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15 Secondary Research Examples

secondary research examples and definition, explained below

Secondary research is the analysis, summary or synthesis of already existing published research. Instead of collecting original data, as in primary research , secondary research involves data or the results of data analyses already collected.

It is generally published in books, handbooks, textbooks, articles, encyclopedias, websites, magazines, literature reviews and meta-analyses. These are usually referred to as secondary sources .

Secondary research is a good place to start when wanting to acquire a broad view of a research area. It is usually easier to understand and may not require advanced training in research design and statistics.

Secondary Research Examples

1. literature review.

A literature review summarizes, reviews, and critiques the existing published literature on a topic.

Literature reviews are considered secondary research because it is a collection and analysis of the existing literature rather than generating new data for the study.

They hold value for academic studies because they enable us to take stock of the existing knowledge in a field, evaluate it, and identify flaws or gaps in the existing literature. As a result, they’re almost universally used by academics prior to conducting primary research.

Example 1: Workplace stress in nursing: a literature review

Citation: McVicar, A. (2003). Workplace stress in nursing: a literature review.  Journal of advanced nursing ,  44 (6), 633-642. Source:

Summary: This study conducted a systematic analysis of literature on the causes of stress for nurses in the workplace. The study explored the literature published between 2000 and 2014. The authors found that the literature identifies several main causes of stress for nurses: professional relationships with doctors and staff, communication difficulties with patients and their families, the stress of emergency cases, overwork, lack of staff, and lack of support from the institutions. They conclude that understanding these stress factors can help improve the healthcare system and make it better for both nurses and patients.

Example 2: The impact of shiftwork on health: a literature review

Citation: Matheson, A., O’Brien, L., & Reid, J. A. (2014). The impact of shiftwork on health: a literature review.  Journal of Clinical Nursing ,  23 (23-24), 3309-3320. Source:

In this literature review, 118 studies were analyzed to examine the impact of shift work on nurses’ health. The findings were organized into three main themes: physical health, psychosocial health, and sleep. The majority of shift work research has primarily focused on these themes, but there is a lack of studies that explore the personal experiences of shift workers and how they navigate the effects of shift work on their daily lives. Consequently, it remains challenging to determine how individuals manage their shift work schedules. They found that, while shift work is an inevitable aspect of the nursing profession, there is limited research specifically targeting nurses and the implications for their self-care.

Example 3: Social media and entrepreneurship research: A literature review

Citation: Olanrewaju, A. S. T., Hossain, M. A., Whiteside, N., & Mercieca, P. (2020). Social media and entrepreneurship research: A literature review.  International Journal of Information Management ,  50 , 90-110. Source:

In this literature review, 118 studies were analyzed to examine the impact of shift work on nurses’ health. The findings were organized into three main themes: physical health, social health , and sleep. The majority of shift work research has primarily focused on these themes, but there is a lack of studies that explore the personal experiences of shift workers and how they navigate the effects of shift work on their daily lives. Consequently, it remains challenging to determine how individuals manage their shift work schedules. They found that, while shift work is an inevitable aspect of the nursing profession, there is limited research specifically targeting nurses and the implications for their self-care.

Example 4: Adoption of electric vehicle: A literature review and prospects for sustainability

Citation: Kumar, R. R., & Alok, K. (2020). Adoption of electric vehicle: A literature review and prospects for sustainability.  Journal of Cleaner Production ,  253 , 119911. Source:

This study is a literature review that aims to synthesize and integrate findings from existing research on electric vehicles. By reviewing 239 articles from top journals, the study identifies key factors that influence electric vehicle adoption. Themes identified included: availability of charging infrastructure and total cost of ownership. The authors propose that this analysis can provide valuable insights for future improvements in electric mobility.

Example 5: Towards an understanding of social media use in the classroom: a literature review

Citation: Van Den Beemt, A., Thurlings, M., & Willems, M. (2020). Towards an understanding of social media use in the classroom: a literature review.  Technology, Pedagogy and Education ,  29 (1), 35-55. Source:

This study examines how social media can be used in education and the challenges teachers face in balancing its potential benefits with potential distractions. The review analyzes 271 research papers. They find that ambiguous results and poor study quality plague the literature. However, they identify several factors affecting the success of social media in the classroom, including: school culture, attitudes towards social media, and learning goals. The study’s value is that it organizes findings from a large corpus of existing research to help understand the topic more comprehensively.

2. Meta-Analyses

Meta-analyses are similar to literature reviews, but are at a larger scale and tend to involve the quantitative synthesis of data from multiple studies to identify trends and derive estimates of overall effect sizes.

For example, while a literature review might be a qualitative assessment of trends in the literature, a meta analysis would be a quantitative assessment, using statistical methods, of studies that meet specific inclusion criteria that can be directly compared and contrasted.

Often, meta-analysis aim to identify whether the existing data can provide an authoritative account for a hypothesis and whether it’s confirmed across the body of literature.

