Primary vs Secondary Research: What, When, and What for?

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Research remains an essential step in the writing process no matter your subject. Therefore, it is important for you, as a writer, and for us as writers/editors, to be able to distinguish between the different types of research and learn how to apply them in a proper manner that fits your writing purpose.

Every type of research falls into two specific and inclusive categories: primary research and secondary research. So, how do you define each type? What collection method does each one follow? How do they compare?  And which one fits your purpose more?

Primary research:

Primary research is self-conducted research completed by you or someone you have hired.  Its purpose includes gathering information and answering unresolved questions.  Primary research is often expensive and/or time-consuming.

As it requires more resources than secondary research, primary research complements the gaps in the secondary research. You should conduct primary research after exhausting secondary sources. Through this method, you or your team take charge of the entire process: from choosing the questions, metrics to be used, and the data collection method(s).

The collection methods for primary research include:

  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Visitations
  • Questionnaires

Secondary research:

Secondary research is the type of research that has been conducted, organized, and published by others. This includes reports, studies, research papers, and other academic or business publications. Usually, students conduct this type of research while writing their papers as it is often easier to find.

The amount of researchable information online can be overwhelming and in many cases wrong,  unclear, or questionable. But don’t worry. You can always ask Best Edit to review your paper and advise you if your research fits the topic and your intended audience.

There is no specific collection method for secondary research data.  Because it already exists, all you need to do is convey the information to fit the purpose of your writing.

What kind of research should I use?

In most cases, the best approach is to start with secondary research and look for the data that fits your topic. This approach ensures that your sources fit the purpose of the paper (e.g. peer-reviewed articles for a research paper, regional data for businesses, etc…). Once you have gathered most of the information you need, you can conduct primary research that complements your secondary research. Unless your requirements explicitly state a need for primary research, your paper can be supported with secondary research.

A clear comparison:

Primary research:

  • Conducted by you or someone you hired
  • Involves going directly to the source
  • Expensive
  • Time-consuming
  • Answers specific research questions with firsthand information
  • Complements limitations of secondary research
  • Allows more flexibility in selecting the specific metrics to  be measured

Secondary research:

  • Conducted by someone else
  • No need to go to the source
  • Cost-efficient
  • Time-efficient
  • Provides generalized results for your purpose
  • Strengthens the foundation of primary research
  • Metrics and results are already decided

Bottom line

Secondary research establishes the foundation on which you can build your content, while primary research helps you identify and address specific information needs in your writing. If you are unsure which research or data collection method you need to write or improve your paper or you just need an extra set of eyes to make sure your research fits, don’t hesitate! Contact us!

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