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Primary and Secondary Data Essay


We explore the availability and use of data (primary and secondary) in the field of business research.Specifically, we examine an international sample of doctoral dissertations since 1998, categorizingresearch topics, data collection, and availability of data. Findings suggest that use of only primarydata pervades the discipline, despite strong methodological reasons to augment with secondary data.


Data can be defined as the quantitative or qualitative values of a variable. Data is plural of datum which literally means to give or something given. Data is thought to be the lowest unit of information from which other measurements and analysis can be done. Data can be numbers, images, words, figures, facts or ideas. Data in itself cannot be understood and to get information from the data one must interpret it into meaningful information. There are various methods of interpreting data.

Data sources are broadly classified into primary and secondary data.Knowing how the data was collected allows critics of a study to search for bias in how it wasconducted. A good study will welcome such scrutiny. Each type has its own weaknesses andstrengths. Primary Data is gathered by people who can focus directly on the purpose in mind.This helps ensure that questions are meaningful to the purpose but can introduce bias in thosesame questions. Secondary data doesnt have the privilege of this focus but is only susceptibleto bias introduced in the choice of what data to reuse. Stated another way, those who gatherPrimary Data get to write the questions. Those who gather secondary data get to pick thequestions.


Data is one of the most important and vital aspect of any research studies. Researchers conducted in different fields of study can be different in methodology but every research is based on data which is analyzed and interpreted to get information. Data is the basic unit in statistical studies. Statistical information like census, population variables, health statistics, and road accidents records are all developed from data .Data is important in computer science. Numbers, images and figures in computer are all data .


There are two sources of data collection techniques. Primary and Secondary data collection techniques, Primary data collection uses surveys, experiments or direct observations .Secondary data collection may be conducted by collecting information from a diverse source of documents or electronically stored information, census and market studies are examples of a common sources of secondary data. This is also referred to as “data mining.”


Primary data means original data that has been collected specially for the purpose in mind. It means someone collected the data from the original source first hand. Data collected this way is called primary data .Primary data has not been published yet and is more reliable, authentic and objective .Primary data has not been changed or altered by human beings; therefore its validity is greater than secondary data.The people who gather primary data may be an authorized organization, investigator, enumerator or they may be just someone with a clipboard. These people are acting as a witness so primary data is only considered as reliable as the people who gathered it.


Importance of Primary data cannot be neglected. A research can be conducted withoutsecondary data but a research based on only secondary data is least reliable and may havebiases because secondary data has already been manipulated by human beings. In statisticalsurveys it is necessary to get information from primary sources and work on primary data: forexample, the statistical records of female population in a country cannot be based onnewspaper, magazine and other printed sources. One such sourceis old and secondly theycontain limited information as well as they can be misleading and biased.


Validity is one of the major concerns in a research. Validity is the quality of a research thatmakes it trustworthy and scientific. Validity is the use of scientific methods in research tomake it logical and acceptable.Using primary data in research can improves the validity of research. First-hand informationobtained from a sample that is representative of the target population will yield data that willbe valid for the entire target population.AuthenticityAuthenticity is the genuineness of the research. Authenticity can be at stake if the researcherinvests personal biases or uses misleading information inthe research. Primary research tools data can become more authentic if the methods chosen to analyze and interpret data arevalid and reasonably suitable for the data type.Primary sources are more authentic because the facts have not been overdone. Primary sourcecan be less authentic if the source hides information or alters facts due to some personalreasons. There are methods that can be employed to ensure factual yielding of data from thesource.


Reliability is the certainty that the research is enough true to be trusted on. For example, if aresearch study concludes that junk food consumption does not increase the risk of cancer andheart diseases. This conclusion should have to be drawn from a sample whose size, samplingtechnique and variability is not questionable.Reliability improves with using primary data. In the similar research mentioned above if theresearcher uses experimental method and questionnaires the results will be highly reliable.On the other hand, if he relies on the data available in books and on internet he will collectinformation that does not represent the real facts.


Sources for primary data are limited and at times it becomes difficult to obtain data fromprimary source because of either scarcity of population or lack of cooperation. Regardless ofany difficulty one can face in collecting primary data; it is the most authentic and reliabledata source. Following are some of the sources of primary data.