Example 6: Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s Disease Risk: A Meta-Meta-Analysis

Citation: Sáiz-Vazquez, O., Puente-Martínez, A., Ubillos-Landa, S., Pacheco-Bonrostro, J., & Santabárbara, J. (2020). Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease risk: a meta-meta-analysis.  Brain sciences ,  10 (6), 386. Source:

This study examines the relationship between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Researchers conducted a systematic search of meta-analyses and reviewed several databases, collecting 100 primary studies and five meta-analyses to analyze the connection between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease. They find that the literature compellingly demonstrates that low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels significantly influence the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), total cholesterol (TC), and triglycerides (TG) levels do not show significant effects. This is an example of secondary research because it compiles and analyzes data from multiple existing studies and meta-analyses rather than collecting new, original data.

Example 7: The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research

Citation: Wisniewski, B., Zierer, K., & Hattie, J. (2020). The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research.  Frontiers in Psychology ,  10 , 3087. Source:

This meta-analysis examines 435 empirical studies research on the effects of feedback on student learning. They use a random-effects model to ascertain whether there is a clear effect size across the literature. The authors find that feedback tends to impact cognitive and motor skill outcomes but has less of an effect on motivational and behavioral outcomes. A key (albeit somewhat obvious) finding was that the manner in which the feedback is provided is a key factor in whether the feedback is effective.

Example 8: How Much Does Education Improve Intelligence? A Meta-Analysis

Citation: Ritchie, S. J., & Tucker-Drob, E. M. (2018). How much does education improve intelligence? A meta-analysis.  Psychological science ,  29 (8), 1358-1369. Source:

This study investigates the relationship between years of education and intelligence test scores. The researchers analyzed three types of quasiexperimental studies involving over 600,000 participants to understand if longer education increases intelligence or if more intelligent students simply complete more education. They found that an additional year of education consistently increased cognitive abilities by 1 to 5 IQ points across all broad categories of cognitive ability. The effects persisted throughout the participants’ lives, suggesting that education is an effective way to raise intelligence. This study is an example of secondary research because it compiles and analyzes data from multiple existing studies rather than gathering new, original data.

Example 9: A meta-analysis of factors related to recycling

Citation: Geiger, J. L., Steg, L., Van Der Werff, E., & Ünal, A. B. (2019). A meta-analysis of factors related to recycling.  Journal of environmental psychology ,  64 , 78-97. Source:

This study aims to identify key factors influencing recycling behavior across different studies. The researchers conducted a random-effects meta-analysis on 91 studies focusing on individual and household recycling. They found that both individual factors (such as recycling self-identity and personal norms) and contextual factors (like having a bin at home and owning a house) impacted recycling behavior. The analysis also revealed that individual and contextual factors better predicted the intention to recycle rather than the actual recycling behavior. The study offers theoretical and practical implications and suggests that future research should examine the effects of contextual factors and the interplay between individual and contextual factors.

Example 10: Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits

Citation: Patterson, G. T., Chung, I. W., & Swan, P. W. (2014). Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits: A meta-analysis.  Journal of experimental criminology ,  10 , 487-513. Source:

The meta-analysis systematically reviews randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental studies that explore the effects of stress management interventions on outcomes among police officers. It looked at 12 primary studies published between 1984 and 2008. Across the studies, there were a total of 906 participants. Interestingly, it found that the interventions were not effective. Here, we can see how secondary research is valuable sometimes for showing there is no clear trend or consensus in existing literature. The conclusions suggest a need for further research to develop and implement more effective interventions addressing specific stressors and using randomized controlled trials.

3. Textbooks

Academic textbooks tend not to present new research. Rather, they present key academic information in ways that are accessible to university students and academics.

As a result, we can consider textbooks to be secondary rather than primary research. They’re collections of information and research produced by other people, then re-packaged for a specific audience.

Textbooks tend to be written by experts in a topic. However, unlike literature reviews and meta-analyses, they are not necessarily systematic in nature and are not designed to progress current knowledge through identifying gaps, weaknesses, and strengths in the existing literature.

Example 11: Psychology for the Third Millennium: Integrating Cultural and Neuroscience Perspectives

This textbook aims to bridge the gap between two distinct domains in psychology: Qualitative and Cultural Psychology , which focuses on managing meaning and norms, and Neuropsychology and Neuroscience, which studies brain processes. The authors believe that by combining these areas, a more comprehensive general psychology can be achieved, which unites the biological and cultural aspects of human life. This textbook is considered a secondary source because it synthesizes and integrates information from various primary research studies, theories, and perspectives in the field of psychology.

Example 12: Cultural Sociology: An Introduction

Citation: Bennett, A., Back, L., Edles, L. D., Gibson, M., Inglis, D., Jacobs, R., & Woodward, I. (2012).  Cultural sociology: an introduction . New York: John Wiley & Sons.

