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What’s it: Secondary research, or desk research, is a type of research using external data sources, not original data sources. In other words, you are not first hand and therefore have no control over the accuracy of the data. For example, you don’t know whether the data is representative or not.
Secondary research is different from primary research. For the latter, you take it from the original source. For consumer research, for example, you might survey or interview consumers. We call the data collected as primary data. You have control over data quality because you develop a methodology for data collection, including sampling.
There are many examples of secondary research sources. You can take from company reports, research agency reports, government agency publications, news articles, and so on.
Secondary research is a valuable step. You save time, money, and effort by not having to retrieve data directly. You may use all the secondary data if they answer your hypothesis. Or, you may collect some data you need and collect it directly for the rest of the data. Of course, that saves more money than having to extract all the data from the original source.
Secondary research sources
There are many examples of data sources for secondary research. It varies depending on the research objectives. For example, data sources could come from:
- Research company reports. Examples are Nielsen, Euromonitor International, Kantar, Gartner, and Ipsos or consulting agencies such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company.
- Academic textbooks or journals. They are usually poor in data with more qualitative information. They are usually useful in developing hypotheses as well as research methodologies. For example, you may have several alternative variables to research buying behavior but don’t know which ones are significant. Well, textbooks and academic journals can help you in this case.
- Government publications. The central statistical agency is an example. You can find a variety of valuable data there, including demographic, geographic, economic data, and so on.
- Trade association (business association). They are associations for domestic companies or companies from various countries. For international associations, the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA) is an example. Usually, they present regular reports on the state of the markets in which their members operate.
- Media. Business newspapers and magazines are valuable sources for gathering data. They may be printed or digital. Usually, they present some data to support the articles they write. Some may be free, while for others, you may need to subscribe. The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Financial Times are notable examples.
- Company report. There are many reporting sources you can use. They may be annual reports, company financial reports, public expose materials, press releases, and prospectuses.
Advantages of secondary research
Advantages of secondary research are:
Easy, cheap, and fast. You don’t have to be involved in developing complicated data collection methods. You also don’t have to run surveys or interviews to collect data. You just sit at the table and look it up on the internet.
More varied. You can collect data from a variety of sources. Besides, you can compare these various data and choose which ones support your argument.
Good starting point. It is useful to help plan primary research. For example, you can collect some secondary data to answer some of your hypotheses and collect other data through primary research. In other cases, for consumer research, you may need secondary data on demographics and geography to determine a representative sample.
Disadvantages of secondary research
The main drawbacks of secondary research are:
Inaccurate. You don’t know how the data is retrieved, whether it is accurate or not. For example, a data provider might use an unrepresentative sample and therefore be biased if you use it to conclude about the population.
Expired. More lag time between data collection and data publication. Thus, the data may no longer be relevant to current conditions. The data provider does not update it regularly, so data is unavailable for several years.
Less relevant. Secondary data is to meet the needs of the provider, not for you. Thus, they may be less relevant to answering your research hypotheses.