Experiments require an artificial or natural setting in which to perform logical study to collectdata. Experiments are more suitable for medicine, psychological studies, nutrition and forother scientific studies. In experiments the experimenter has to keep control over theinfluence of any extraneous variable on the results.SurveySurvey is most commonly used method in social sciences, management, marketing andpsychology to some extent. Surveys can be conducted in different methods. Questionnaire is the most commonly used method in survey. Questionnaires are a list ofquestions either an open-ended or close -ended for which the respondent give answers.

Questionnaire can be conducted via telephone, mail, live in a public area, or in an institute,through electronic mail or through fax and other methods. Interview is a face-to-face conversation with the respondent. It is slow, expensive, and theytake people away from their regular jobs, but they allow in-depth questioning and follow-upquestions.The interviewer can not only record the statements the interviewee speaks but he can observethe body language or non-verbal communication such as face-pulling, fidgeting, shrugging,hand gestures, sarcastic expressions that add further meaning to spoken words and otherreactions to the questions too.

A problem with interviews is that people might say what they think the interviewer wants tohear; they might avoid being honestly critical in case their jobs or reputation might suffer.And the respondent deliberately hides information otherwise it is an in depth source ofinformation. So this enables the interviewer to draw conclusions easily. Observations can be done while letting the observing person know that he is being observedor without letting him know. Observations can also be made in natural settings as well as inartificially created environment.Primary data can be relied on because you know where it came from and what was done to it.Its like cooking something yourself. You know what went into it.


Targeted Issues are addressedThe organization asking for the research has the complete control on the process and theresearch is streamlines as far as its objectives and scope is concerned. Researching companycan be asked to concentrate their efforts to find data regarding specific market rather thanconcentration on mass market.Data interpretation is betterThe collected data can be examined and interpreted by the marketers depending on theirneeds rather than relying on the interpretation made by collectors of secondary data.

Efficient Spending for Information

Unlike secondary research where the marketer may spend for information that is not needed,primary data collections’ focus on issues specific to the
researcher improves the chances thatresearch funds will be spent efficiently.

Decency of Data

Usually secondary data is not so recent and it may not be specific to the place or situationmarketer is targeting. The researcher can use the irrelevant seeming information for knowingtrends or may be able to find some relation with the current scenario. Thus primary databecomes a more accurate tool since we can use data which is useful for us.

Proprietary Issues

Information collected by using primary research is their own and is generally not shared withothers. Thus, information can be kept hidden from competitors and potentially offer an“information advantage” to the company that undertook the primary research. This gives anedge over competitors replying on secondary data.

Addresses Specific Research Issues

Carrying out their own research allows the marketing organization to address issues specificto their own situation. Primary research is designed to collect the information the marketerwants to know (Step 2) and report it in ways that benefit the marketer. For example, whileinformation reported with secondary research may not fit the marketer’s needs (e.g., differentage groupings) no such problem exists with primary research since the marketer controls theresearch design.Greater ControlNot only does primary research enable the marketer to focus on specific issues, it also enablesthe marketer to have a higher level of control over how the information is collected. In thisway the marketer can decide on such issues as size of project (e.g., how many responses),location of research (e.g., geographic area) and time frame for completing the project.


High Cost

Compared to secondary research, primary data may be very expensive since there is a greatdeal of marketer involvement and the expense in preparing and carrying out research can behigh and has to design everything.

Time Consuming

To be done correctly primary data collection requires the development and execution of aresearch plan. Going from the start-point of deciding to undertake a research project to theend-point to having results is often much longer than the time it takes to acquire secondarydata, which can be collected in much lesser time duration.Inaccurate Feed-backs

In case the research involves taking feedbacks from the targeted audience, there are highchances that feedback given is not correct. Feedbacks by their basic nature are usually biasedor given just for the sake of it.

More number of resources is required

Leaving aside cost and time, other resources like human resources and materials too are needed in larger quantity to do surveys and data collection.