This student textbook introduces cultural sociology and proposes that it is a valid model for sociological thinking and research. It gathers together existing knowledge within the field to prevent an overview of major sociological themes and empirical approaches utilized within cultural sociological research. It does not present new research, but rather packages existing knowledge in sociology and makes it understandable for undergraduate students.

Example 13: A Textbook of Community Nursing

Citation: Chilton, S., & Bain, H. (Eds.). (2017).  A textbook of community nursing . New York: Routledge.

This textbook presents an evidence-based introduction to professional topics in nursing. In other words, it gathers evidence from other research and presents it to students. It covers areas such as care approaches, public health, eHealth, therapeutic relationships, and mental health. Like many textbooks, it brings together its own secondary research with user-friendly elements like exercises, activities, and hypothetical case studies in each chapter.

4. White Papers

White papers are typically produced within businesses and government departments rather than academic research environments.

Generally, a white paper will focus on a specific topic of concern to the institution in order to present a state of the current situation as well as opportunities that could be pursued for change, improvement, or profit generation in the future.

Unlike a literature review, a white paper generally doesn’t follow standards of academic rigor and may be presented with a bias toward, or focus on, a company or institution’s mission and values.

Example 14: Future of Mobility White Paper

Citation: Shaheen, S., Totte, H., & Stocker, A. (2018). Future of Mobility White Paper.  UC Berkeley: Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley Source:

This white paper explores the how transportation is changing due to concerns over climate change, equity of access to transit, and rapid technological advances (such as shared mobility and automation). The authors aggregate current information and research on key trends, emerging technologies/services, impacts on California’s transportation ecosystem, and future growth projections by reviewing state agency publications, peer-reviewed articles, and forecast reports from various sources. This white paper is an example of secondary research because it synthesizes and integrates information from multiple primary research sources, expert interviews, and input from an advisory committee of local and state transportation agencies.

Example 15: White Paper Concerning Philosophy of Education and Environment

Citation: Humphreys, C., Blenkinsop, S. White Paper Concerning Philosophy of Education and Environment.  Stud Philos Educ   36 (1): 243–264. Source:

This white paper acknowledges the increasing significance of climate change, environmental degradation, and our relationship with nature, and the need for philosophers of education and global citizens to respond. The paper examines five key journals in the philosophy of education to identify the scope and content of current environmental discussions. By organizing and summarizing the located articles, it assesses the possibilities and limitations of these discussions within the philosophy of education community. This white paper is an example of secondary research because it synthesizes and integrates information from multiple primary research sources, specifically articles from the key journals in the field, to analyze the current state of environmental discussions.

5. Academic Essays

Students’ academic essays tend to present secondary rather than primary research. The student is expected to study current literature on a topic and use it to present a thesis statement.

Academic essays tend to require rigorous standards of analysis, critique, and evaluation, but do not require systematic investigation of a topic like you would expect in a literature review.

In an essay, a student may identify the most relevant or important data from a field of research in order to demonstrate their knowledge of a field of study. They may also, after demonstrating sufficient knowledge and understanding, present a thesis statement about the issue.

Secondary research involves data that has already been collected. The published research might be reviewed, included in a meta-analysis, or subjected to a re-analysis.

These findings might be published in a peer-reviewed journal or handbook, become the foundation of a book for public consumption, or presented in a more narrative form for a popular website or magazine.

Sources for secondary research can range from scientific journals to government databases and archived data accumulated by research institutes.

University students might engage in secondary research to become familiar with an area of research. That might help spark an intriguing hypothesis for a research project of master’s thesis.

Secondary research can yield new insights into human behavior , or confirm existing conceptualizations of psychological constructs.


Dave Cornell (PhD)

Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

  • Dave Cornell (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 10 Token Economy Examples (For Teachers)
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Chris Drew (PhD)

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 10 Token Economy Examples (For Teachers)
  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 10 Linguistic Intelligence Examples (Plus Pros & Cons)
  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 9 Types of Validity in Research
  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 10 Content Validity Examples

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example of research paper using secondary data

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Secondary Research: Definition, Methods and Examples.

secondary research

In the world of research, there are two main types of data sources: primary and secondary. While primary research involves collecting new data directly from individuals or sources, secondary research involves analyzing existing data already collected by someone else. Today we’ll discuss secondary research.

One common source of this research is published research reports and other documents. These materials can often be found in public libraries, on websites, or even as data extracted from previously conducted surveys. In addition, many government and non-government agencies maintain extensive data repositories that can be accessed for research purposes.

LEARN ABOUT: Research Process Steps

While secondary research may not offer the same level of control as primary research, it can be a highly valuable tool for gaining insights and identifying trends. Researchers can save time and resources by leveraging existing data sources while still uncovering important information.

What is Secondary Research: Definition

Secondary research is a research method that involves using already existing data. Existing data is summarized and collated to increase the overall effectiveness of the research.

One of the key advantages of secondary research is that it allows us to gain insights and draw conclusions without having to collect new data ourselves. This can save time and resources and also allow us to build upon existing knowledge and expertise.

