Advantages and disadvantages of primary and secondary research
This is a detailed analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of primary and secondary research. Research can be categorised into different types. However, this article focuses on primary and secondary research only. They are different from each other because of the way they are carried out and have their own advantages and disadvantages.
List of the differences between primary and secondary research
The main differences between primary and secondary research are as follows:
Primary research is also called field research. According to Gratton & Jones (2009) primary research refers to research that has involved the collection of original data specific to a particular research project, for example through using research methods such as questionnaires or interviews.
Secondary research is also called desk research. In this type of research, the researcher will not collect any primary data and rely on existing sources of data. Marketing research reports, census, company websites, news reports, magazine articles are some of the sources of secondary data. Secondary research is usually carried out at home or library with the help of both the Internet and printed materials.
Primary research is carried out by the researchers first-hand and they own the data that has been collected. On the contrary, secondary research is administered on the collected data from previous studies.
One of the key differences between primary and secondary research is the cost. Primary research is often more expensive than secondary research because it requires more time and resources to collect the data. Secondary research is a more cost-effective option because it relies on existing data sources.
The accuracy of the data is also an important consideration. Primary research provides reliable and accurate data because it comes directly from the target audience. Secondary research is not always reliable because it relies on existing data sources that may not be up to date.
Having explored the differences between the primary and secondary research, the article now focuses on their advantages and disadvantages, and the tools/instruments that can be used in both type of research.
Advantages of secondary research
Secondary research is usually convenient for researchers as it is carried out at home, in libraries, and other similar places. Going through a pile of books, magazines, journals etc. may be daunting; however, a cup of coffee and background music may make it convenient. Home environment and access to amenities are very useful which many researchers like very much.
Secondary research is usually cheaper than primary research. As the research is carried out mostly indoor, it does not usually cost that much. Similarly, a lot of online data and information are now-a-days available free of cost. In addition, secondary research saves a lot of time for the researchers as well (BBC, 2023).
Availability of information
Due to the advancement of technology, information is available online. Researchers can download a lot of documents very quickly with minimal efforts. Therefore, research can be conducted instantly.
Hardly there is any topic researchers can think of, which have not been researched enough in the past! Likewise, the Internet is an ocean of information. Researchers can use Google Scholar and other relevant platforms to explore past studies very easily.
Disadvantages of secondary research
Secondary research may sometimes include information which is not valid any longer. Therefore, the researchers may waste their time by going through those data. Just imagine a study that was conducted a long time ago which may not have any relevance today.
Secondary data may not be specific sometimes. In many cases, it is not presented in a way that would exactly address the researchers’ needs. Imagine going through a pile of books and other relevant documents and then realising that they are not specific! It may sometimes frustrate the researcher.
Advantages of primary research
Primary research meets the specific needs of the researchers. As it is based on the collection of original data, the researchers can be very specific about its aims, objectives, and rationale (Young, 2022). It is up to date and provides more detailed insights as well.
Researchers have a good level of control in primary research. They may decide who the research respondents are, how they are hired, the size of sample, sampling strategies etc.
Data collected in primary research belongs to the researcher or the organisation sponsoring the research and therefore, others may not have access to it. Researchers can also take pride in what they have achieved.
Disadvantages of primary research
Collecting primary data is often time-consuming and difficult. If the research respondents are not supportive, it may become further complicated. Likewise, primary research may be costly as well. Imagine, sending a questionnaire consisting of 10 questions to 100 research respondents and then analysing their responses! It will take time for sure!
If the sample is not big enough, the results of the research may be misleading. Therefore, the researcher has to select a good research sample. Similarly, biasness may occur as well raising concerns about the validity of the research.
Primary research methods (tools/instruments)
Researchers can use a number of tools to conduct their primary research. Depending on whether the research is quantitative or qualitative, they can use observation, questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, test marketing etc. to gain useful insights concerning their area of study.
Quantitative researchers usually use surveys, and questionnaires, while qualitative researchers use interviews and focus groups. However, mixed studies require collection of both quantitative and qualitative data.
Secondary research methods (tools/instruments)
A variety of sources are at the disposal of the researchers to conduct secondary research. For instance, they can use the Internet in general, government, and non-government agencies, public libraries etc. to have access to business directories, newsletters, newspapers, magazines, and other relevant sources.
Examples of primary and secondary research
Primary research is often used to collect data about a specific audience or situation. For example, a business may conduct primary research through surveys or interviews to gain insights into customer preferences and behaviours. This type of research can also be used to test new products or services or to gauge customer satisfaction.
Secondary research is used to gain an understanding of an industry or market as a whole. For example, a business may use secondary research by exploring news reports, magazines, books etc. to gain insights into the competitive landscape, trends, and market opportunities.
Common mistakes to avoid when using primary and secondary research
When using primary and secondary research, it is important to avoid some common mistakes. First, it is important for researchers to make sure that they are collecting data from the right sources. They also need to ensure that that the data they are collecting is accurate, relevant, and up to date.
Researchers need to ensure that they select an appropriate sample size and develop an appropriate sampling strategy. For quantitative research, probability sampling such as simple random sampling, or systematic sampling is usually used. For qualitative research, non-probability sampling such as convenience sampling, judgement sampling, or snowball sampling is used.
When deciding which type of research to use, it is important researchers to consider their goals and budget. If they are looking for detailed insights into a specific audience or situation, primary research is usually the best option. However, if they are working with a tight budget, secondary research can still provide useful insights.
Finally, it is important to avoid relying too heavily on either primary or secondary research. Both types of research can provide valuable insights but relying too heavily on one type of research can lead to inaccurate or incomplete results.
Summary of the advantages and disadvantages of primary and secondary research
In conclusion, there are different advantages and disadvantages of primary and secondary research, so are the differences between them. Therefore, researchers need to explore and understand them well before deciding what they should be employing for their work.
Using both primary and secondary research can provide valuable insights into any situation or industry. However, it is important to consider the accuracy of the data, the cost, and the goals of the research before making any decisions.
It should be noted that some academic research work such as undergraduate and postgraduate dissertation/thesis require students to do both primary and secondary research. Secondary research helps them develop a good literature review, while primary one helps them collect primary data.
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Last update: 18 January 2023
BBC (2023) Market research, available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zd4kq6f/revision/3 (accessed 18 January 2023)
Gratton, C. & Jones, I. (2009) Research Methods for Sports Studies, 2nd edition, London: Routledge
Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2007) Research Methods for Business Students, 4th edition, UK: Pearson Education Limited
Young, G. (2022) Market research, available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/market-research (accessed 18 January 2023)
Author: M Rahman
M Rahman writes extensively online and offline with an emphasis on business management, marketing, and tourism. He is a lecturer in Management and Marketing. He holds an MSc in Tourism & Hospitality from the University of Sunderland. Also, graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University with a BA in Business & Management Studies and completed a DTLLS (Diploma in Teaching in the Life-Long Learning Sector) from London South Bank University.