Secondary data is the data that has been already collected by and readily available from othersources. When we use Statistical Method with Primary Data from another purpose for ourpurpose we refer to it as Secondary Data. It means that one purposes Primary Data is anotherpurposes Secondary Data. So that secondary data is data that is being reused. Such data arecheaper and more quickly obtainable than the primary data.These secondary data may be obtained from many sources, including literature, industrysurveys, compilations from computerized databases and information systems, andcomputerized or mathematical models of environmental processes.


Secondary data can be less valid but its importance is still there. Sometimes it is difficult toobtain primary data; in these cases getting information from secondary sources is easier andpossible. Sometimes primary data does not exist in such situation one has to confine theresearch on secondary data.Sometimes primary data is present but the respondents are not willing to reveal it in such casetoo secondary data can suffice: for example, if the research is on the psychology oftranssexuals first it is difficult to find out transsexuals and second they may not be willing togive information you want for your research, so you can collect data from books or otherpublished sources.


Secondary data is often readily available. After the expense of electronic media and internetthe availability of secondary data has become much easier.Published Printed SourcesThere are varieties of published printed sources. Their credibility depends on many factors.For example, on the writer, publishing company and time and date when published. Newsources are preferred and old sources should be avoided as new technology and researchesbring new facts into light.


Books are available today on any topic that you want to research. The uses of books startbefore even you have selected the topic. After selection of topics books provide insight onhow much work has already been done on the same topic and you can prepare your literaturereview. Books are secondary source but most authentic one in secondary sources.


Journals and periodicals are becoming more important as far as data collection is concerned.The reason is that journals provide up-to-date information which at times books cannot andsecondly, journals can give information on the very specific topic on which you areresearching rather talking about more general topics.


Magazines are also effective but not very reliable. Newspaper on the other hand is morereliable and in some cases the information can only be obtained from newspapers as in thecase of some political studies.

Published Electronic Sources

As internet is becoming more advance, fast and reachable to the masses; it has been seen thatmuch information that is not available in printed form is available on internet. In the past thecredibility of internet was questionable but today it is not. The reason is that in the pastjournals and books were seldom published on internet but today almost every journal andbook is available online. Some are free and for others you have to pay the price.


e-journals are more commonly available than printed journals.Latest journals are difficult to retrieve without subscription but if your university has an e-library you can view any journal, print it and those that are not available you can make anorder for them.General Websites; Generally websites do not contain very reliable information so theircontent should be checked for the reliability before quoting from them.Weblogs: Weblogs are also becoming common. They are actually diaries written by differentpeople. These diaries are as reliable to use as personal written diaries.

Unpublished Personal Records

Some unpublished data may also be useful in some cases.

Diaries: Diaries are personal records and are rarely available but if you are conducting adescriptive research then they might be very useful. The Anne Franks diary is the mostfamous example of this. That diary contained the most accurate records of Nazi wars. Letters: Letters like diaries are also a rich source but should be checked for their reliabilitybefore using them.

Government Records

Government records are very important for marketing, management, humanities and socialscience research. Census Data/population statistics Health records Educational institutes records Public Sector Records

NGOs survey data Other private companies records


Ease of AccessThere are many advantages to using secondary research. This includes the relative ease ofaccess to many sources of secondary data. In the past secondary data accumulation requiredmarketers to visit libraries, or wait for reports to be shipped by mail. Now with theavailability of online access, secondary research is more openly accessed. This offersconvenience and generally standardized usage methods for all sources of secondary research.Low Cost to AcquireThe use of secondary data has allowed researchers access to valuable information for little orno cost to acquire. Therefore, this information is much less expensive than if the researchershad to carry out the research themselves.

Clarification of Research Question

The use of secondary research may help the researcher to clarify the research question.Secondary research is often used prior to primary research to help clarify the research focus.

May Answer Research Question

The use of secondary data collection is often used to help align the focus of large scaleprimary research. When focusing on secondary research, the researcher may realize that theexact information they were looking to uncover is already available through secondarysources. This would effectively eliminate the need and expense to carry out their ownprimary research.