When conducting secondary research, it’s important to be thorough and thoughtful in our approach. This means carefully selecting the sources and ensuring that the data we’re analyzing is reliable and relevant to the research question . It also means being critical and analytical in the analysis and recognizing any potential biases or limitations in the data.

LEARN ABOUT: Level of Analysis

Secondary research is much more cost-effective than primary research , as it uses already existing data, unlike primary research, where data is collected firsthand by organizations or businesses or they can employ a third party to collect data on their behalf.

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Secondary Research Methods with Examples

Secondary research is cost-effective, one of the reasons it is a popular choice among many businesses and organizations. Not every organization is able to pay a huge sum of money to conduct research and gather data. So, rightly secondary research is also termed “ desk research ”, as data can be retrieved from sitting behind a desk.

example of research paper using secondary data

The following are popularly used secondary research methods and examples:

1. Data Available on The Internet

One of the most popular ways to collect secondary data is the internet. Data is readily available on the internet and can be downloaded at the click of a button.

This data is practically free of cost, or one may have to pay a negligible amount to download the already existing data. Websites have a lot of information that businesses or organizations can use to suit their research needs. However, organizations need to consider only authentic and trusted website to collect information.

2. Government and Non-Government Agencies

Data for secondary research can also be collected from some government and non-government agencies. For example, US Government Printing Office, US Census Bureau, and Small Business Development Centers have valuable and relevant data that businesses or organizations can use.

There is a certain cost applicable to download or use data available with these agencies. Data obtained from these agencies are authentic and trustworthy.

3. Public Libraries

Public libraries are another good source to search for data for this research. Public libraries have copies of important research that were conducted earlier. They are a storehouse of important information and documents from which information can be extracted.

The services provided in these public libraries vary from one library to another. More often, libraries have a huge collection of government publications with market statistics, large collection of business directories and newsletters.

4. Educational Institutions

Importance of collecting data from educational institutions for secondary research is often overlooked. However, more research is conducted in colleges and universities than any other business sector.

The data that is collected by universities is mainly for primary research. However, businesses or organizations can approach educational institutions and request for data from them.

5. Commercial Information Sources

Local newspapers, journals, magazines, radio and TV stations are a great source to obtain data for secondary research. These commercial information sources have first-hand information on economic developments, political agenda, market research, demographic segmentation and similar subjects.

Businesses or organizations can request to obtain data that is most relevant to their study. Businesses not only have the opportunity to identify their prospective clients but can also know about the avenues to promote their products or services through these sources as they have a wider reach.

Key Differences between Primary Research and Secondary Research

Understanding the distinction between primary research and secondary research is essential in determining which research method is best for your project. These are the two main types of research methods, each with advantages and disadvantages. In this section, we will explore the critical differences between the two and when it is appropriate to use them.

How to Conduct Secondary Research?

We have already learned about the differences between primary and secondary research. Now, let’s take a closer look at how to conduct it.

Secondary research is an important tool for gathering information already collected and analyzed by others. It can help us save time and money and allow us to gain insights into the subject we are researching. So, in this section, we will discuss some common methods and tips for conducting it effectively.

Here are the steps involved in conducting secondary research:

1. Identify the topic of research: Before beginning secondary research, identify the topic that needs research. Once that’s done, list down the research attributes and its purpose.

2. Identify research sources: Next, narrow down on the information sources that will provide most relevant data and information applicable to your research.

3. Collect existing data: Once the data collection sources are narrowed down, check for any previous data that is available which is closely related to the topic. Data related to research can be obtained from various sources like newspapers, public libraries, government and non-government agencies etc.

4. Combine and compare: Once data is collected, combine and compare the data for any duplication and assemble data into a usable format. Make sure to collect data from authentic sources. Incorrect data can hamper research severely.

4. Analyze data: Analyze collected data and identify if all questions are answered. If not, repeat the process if there is a need to dwell further into actionable insights.

Advantages of Secondary Research

Secondary research offers a number of advantages to researchers, including efficiency, the ability to build upon existing knowledge, and the ability to conduct research in situations where primary research may not be possible or ethical. By carefully selecting their sources and being thoughtful in their approach, researchers can leverage secondary research to drive impact and advance the field. Some key advantages are the following:

1. Most information in this research is readily available. There are many sources from which relevant data can be collected and used, unlike primary research, where data needs to collect from scratch.

2. This is a less expensive and less time-consuming process as data required is easily available and doesn’t cost much if extracted from authentic sources. A minimum expenditure is associated to obtain data.

3. The data that is collected through secondary research gives organizations or businesses an idea about the effectiveness of primary research. Hence, organizations or businesses can form a hypothesis and evaluate cost of conducting primary research.

4. Secondary research is quicker to conduct because of the availability of data. It can be completed within a few weeks depending on the objective of businesses or scale of data needed.

