Every research method, traditional or modern, falls into one of two categories: primary research or secondary research. Primary research is information gathered through self-conducted research methods, while secondary research is information gathered from previously conducted studies.
Secondary research is usually where most research begins. This is because secondary research may provide a researcher with a basis of knowledge on what relevant information had already been compiled by other researchers in the past.
Primary research fills in the subsequent gaps in information that a researcher was not able to gather through secondary research methods. The goal of primary research is to answer specific questions that directly pertain to the project at hand. This type of research is extremely valuable, yet, due to its nature, takes more time to collect than secondary research.
Conducting secondary research is similar to the research that students conduct throughout school. Answers to research questions are already available online, in academic databases, in the news, in published books, journals, etc.—the work is in wading through the information that is already available and finding data that coincides with the particular research project.
The volume of information available on a particular topic may be overwhelming at the beginning of the secondary research process. Research questions should be used to guide the researcher as they focus on finding project-specific information. The best source to answer a particular research question may vary widely, and a single project will likely require more than one source.
The purpose of primary research is to gather information and answer questions that have not been asked before. Primary research is typically more time-consuming and has higher associated costs, so it is in the best interest of an organization to only conduct primary research after the gaps in available secondary research have been identified.
Primary research should be conducted only after comprehensive secondary research is completed. This is important to note because primary research uses more resources than secondary research. In primary research, the research team is in charge of everything from choosing the best method to reach a desired audience, to what specific metrics should be measured. Conducting secondary research beforehand is necessary to determine what information is not already available so time and money is not wasted on redundant primary research.
Just like secondary market research, the best primary research method for each individual project is determined by the research questions that need to be answered.
Pros and cons of primary vs secondary research
Every market research method, whether it is categorized as a primary or secondary method, has positive aspects and drawbacks. Generally speaking, secondary research is where most researchers should begin when opening a new research project. Whether primary research is necessary or not, secondary research is a valuable step in the market research process.
Secondary research is worthwhile because it is generally more cost-effective than primary research and it provides a foundation for any project. Evaluating the current landscape of available information before moving on to primary research methods can save time and money that may be better spent elsewhere.
The main limitations of secondary research are associated with chance. Depending on the research questions, there may or may not be information available that provides concrete answers. If there is not enough information from past studies, it may be necessary to funnel time and money into primary methods of research.
Subsequent primary research, when necessary, should be planned out carefully in advance. The purpose of primary research is to answer specific questions that accomplish a project’s research goals. The specific nature of answering questions tailored to individual needs is one reason why primary research is valuable. Timeline and budget restrictions may be limiting factors for primary research, but planning ahead is worthwhile for the valuable information that this method can provide.
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