Conducting secondary research is similar to the research that students conduct throughout primary school. Answers to research questions are already available online, in academic databases, the news, 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. This post will focus on various sources of secondary research that may be used to compile the answers to research questions.

For more information on the market research process and special considerations for emerging markets, download our free, 30-page guide here.


The Internet is one of the most powerful tools for conducting secondary research today. Through online research, one may uncover case studies, news articles, government websites, or statistics from previous market research projects. If the information available stems from a reputable source, then it can be incorporated to answer the project’s research questions.

Many search engines, like Google, provide users with “advanced search” capabilities. Using search tools can help narrow down search results to what is truly relevant to the research questions.

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Academic journals and books

Universities and educational institutions often place a high level of importance on conducting unique research. Google’s advanced search feature is helpful for filtering results for articles and papers published through academic journals.

Information found in academic journals may be one of the best sources available online today because all published papers must be vetted thoroughly for accuracy before they appear online.

Some prominent academic journals specific to the marketing industry include, but are not limited to, the following,

  • Journal of Consumer Research
  • International Journal of Research in Marketing
  • International Marketing Review
  • Journal of Consumer Culture
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Aside from academic journals, books may be relevant to accomplishing research goals, depending on the project. Relevant information that answers research questions could be available in a formally published version of a book.

Also, be sure to keep in mind that some books are published only as electronic books. In this case, the book can be viewed similarly to any other online source—the only difference would be that it requires up-front payment for access.

Internet advertising analytics

Many organizations are also passively collecting information on their consumers through pay-per-click advertising. Everything from Google search advertisements to Facebook display advertisements provide a vast amount of information back to the user running the ads. Advertising data is typically useful for understanding consumer behavior, but can provide various additional information, like overall drive in revenue and return on ad spend.

Collecting data for analysis from digital advertising platforms is an effective method of secondary research and can provide thousands of insights that may answer specific research questions.

Professional associations

Professional associations are organizations that bring industry professionals together for the progressive development of the industry as a whole. Typically not for profit, the webpages for professional associations may contain valuable information that aligns with a project’s research goals and lead researchers to other sources they may not have discovered yet.

The American Association for Public Opinion Research, the World Association for Public Opinion Research, and the American Evaluation Association are examples of professional associations that may be helpful for secondary market research.


Many companies are constantly, oftentimes passively, collecting information on their consumers through technology. Whether it is information on when particular products are purchased or information provided by consumers at point of an e-commerce sale, brands typically have large sets of data that can be utilized to answer market research questions—granted this information may need to be re-organized. Digging through data points that a company already owns is a method of secondary research if it is analyzed for the purpose of answering research questions.

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Depending on the information available, data can answer questions like:

  • What time of day are customers most likely to make purchases?
  • Where do the majority of our customers live?
  • Which products from Q3 were most profitable?
  • Which color product, red or blue, sold more units in the past fiscal year?

Challenges of collecting secondary research in emerging markets

Of course, it depends which market is being analyzed, but, generally speaking, conducting secondary research in emerging markets presents a unique set of challenges for research teams. Emerging markets typically have less readily available previously conducted research—especially research that will answer specific research questions. Information that is commonplace in well-established markets may not be readily available for the consumer base in the area of interest. In this section of the report, we will cover some challenges to conducting secondary research in emerging markets that your research team should be prepared to encounter during market research projects.

Language differences

Depending on the market, research on the area that has been previously conducted may be published and available but written in a foreign language. In a case like this, researchers would have to use expensive custom translation services just to be able to decipher if the source is relevant to the project, which is not a realistic practice.

Governments and unreliable information

The government in the country of interest may not gather accurate information on their citizens. Many organizations find this a hindrance to their research capabilities in those areas. For example, the United Nations has been struggling to evaluate the performance of the Millennium Development Goals project of the 1990s and early 2000s due to the lack of accurate census data provided by many countries’ governments.

Information that is relatively reliable in many countries, like census data, may not be reliable—or available at all—in certain emerging markets. In Africa, for example, not even half of births are recorded by the government and in Afghanistan the census from 1979 is the most updated information available.

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Lack of Investment

Seeing as emerging markets are newly becoming profitable on a larger scale, many bigger companies are just now beginning to funnel money into research on consumers. As the big brands move in, the infrastructure for secondary research will develop alongside it. Until then, there will be limited information available from other research projects and most research will need to be conducted as needed.

Not enough information

It is probable that each market research project only face a couple of the challenges outlined above. Even if reliable, relevant information that answers research questions is found for the market of interest, it is likely that some further research, beyond secondary research, will be necessary for a comprehensive market research project. 

GeoPoll Market Research

GeoPoll is an organization that facilitates primary research in emerging markets across the globe. Secondary research is an extremely important step in the process of data collection for each of our clients’ projects. This is because comprehensive secondary research allows for the narrowing down of what questions need to be answered through the primary research process. Our free, downloadable, 30-page Guide to Conducting Research in Emerging Markets is a wonderful resource for learning more about the market research process.

GeoPoll staff are research experts that assist clients with primary research from the planning stage to the evaluation stage. If you are interested in conducting a custom research project, GeoPoll could be your project’s best aid. Contact us today to learn more about our product offerings and services.