As we can see, this research is the process of analyzing data already collected by someone else, and it can offer a number of benefits to researchers.

Disadvantages of Secondary Research

On the other hand, we have some disadvantages that come with doing secondary research. Some of the most notorious are the following:

1. Although data is readily available, credibility evaluation must be performed to understand the authenticity of the information available.

2. Not all secondary data resources offer the latest reports and statistics. Even when the data is accurate, it may not be updated enough to accommodate recent timelines.

3. Secondary research derives its conclusion from collective primary research data. The success of your research will depend, to a greater extent, on the quality of research already conducted by primary research.

LEARN ABOUT: 12 Best Tools for Researchers

In conclusion, secondary research is an important tool for researchers exploring various topics. By leveraging existing data sources, researchers can save time and resources, build upon existing knowledge, and conduct research in situations where primary research may not be feasible.

There are a variety of methods and examples of secondary research, from analyzing public data sets to reviewing previously published research papers. As students and aspiring researchers, it’s important to understand the benefits and limitations of this research and to approach it thoughtfully and critically. By doing so, we can continue to advance our understanding of the world around us and contribute to meaningful research that positively impacts society.

QuestionPro can be a useful tool for conducting secondary research in a variety of ways. You can create online surveys that target a specific population, collecting data that can be analyzed to gain insights into consumer behavior, attitudes, and preferences; analyze existing data sets that you have obtained through other means or benchmark your organization against others in your industry or against industry standards. The software provides a range of benchmarking tools that can help you compare your performance on key metrics, such as customer satisfaction, with that of your peers.

Using QuestionPro thoughtfully and strategically allows you to gain valuable insights to inform decision-making and drive business success. Start today for free! No credit card is required.



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Secondary research: definition, methods, & examples.

18 min read This ultimate guide to secondary research helps you understand changes in market trends, customers buying patterns and your competition using existing data sources.

In situations where you’re not involved in the data gathering process ( primary research ), you have to rely on existing information and data to arrive at specific research conclusions or outcomes. This approach is known as secondary research.

In this article, we’re going to explain what secondary research is, how it works, and share some examples of it in practice.

What is secondary research?

Secondary research, also known as desk research, is a research method that involves compiling existing data sourced from  a variety of channels . This includes internal sources ( research) or, more commonly, external sources (such as government statistics, organisational bodies, and the internet).

Secondary research comes in several formats, such as published datasets, reports, and  survey responses , and can also be sourced from websites, libraries, and museums.

The information is usually free — or available at a limited access cost — and  gathered using surveys , telephone interviews, observation, face-to-face interviews, and more.

When using secondary research, researchers collect, verify, analyse and incorporate it to help them confirm research goals for the research period.

As well as the above, it can be used to review previous research into an area of interest. Researchers can look for patterns across data spanning several years and identify trends — or use it to verify early hypothesis statements and establish whether it’s worth continuing research into a prospective area.

How to conduct secondary research

There are five key steps to conducting secondary research effectively and efficiently:

1.    Identify and define the research topic

First, understand what you will be researching and define the topic by thinking about the research questions you want to be answered.

Ask yourself: What is the point of conducting this research? Then, ask: What do we want to achieve?

This may indicate an exploratory reason (why something happened) or confirm a hypothesis. The answers may indicate ideas that need primary or secondary research (or a combination) to investigate them.

2.    Find research and existing data sources

If secondary research is needed, think about where you might find the information. This helps you narrow down your secondary sources to those that help you answer your questions. What keywords do you need to use?

Which organisations are closely working on this topic already? Are there any competitors  that you need to be aware of?

Create a list of the data sources, information, and people that could help you with your work.

3.    Begin searching and collecting the existing data

Now that you have the list of data sources, start accessing the data and collect the information into an organised system. This may mean you start setting up research journal accounts or making telephone calls to book meetings with third-party research teams to verify the details around data results.

As you search and access information, remember to check the data’s date, the credibility of the source, the relevance of the material to your research topic, and the methodology used by the third-party researchers. Start small and as you gain results, investigate further in the areas that help your research’s aims.

4.    Combine the data and compare the results

When you have your data in one place, you need to understand, filter, order, and combine it intelligently. Data may come in different formats where some data could be unusable, while other information may need to be deleted.

After this, you can start to look at different data sets to see what they tell you. You may find that you need to compare the same datasets over different periods for changes over time or compare different datasets to notice overlaps or trends. Ask yourself: What does this data mean to my research? Does it help or hinder my research?

5.    Analyse your data and explore further

In this last stage of the process, look at the information you have and ask yourself if this answers your original questions for your research. Are there any gaps? Do you understand the information you’ve found? If you feel there is more to cover, repeat the steps and delve deeper into the topic so that you can get all the information you need.

If secondary research can’t provide these answers, consider supplementing your results with data gained from primary research. As you explore further, add to your knowledge and update your findings. This will help you present clear, credible information.

