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What is secondary research?

This article explain the meaning of secondary research. If you’re interested in a tool that helps you write & organize your research literature, click here to read more about Avidnote.

Secondary research arises due to the nature of the data used by the researcher.  Sometimes, the concept being studied does not require personal fieldwork by the researcher, hence the need for secondary data. Below is a brief analysis of secondary data.


Secondary research is a form of research where the research design is dependent on already existing data. This means that the researcher has no need to do any fieldwork to collect data as is the case with primary research. Note that what is usually regarded as secondary data is mostly derived from primary data sources.

Secondary research data sources include public and private sector databases and publications, the internet, textbooks, peer-reviewed journals, newspapers, encyclopedias, libraries, academic papers, historical records, and meta-analysis among others.

Some sources of data for secondary research

Public and private sector databases and publications

Public and private sector organizations are very good sources of secondary research data. For instance, government agencies like statistical offices, census bureaus, central banks, and others are research havens in terms of secondary data. Similarly, secondary data can be collected from the private sector e.g., stock exchange operators and others in the financial services industry.

The internet

With time, the internet has evolved into an important destination for researchers hunting for all kinds of data. Most brick and mortar organizations, including government agencies, place their available data on the internet for easier access to intending users. Some of the available data are free while others are not.

However, you should exercise some caution when seeking data from the internet because some of the sources may be questionable. Endeavor to obtain your research data only from trusted websites.


Various academic journals can be sources of different forms of secondary research data. Most of these journals are conduits for the latest research from various fields of learning. These public researches include different kinds of data that an intending researcher can leverage for his work.

However, like the internet, care must be taken to source data from reputable journals (either on the internet or in print format). This is because there are several journals out there that do not apply best practices in terms of the validity and reliability of their publications.


Most textbooks are products of rigorous research and sometimes come with valuable secondary data. They are nice sources for both quantitative and qualitative data.


Different forms of secondary data usually appear on the pages of newspapers. They are particularly broad-based and cover a vast number of areas such as science, technology, economics, finance, politics, and others.


Being home to all kinds of educational materials, both public and private libraries are very important data centers for researchers. University libraries particularly provide copies of previous research work such as undergraduate projects, seminar presentations, and post-graduate dissertations/theses.

When to undertake secondary research

Secondary research is suitable when the nature of the subject matter does not require the researcher to personally collect data. For example, most macroeconomic variables are too wide in scope to be accurately measured by a single researcher (or even a small group of researchers). Some of these include GDP, inflation rate, unemployment rate, interest rate, population, mortality rate, etc. Such variables are usually measured and computed as time-series data by big public institutions such as central banks and statistics offices. Thus, any research involving the above variables will have to depend on secondary data.

Advantages of secondary research

Easier to collect

Secondary data is relatively easier to collect than primary data. All the researcher has to do is visit the data source and obtain the data. If the data source is the internet, you can easily copy and paste the data into your document or download it. Sometimes, you may need to email the data source requesting the data.

Less expensive

A researcher conducting secondary research does not need to spend heavily on the process of data collection. This is unlike primary research that can involve significant expenditures on the design and dissemination of research instruments to large samples over vast geographical locations.

Can be very reliable and valid

Many sources of secondary data are large, authoritative institutions that have enough human and material resources to collect valid and reliable data. Some of these institutions include the UN, IMF, World Bank, OECD, and many others.

Less time/energy-consuming

In secondary research, the researcher does not have to start from scratch to design and then move about to administer his research instrument. Hence, data collection in secondary research is less time and energy-consuming.

Disadvantages of secondary research

Data may not match the research needs

Sometimes, available secondary data may not be very suitable for the peculiar needs of the research. For example, the available data may not be comprehensive enough, may be incomplete, or not current. In some cases, data on some variables are not available at all and can lead to the use of proxy variables.

Not ideal for measuring some concepts

Most secondary data come in the form of quantifiable variables that can be calculated mathematically. For instance, variables like GDP and unemployment rate can easily be computed using their formulae and then stored as secondary data for all users. This is not the same with some behavioral variables such as motivation, job satisfaction, etc. which need to be estimated contextually via primary research.

May not always be accurate

While data from large and authoritative public and private institutions are usually reliable, those from less recognizable sources may not be so. This is particularly the case with the internet where several unreliable sources of secondary data are available.


Unlike primary research, secondary researchers collect existing or second-hand data from other sources. This makes the process less expensive and less time/energy consuming than the primary research data collection process. However, some behavioral variables cannot be computed as time-series secondary data. Secondary research is ideal for studying non-behavioral variables like GDP, inflation rate, etc.

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This post was produced as part of a research guide series by Avidnote which is a free web-based app that helps you to write and organize your academic writing online. Click here to find out more.

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