FAQ: What Is Secondary Research? (With Tips for Using it)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 16 May 2022

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.

Researching is an essential skill for many professionals, including data analysts. Researching may refer to the ability to find, validate and interpret information. When developing this skill, it is important to distinguish the difference between sources and research types, as this can affect the credibility, citation and practices within your analysis process. In this article, we share the answers to frequently asked questions about secondary research, including what it is, the types of sources it uses, how it compares to primary research, the pros and cons of using it and provide some tips to consider when conducting this type of research.

Related: 16 Must-Have Data Analyst Skills (Plus Job Responsibilities)

What is secondary research?

Secondary research describes the process of collecting information and performing analysis from sources that already contain discourse from professionals who conducted research themselves. For example, if you were trying to learn more about the spending habits of consumers within a specific age range, you may consult a pre-established study that monitors the purchases of this demographic of people. This type of research allows you to gain insight into topics in which you may not have expertise. It can also save you time when analysing data or writing a report.

What types of resources does it include?

One way to define secondary data is by the resources it includes. If you're using this type of research, you may consult the following secondary sources:

  • Journal articles: Professionals may write a journal article about a subject in which they have the expertise to summarise a study or observation they conducted.

  • Textbooks: This can also include print resources, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias.

  • Biographies: When a professional writes a biography, they often include citations of the secondary sources they used to complete their work.

  • Essays: Essays and reports typically require a vast amount of research to complete. When using essays as a secondary resource, consider sourcing those written by a professional in the field of the topic they chose.

  • News outlets: Most news outlets, including newspapers, reports and broadcasts, are secondary sources. This is because when you consult this resource, you're interpreting their analysis and presentation of the information they include.

Though this list isn't comprehensive, you can consider these examples to understand the definition of secondary sources.

Related: What Does a News Reporter Do? Definitions, Examples and Salaries

How does it compare to primary research?

Primary research describes the information you gather from first-hand accounts or studies you conduct yourself. With this research type, you're directly involved in collecting raw data. Secondary and primary research differ in a variety of ways, including:

Source of information

The first major difference between these types of research is the source of their information. With primary research, the researcher actively collects the data. They may design specialised materials to conduct their research, such as writing surveys or developing laboratory procedures for an experiment. They also distribute the data collection materials or oversee and record the results of laboratory procedures.

Sources of information research performed by other people are secondary sources. This means the researcher doesn't directly participate in gathering and interpreting data. They're analysing the findings of other researchers and applying that knowledge for their own needs. Sources of secondary data collection most often include published content. Researchers can find secondary sources online, through academic databases and in libraries.

Resources required

Primary research often requires more resources to conduct. Performing secondary research usually takes less time, money and expertise to conduct. Primary research can take a long time to plan, create and execute research strategies. It's also important to analyse and filter out any unnecessary or incorrect data from recorded information. This often takes time and resources. Researchers conducting formal primary studies may also need extensive training depending on their industry. They may have expert industry knowledge and experience with certain research methods that ensure the validity of their findings.

Ownership of data

These types of research also differ in the level of ownership the researcher has over their findings. A primary researcher has full ownership of their data. Since they designed the research procedures and materials, conducted the study and interpreted and shared their findings, they hold complete responsibility for their work. A researcher using secondary sources has no ownership over the source of the data. The data belongs to the researcher who gathered it and those who use secondary sources are usually required to reference the original study or author to protect their intellectual property.

What are the pros and cons of using this type of research?

The type of research you use often depends on your purpose, schedule and resources. If you're trying to decide which type of research to conduct, you can consider the potential advantages and disadvantages of using secondary data:

Pros

Some of the advantages of using secondary sources include:

Convenience

Secondary sources are readily available information. The researcher can draw information from multiple existing sources to compile a large amount of data with comparatively less effort than conducting a primary study. This is convenient and time-efficient, as you can find this type of data more quickly than conducting primary research.

Cost-effective

Since secondary data comes from existing materials, it takes less time and money to collect. Researchers can spend less time designing or distributing materials to collect data since it's already available. This can help manage the budget of a project, as it's possible to use completely free resources for this type of research.

Context

Many secondary data studies reference other studies to provide background and support for their methods and conclusions. This can help researchers understand how individual studies connect within a larger scope of research on a topic, providing context and guidance within a subject. Having this context for data can make it easier to interpret.

Cons

When choosing what type of research to conduct, it's helpful to consider the potential drawbacks of using secondary data. Here are some possible cons to think about:

Credibility

Since outside researchers collect the data for secondary research, you have less control over the study's quality. Those using secondary data may spend more time ensuring the data provided by their sources is accurate. You can do this by verifying any source you use when conducting research and comparing statements you find for consistency.

Related: Research Skills: Definition, Benefits and How to Develop

Applicability

Depending on your research subject, there may not be secondary sources that directly apply to your needs. Secondary sources may have more limited applications to your specific area of interest, unlike primary sources, which can focus more narrowly on a particular research question. Researchers often filter their data, so secondary data sources may be subject to the bias of the original researcher.

Scope

You may find that there are too many secondary sources on your topic. It can take time to read through all the information on a topic to find the most relevant content. Consider trying to narrow down your data needs and filtering your searches.

What are some tips for using this type of research?

Using secondary data instead of conducting primary research can change your analysis process. Here are some tips to consider optimising your research:

Use research databases

Research databases are collections of sources you can use for various projects. These collections are useful because they often contain peer-reviewed and scholarly sources, which can enhance the credibility and accuracy of your research. A perk of using research databases is many of them focus on a specific field, topic or organisation. This means you can quickly narrow down your searches and only find results that relate to the topic you're studying.

Related: How to Conduct Market Research (With Steps and Types)

Confirm the validity of the data

With secondary sources, it's important to confirm the validity of the data you find. This is because you may not know enough about any possible biases the original researcher may have. Some resources may not have the most recent data, which can also affect their credibility. To confirm the validity of the information you find, you can compare it to other sources or you can perform a small amount of primary research for comparison only. This can often help you find accurate data and recognise any partial material within a source.

Cite your sources

When conducting research with secondary sources, it's important to create citations when you use information from a resource. Creating a citation allows you to credit the professional who originally performed the research, which also protects you from any plagiarism issues. Adding citations to your work can also help increase the credibility of your research, as it shows exactly where you found the data you're analysing.

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