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Primary vs secondary research

Unlike secondary research, primary research involves creating data first-hand by directly working with interviewees, target users, or a target market. Primary research focuses on the  method  for carrying out research, asking questions, and collecting data using approaches such as:

  • Interviews (panel, face-to-face or over the phone)
  • Questionnaires or  surveys
  • Focus groups

Using these methods, researchers can get in-depth, targeted responses to questions, making results more accurate and specific to their research goals. However, it does take time to do and administer.

Unlike primary research, secondary research uses existing data, which also includes published results from primary research. Researchers summarise the existing research and use the results to support their research goals.

Both primary and secondary research have their places. Primary research can support the findings found through secondary research (and fill knowledge gaps), while secondary research can be a starting point for further primary research. Because of this, these research methods are often combined for optimal research results that are accurate at both the micro and macro level.

Sources of Secondary Research

There are two types of secondary research sources: internal and external. Internal data refers to in-house data that can be gathered from the researcher’s organisation. External data refers to data published outside of and not owned by the researcher’s organization.

Internal data

Internal data is a good first port of  call for insights  and knowledge, as you may already have relevant information stored in your systems. Because you own this information — and it won’t be available to other researchers — it can give you a competitive edge. Examples of internal data include:

  • Database information on sales history and business goal conversions
  • Information from website applications and mobile site data
  • Customer-generated data on product and service efficiency and use
  • Previous research results or supplemental research areas
  • Previous campaign results

External data

External data is useful when you: 1) need information on a new topic, 2) want to fill in gaps in your knowledge, or 3) want data that breaks down a population or market for trend and pattern analysis. Examples of external data include:

  • Government, non-government agencies, and trade body statistics
  • Company reports and research
  • Competitor research
  • Public library collections
  • Textbooks and research journals
  • Media stories in newspapers
  • Online journals and research sites

Three examples of secondary research methods in action

How and why might you conduct secondary research? Let’s look at a few examples:

1.    Collecting factual information from the internet on a specific topic or market

There are plenty of sites that hold data for people to view and use in their research. For example, Google Scholar, ResearchGate, or Wiley Online Library all provide previous research on a particular topic. Researchers can  create free accounts  and use the search facilities to look into a topic by keyword, before following the instructions to download or export results for further analysis.

This can be useful for exploring a new market that your organisation wants to consider entering. For instance, by viewing the U.K census data for that area, you can  see what the demographics of your target audience are , and create compelling marketing campaigns accordingly.

2.    Finding out the views of your target audience on a particular topic

If you’re interested in seeing the historical views on a particular topic, for example, attitudes to women’s rights in the US, you can turn to secondary sources.

Textbooks, news articles, reviews, and journal entries can all provide  qualitative reports and interviews covering how people discussed women’s rights. There may be multimedia elements like video or documented posters of propaganda showing biased language usage.

By gathering this information, synthesising it, and evaluating the language, who created it and when it was shared, you can create a timeline of how a topic was discussed over time.

3.    When you want to know the latest thinking on a topic

Educational institutions, such as schools and colleges, create a lot of research-based reports on younger audiences or their academic specialisms. Dissertations from students also can be submitted to research journals, making these places useful places to see the latest insights from a new generation of academics.

Information can be requested — and sometimes academic institutions may want to collaborate and conduct research on your behalf. This can provide key primary data in areas that you want to research, as well as secondary data sources for your research.

Advantages of secondary research

There are several benefits of using secondary research, which we’ve outlined below:

  • Easily and readily available data  – There is an abundance of readily accessible data sources that have been pre-collected for use, in person at local libraries and online using the internet. This data is usually sorted by filters or can be exported into spreadsheet format, meaning that little technical expertise is needed to access and use the data.
  • Faster research speeds  – Since the data is already published and in the public arena, you don’t need to collect this information through primary research. This can make the research easier to do and faster, as you can get started with the data quickly.
  • Low financial and time costs  – Most secondary data sources can be accessed for free or at a small cost to the researcher, so the overall research costs are kept low. In addition, by saving on preliminary research, the time costs for the researcher are kept down as well.
  • Secondary data can drive additional research actions  – The insights gained can support future research activities (like conducting a follow-up survey or specifying future detailed research topics) or help add value to these activities.
  • Secondary data can be useful pre-research insights  – Secondary source data can provide pre-research insights and information on effects that can help resolve whether research should be conducted. It can also help highlight knowledge gaps, so subsequent research can consider this.
  • Ability to scale up results  – Secondary sources can include large datasets (like Census data results across several states) so research results can be scaled up quickly using large secondary data sources.

