Authour: Thuy Linh Do
Edited by Christine Keene
Secondary Research is a common research method; it involves using information that others have gathered through primary research.
- The information already exists and is readily available -> quick & low cost
- Helps guide the focus of any subsequent primary research being conducted
- Internal secondary data uses categories and breakdowns that reflect a corporation’s preferred way of structuring the world
- Secondary research may be the only available source of specific pieces of information (i.e. government data)
- The information lacks specificity or does not exactly address question of concern
- Some external secondary data may be of suspect quality or outdated
- Internal secondary data such as sales reports and customer databases may only describe existing customers
- Information is less likely to exist, particularly in developing countries, due to the lack of primary research conducted in unpopular markets or strict media control from the governments
This technique is performed in order to:
- Assess easy, low-cost and quick knowledge;
- Clarify the research question;
- Help align the focus of primary research in a larger scale and can also help to identify the answer; and
- Rule out potentially irrelevant project proposals (ex. The proposed work may have already been carried out).
This technique is also known as Desk Research.
There are two types of Secondary Research hence two types of data collected from this technique:
- Internal Secondary Data consists of information gathered within researcher’s firm (i.e. customers databases and reports from past primary research)
- External Secondary Data consists of information gathered outside of researcher’s firm (i.e. government statistics and information from media sources)
Using the Technique
Secondary Research can happen at any stage of the creative process. Each Secondary Research process involves 4 steps that can be repeated as necessary:
- Identifying the subject domain and where to acquire the information;
- Gathering existing data;
- Comparing data from different sources, if necessary and if feasible; and
- Analyzing the data
1. IDENTIFYING WHAT & WHERE
Before starting any Secondary Research, it is helpful to define the research topic/domain. Next, the researcher would prepare a list of questions to be solved by the end of the process. This step helps narrow down the topic and also allows researcher to have an active role in conducting the research. After identifying the research domain, the researcher would look at various sources of information and decide where to get necessary data.
Good sources of information include:
- Internal data such as databases, sale reports, past primary researches;
- Government statistics and information from government agencies such as Canada Business Service Centre (http://www.canadabusiness.ca), Statistics Canada (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/);
- Information resources companies (ex. Passport GMID or Datamonitor360); and
- Different media such as articles from respected magazines and newspaper, reports from university research centers or non-profit agency.
2. GATHERING EXISTING DATA
At this step, researcher looks at the topic and breaks it down in to keywords and their synonyms. For example, when looking at the topic: “What are the trends in woman clothing market?” the keywords would be “clothing”, “women” and “trend”. Accordingly, their synonyms would be “apparel”, “female” and “fashion”. Using these words to search can save researcher a lot of time in finding valuable data and also warrant no important information to be missed out.
3. NORMALIZING DATA IF NEEDED
Sometimes researchers would want to normalize the data to make it easier to analyze later.
Example for this step comes from a research project of area household income data in the US. The collected information came from 3 different sources: US Census Bureau Data (1997 data), a telephone survey of area residents (2000 data) and a published article (2007 data).
Raw information table
Internal sources of data are those that are internal to the organisation in question. For instance, if you are doing a research project for an organisation (or research institution) where you are an intern, and you want to reuse some of their past data, you would be using internal data sources.
The benefit of using these sources is that they are easily accessible and there is no associated financial cost of obtaining them.
External sources of data, on the other hand, are those that are external to an organisation or a research institution. This type of data has been collected by “somebody else”, in the literal sense of the term. The benefit of external sources of data is that they provide comprehensive data – however, you may sometimes need more effort (or money) to obtain it.
Let’s now focus on different types of internal and external secondary data sources.
There are several types of internal sources. For instance, if your research focuses on an organisation’s profitability, you might use their sales data. Each organisation keeps a track of its sales records, and thus your data may provide information on sales by geographical area, types of customer, product prices, types of product packaging, time of the year, and the like.
Alternatively, you may use an organisation’s financial data. The purpose of using this data could be to conduct a cost-benefit analysis and understand the economic opportunities or outcomes of hiring more people, buying more vehicles, investing in new products, and so on.
Another type of internal data is transport data. Here, you may focus on outlining the safest and most effective transportation routes or vehicles used by an organisation.
Alternatively, you may rely on marketing data, where your goal would be to assess the benefits and outcomes of different marketing operations and strategies.
Some other ideas would be to use customer data to ascertain the ideal type of customer, or to use safety data to explore the degree to which employees comply with an organisation’s safety regulations.
The list of the types of internal sources of secondary data can be extensive; the most important thing to remember is that this data comes from a particular organisation itself, in which you do your research in an internal manner.
The list of external secondary data sources can be just as extensive. One example is the data obtained through government sources. These can include social surveys, health data, agricultural statistics, energy expenditure statistics, population censuses, import/export data, production statistics, and the like. Government agencies tend to conduct a lot of research, therefore covering almost any kind of topic you can think of.
Another external source of secondary data are national and international institutions, including banks, trade unions, universities, health organisations, etc. As with government, such institutions dedicate a lot of effort to conducting up-to-date research, so you simply need to find an organisation that has collected the data on your own topic of interest.
Alternatively, you may obtain your secondary data from trade, business, and professional associations. These usually have data sets on business-related topics and are likely to be willing to provide you with secondary data if they understand the importance of your research. If your research is built on past academic studies, you may also rely on scientific journals as an external data source.
Once you have specified what kind of secondary data you need, you can contact the authors of the original study.
As a final example of a secondary data source, you can rely on data from commercial research organisations. These usually focus their research on media statistics and consumer information, which may be relevant if, for example, your research is within media studies or you are investigating consumer behaviour.
TABLE 5 summarises the two sources of secondary data and associated examples: