use their data.

  • Looking for published data in libraries: Some libraries carry published data from government agencies, educational institutions and other market researchers. Although resources vary depending on the library, the data can be free and reliable.

  • Searching data archives that belong to various agencies: Many government agencies host collections of their own research. Typically, searching their archives requires an official request and sometimes even supervision while searching. However, the data can be extremely accurate.

Related: Types of Research Methods

Examples of secondary research

There are many kinds of secondary research available. Many of these are online documents or published works, such as books. Some of the most common examples of secondary research include:

  • Textbooks

  • News articles

  • University-published studies

  • Encyclopedias

  • Published market research

  • Academic journals

  • Published demographic research

  • Government records

Related: How To Conduct Market Research

How to conduct secondary research

Trying following these steps to conduct secondary research:

1. Establish your topic

When conducting research, you likely have a question or problem you need to solve. Knowing the specific type of information you need can help you find your answers more quickly. For instance, if your company makes pencils, you might want to know how much material you need for the year.

2. Gather data

Once you establish your research topic, you can begin identifying potential research sources. You can typically find many sources online, most of which are free to access. Consider comparing prices and user reviews to help you find which market research resources might be most helpful to you. For the pencil company example, an internet search can show several options listing pencil sales data.

3. Compare the data from multiple sources

Depending on the time frame, resources and conditions of the primary research, each source might be slightly different. By gathering data from multiple sources, you can compare the data from each so you can understand what you've gathered even better. For the pencil company, you can compare the data from larger and smaller companies to find the average amount of materials used. You can also track material use and sales over time to help you better prepare for how much material you might need throughout the year.

4. Analyze your findings

Once you've compared all the data, you can analyze what you've found. There are several ways you can analyze data, including:

  • Recognizing trends and patterns to anticipate changes

  • Looking for outliers in the data that help you prepare for unexpected results

  • Comparing it to experiences at your own company

  • Identifying any variables that might affect the data

By analyzing your findings, you can determine whether the information you've gathered helps you answer your question. If you require more data, you can continue your research until you've found the answer you need.

Advantages of secondary research

Secondary research can have many advantages, and understanding them is important for knowing when it's most helpful to you. When deciding whether to conduct secondary research, consider the following advantages:

  • It can be less costly and time-consuming

  • There could be a lot of data available

  • Seeing how others have used the same available research can help you determine whether it's useful for your needs

  • You can compare multiple sources in addition to current trends

  • You could find published documents that explain the ways others have already used the data and whether it was helpful to them

Disadvantages of secondary research

Secondary research can have some disadvantages. It's helpful to understand these disadvantages so you can understand how to avoid potential problems. Some disadvantages to secondary research include:

  • The authenticity of primary research isn't always immediately clear

  • Primary research doesn't always use current data

  • It depends on the quality of the primary research

  • The data might not apply to your problem

To determine whether a primary source is useful, you can first research which sources are usually most accurate and helpful to others. This can save you time by identifying which sources are most likely to give you the data you need.

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