Disadvantages of secondary research

The disadvantages of secondary research are worth considering in advance of  conducting research :

  • Secondary research data can be out of date  – Secondary sources can be updated regularly, but if you’re exploring the data between two updates, the data can be out of date. Researchers will need to consider whether the data available provides the right research coverage dates, so that insights are accurate and timely, or if the data needs to be updated. Also, fast-moving markets may find secondary data expires very quickly.
  • Secondary research needs to be verified and interpreted  – Where there’s a lot of data from one source, a researcher needs to review and analyse it. The data may need to be verified against other data sets or your hypotheses for accuracy and to ensure you’re using the right data for your research.
  • The researcher has had no control over the secondary research  – As the researcher has not been involved in the secondary research, invalid data can affect the results. It’s therefore vital that the methodology and controls are closely reviewed so that the data is collected in a systematic and error-free way.
  • Secondary research data is not exclusive  – As data sets are commonly available, there is no exclusivity and many researchers can use the same data. This can be problematic where researchers want to have exclusive rights over the research results and risk duplication of research in the future.

When do we conduct secondary research?

Now that you know the basics of secondary research, when do researchers normally conduct secondary research?

It’s often used at the beginning of research, when the researcher is trying to understand the current landscape. In addition, if the research area is new to the researcher, it can form crucial background context to help them understand what information exists already. This can plug knowledge gaps, supplement the researcher’s own learning or add to the research.

Secondary research can also be used in conjunction with primary research. Secondary research can become the formative research that helps pinpoint where further primary research is needed to find out specific information. It can also support or verify the findings from primary research.

You can use secondary research where high levels of control aren’t needed by the researcher, but a lot of knowledge on a topic is required from different angles.

Secondary research should not be used in place of primary research as both are very different and are used for various circumstances.

Questions to ask before conducting secondary research

Before you start your secondary research, ask yourself these questions:

Is there similar internal data that we have created for a similar area in the past?

If your organisation has past research, it’s best to review this work before starting a new project. The older work may provide you with the answers, and give you a starting dataset and context of how your organisation approached the research before. However, be mindful that the work is probably out of date and view it with that note in mind. Read through and look for where this helps your research goals or where more work is needed.

What am I trying to achieve with this research?

When you have clear goals, and understand what you need to achieve, you can look for the perfect type of secondary or primary research to support the aims. Different secondary research data will provide you with different information – for example, looking at news stories to tell you a breakdown of your market’s buying patterns won’t be as useful as internal or external data e-commerce and sales data sources.

How credible will my research be?

If you are looking for credibility, you want to consider how accurate the research results will need to be, and if you can sacrifice credibility for speed by using secondary sources to get you started. Bear in mind which sources you choose — low-credibility data sites, like political party websites that are highly biased to favor their own party, would skew your results.

What is the date of the secondary research?

When you’re looking to conduct research, you want the results to be as useful as possible, so using data that is 10 years old won’t be as accurate as using data that was created a year ago. Since a lot can change in a few years, note the date of your research and look for earlier data sets that can tell you a more recent picture of results. One caveat to this is using data collected over a long-term period for comparisons with earlier periods, which can tell you about the rate and direction of change.

Can the data sources be verified? Does the information you have check out?

If you can’t verify the data by looking at the research methodology, speaking to the original team or cross-checking the facts with other research, it could be hard to be sure that the data is accurate. Think about whether you can use another source, or if it’s worth doing some supplementary primary research to replicate and verify results to help with this issue.

We created a front-to-back guide on conducting market research,  The ultimate guide to conducting market research , so you can understand the research journey with confidence.

In it, you’ll learn more about:

  • What effective market research looks like
  • The use cases for market research
  • The most important steps to conducting market research
  • And how to take action on your research findings

Download the free guide for a clearer view on secondary research and other key research types for your business.

Related resources

Business research methods 12 min read, qualitative research design 12 min read, business research 10 min read, qualitative research interviews 11 min read, video in qualitative research 10 min read, descriptive research 8 min read, correlation research 11 min read, request demo.

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Secondary data analysis: New perspective for adolescent research

Profile image of Lynn  Rew

2000, Nursing Outlook

Adolescents are at high risk for preventable health problems, but realities of research funding and obtaining data from large samples make it difficult for many researchers to answer important questions. Secondary analysis of existing data sets is described as a reasonable alternative in spite of its limitations. Methods and available resources are identified along with suggestions for research priorities with adolescents.

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  • What is Secondary Research? | Definition, Types, & Examples

What is Secondary Research? | Definition, Types, & Examples

Published on January 20, 2023 by Tegan George . Revised on June 22, 2023.

Secondary research is a research method that uses data that was collected by someone else. In other words, whenever you conduct research using data that already exists, you are conducting secondary research. On the other hand, any type of research that you undertake yourself is called primary research .

Secondary research can be qualitative or quantitative in nature. It often uses data gathered from published peer-reviewed papers, meta-analyses, or government or private sector databases and datasets.

Table of contents

When to use secondary research, types of secondary research, examples of secondary research, advantages and disadvantages of secondary research, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions.

Secondary research is a very common research method, used in lieu of collecting your own primary data. It is often used in research designs or as a way to start your research process if you plan to conduct primary research later on.