May Show Difficulties in Conducting Primary Research

In many cases, the originators of secondary research include details of how the informationwas collected. This may include information detailing the procedures used in data collectionand difficulties encountered in conducting the primary research. Therefore, the detaileddifficulties may persuade the researcher to decide that the potential information obtained isnot worth the potential difficulties in conducting the research.


Quality of Research

There are some disadvantages to using secondary research. The originators of the primaryresearch are largely self-governed and controlled by the marketer. Therefore, the secondaryresearch used must be scrutinized closely since the origins of the information may bequestionable. Moreover, the researcher needs to take sufficient steps to critically evaluate thevalidity and reliability of the information provided.Not Specific to Researcher’s NeedsIn many cases, secondary data is not presented in a form that exactly meets the researcher’sneeds. Therefore, the researcher needs to rely on secondary data that is presented andclassified in a way that is similar to their needs.Incomplete InformationIn many cases, researchers find information that appears valuable and promising. Theresearcher may not get the full version of the research to gain the full value of the study. This is because many research suppliers offer free portions of their research and then chargeexpensive fees for their full reports.

Not Timely

When using secondary research, one must exercise caution when using dated informationfrom the past. With companies competing in fast changing industries, an out-of-date researchreports many have little or no relevance to the current market situation.


Because of the above mentioned disadvantages of secondary data, we will lead to evaluation of secondary data. Evaluation means the following four requirements must be satisfied:- 1. Availability- It has to be seen that the kind of data you want is available or not. If it is not available then you have to go for primary data. 2. Relevance- It should be meeting the requirements of the problem. For this we have two criterion:- a. Units of measurement should be the same. b. Concepts used must be same and currency of data should not be outdated. 3. Accuracy- In order to find how accurate the data is, the following points must be considered: – a. Specification and methodology used; b. Margin of error should be examined; c. The dependability of the source must be seen. 4. Sufficiency- Adequate data should be available.Robert W Joselyn has classified the above discussion into eight steps. These eight steps aresub classified into three categories. He has given a detailed procedure for evaluatingsecondary data. 1. Applicability of research objective. 2. Cost of acquisition. 3. Accuracy of data.


Primary research entails the use of immediate data in determining the survival of the market.The popular ways to collect primary data consist of surveys, interviews and focus groups,which shows that direct relationship between potential customers and the companies.Whereas secondary research is a means to reprocess and reuse collected information as anindication for betterments of the service or product.Both primary and secondary data are useful for businesses but both may differ from eachother in various aspects.

In secondary data, information relates to a past period. Hence, it lacksaptness and therefore, it has unsatisfactory value. Primary data is more accommodating as itshows latest information.Secondary data is obtained from some other organization than the one instantaneouslyinterested with current research project. Secondary data was collected and analyzed by theorganization to convene the requirements of various research objectives. Primary data isaccumulated by the researcher particularly to meet up the research objective of the subsistingproject.Secondary data though old may be the only possible source of the desired data on thesubjects, which cannot have primary data at all.

For example, survey reports or secret recordsalready collected by a business group can offer information that cannot be obtained fromoriginal sources.Firm in which secondary data are accumulated and delivered may not accommodate the exactneeds and particular requirements of the current research study. Many a time, alteration ormodifications to the exact needs of the investigator may not be sufficient. To that amountusefulness of secondary data will be lost. Primary data is completely tailor-made and there isno problem of adjustments.Secondary data is available effortlessly, rapidly and inexpensively. Primary data takes a lot oftime and the unit cost of such data is relatively high.Often secondary data have been pre-processed to give totals or averages and the original details are lost so you cant verify it byreplicating the methods used by the original data collectors.In short, primary data are expensive and difficult to acquire, but they are trustworthy.Secondary data are cheap and easy to collect, but must be treated with caution.


1. and.html#ixzz2B6ioqOwT 2. 3. Bryman, A. and E. Bell: 2003, Business Research Methods (Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York). 4. Dillman, Don A. Mail and Telephone Surveys: The Total Design Method. New York, John Wiley and Sons, 1978. 5. Galpin, T. The Use of Mail Questionnaires as a Method of Data Collection. (Sept, 1987) 14 of 15

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