A Step by Step Guide to Secondary Research

The world of research is comprised of three forms – Primary, Secondary and Tertiary. Secondary research is the form of research wherein the researcher utilises the already available data to estimate and gather results. Hence, it is also referred to as ‘second-hand’ research.

In order to conduct secondary research, the entire process is separated into three key steps.


Ascertaining the research question and identifying the sources

The first step is to specify the area of research and outline the questions you aim to unravel through the research process. This step provides the opportunity to identify the relevant sources you will look at, how you will access them and possibly the sections within them that are most useful.

In addition, this initial research into appropriate sources can also highlight gaps in the existing research. This information will be particularly useful when writing a literature review as it shows an excellent understanding of the area you are researching.

different types of dissertation data

Data Collection from databases

Once the area of research and sources have been identified, the second step is to embark on the journey of data collection. This process is the most time consuming and can occur at any point during your research. For example, when writing an in-depth dissertation, you will more than likely conduct continuous research as you write and come across new discussions in your work.

There are two types of secondary data: qualitative and quantitative.

‘Quantitative data is information about quantities, and therefore numbers, and qualitative data regards phenomenon which can be observed but not measured, such as language’

Therefore, you can obtain a variety of data through secondary research including: previous surveys, questionnaires and experiments which offer fixed, measurable data, and books, magazines or journals which offer observations and opinions.

Additionally, the source of the data is also important. You must ensure that your sources are reliable, relevant and correct and where you have sourced them is equally so. Therefore, take advantage of your university’s library where there are thousands of texts available, as well as, journals, dvds, newspapers and other publications and exclusive archives. The internet is not the answer for everything and can lead you to unreliable, bias or false data all together.

Also be aware of how much time you are dedicating to sources. Skim reading, photocopying certain pages, only reading relevant chapters and pinpointing the most applicable data for your research is key to not lose track and ensures your argument is also precise.


Evaluation and Normalisation of collected datasets

The third step is to assess and normalise the collected data for your own needs and evaluate the information you have gathered. Secondary research can be overwhelming when you are evaluating many sources, however selecting specific arguments and data will help you organise your research.

Therefore, use methods such as comparison tables to:

  • Organise your for and against arguments
  • Highlight quotes that correlate and disagree
  • Find trends within your normalised data.
  • Have all references associated and formatted
  • Begin evaluation of all the sources and the arguments presented


Follow these steps to undertake successful secondary research. Ultimately, by being precise, informed and deliberate about the research you are conducting, you will be able to present a strong, supported argument through your own research, that also save you time in long run.

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