Since it is often inexpensive or free to access, secondary research is a low-stakes way to determine if further primary research is needed, as gaps in secondary research are a strong indication that primary research is necessary. For this reason, while secondary research can theoretically be exploratory or explanatory in nature, it is usually explanatory: aiming to explain the causes and consequences of a well-defined problem.

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Secondary research can take many forms, but the most common types are:

Statistical analysis

Literature reviews, case studies, content analysis.

There is ample data available online from a variety of sources, often in the form of datasets. These datasets are often open-source or downloadable at a low cost, and are ideal for conducting statistical analyses such as hypothesis testing or regression analysis .

Credible sources for existing data include:

  • The government
  • Government agencies
  • Non-governmental organizations
  • Educational institutions
  • Businesses or consultancies
  • Libraries or archives
  • Newspapers, academic journals, or magazines

A literature review is a survey of preexisting scholarly sources on your topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant themes, debates, and gaps in the research you analyze. You can later apply these to your own work, or use them as a jumping-off point to conduct primary research of your own.

Structured much like a regular academic paper (with a clear introduction, body, and conclusion), a literature review is a great way to evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

A case study is a detailed study of a specific subject. It is usually qualitative in nature and can focus on  a person, group, place, event, organization, or phenomenon. A case study is a great way to utilize existing research to gain concrete, contextual, and in-depth knowledge about your real-world subject.

You can choose to focus on just one complex case, exploring a single subject in great detail, or examine multiple cases if you’d prefer to compare different aspects of your topic. Preexisting interviews , observational studies , or other sources of primary data make for great case studies.

Content analysis is a research method that studies patterns in recorded communication by utilizing existing texts. It can be either quantitative or qualitative in nature, depending on whether you choose to analyze countable or measurable patterns, or more interpretive ones. Content analysis is popular in communication studies, but it is also widely used in historical analysis, anthropology, and psychology to make more semantic qualitative inferences.

Secondary research is a broad research approach that can be pursued any way you’d like. Here are a few examples of different ways you can use secondary research to explore your research topic .

Secondary research is a very common research approach, but has distinct advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of secondary research

Advantages include:

  • Secondary data is very easy to source and readily available .
  • It is also often free or accessible through your educational institution’s library or network, making it much cheaper to conduct than primary research .
  • As you are relying on research that already exists, conducting secondary research is much less time consuming than primary research. Since your timeline is so much shorter, your research can be ready to publish sooner.
  • Using data from others allows you to show reproducibility and replicability , bolstering prior research and situating your own work within your field.

Disadvantages of secondary research

Disadvantages include:

  • Ease of access does not signify credibility . It’s important to be aware that secondary research is not always reliable , and can often be out of date. It’s critical to analyze any data you’re thinking of using prior to getting started, using a method like the CRAAP test .
  • Secondary research often relies on primary research already conducted. If this original research is biased in any way, those research biases could creep into the secondary results.

Many researchers using the same secondary research to form similar conclusions can also take away from the uniqueness and reliability of your research. Many datasets become “kitchen-sink” models, where too many variables are added in an attempt to draw increasingly niche conclusions from overused data . Data cleansing may be necessary to test the quality of the research.

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If you want to know more about statistics , methodology , or research bias , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Normal distribution
  • Degrees of freedom
  • Null hypothesis
  • Discourse analysis
  • Control groups
  • Mixed methods research
  • Non-probability sampling
  • Quantitative research
  • Inclusion and exclusion criteria

Research bias

  • Rosenthal effect
  • Implicit bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Selection bias
  • Negativity bias
  • Status quo bias

A systematic review is secondary research because it uses existing research. You don’t collect new data yourself.

The research methods you use depend on the type of data you need to answer your research question .

  • If you want to measure something or test a hypothesis , use quantitative methods . If you want to explore ideas, thoughts and meanings, use qualitative methods .
  • If you want to analyze a large amount of readily-available data, use secondary data. If you want data specific to your purposes with control over how it is generated, collect primary data.
  • If you want to establish cause-and-effect relationships between variables , use experimental methods. If you want to understand the characteristics of a research subject, use descriptive methods.

Quantitative research deals with numbers and statistics, while qualitative research deals with words and meanings.

Quantitative methods allow you to systematically measure variables and test hypotheses . Qualitative methods allow you to explore concepts and experiences in more detail.

Sources in this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

George, T. (2023, June 22). What is Secondary Research? | Definition, Types, & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved August 30, 2023, from
Largan, C., & Morris, T. M. (2019). Qualitative Secondary Research: A Step-By-Step Guide (1st ed.). SAGE Publications Ltd.
Peloquin, D., DiMaio, M., Bierer, B., & Barnes, M. (2020). Disruptive and avoidable: GDPR challenges to secondary research uses of data. European Journal of Human Genetics , 28 (6), 697–705.

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Other students also liked, primary research | definition, types, & examples, how to write a literature review | guide, examples, & templates, what is a case study | definition, examples & methods, what is your plagiarism score.


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