Difference Between Primary and Secondary Data

What is the difference between primary and secondary research data?

Expert Answers
litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The difference between primary and second research collection is that primary research data collection involves conducting research oneself, or using the data for the purpose it was intended for.  Secondary research data, on the other hand, was collected by a third party or for some other purpose.

Primary data can be collected by someone in the organization.  This person has to have a clear plan for conducting research, including specific research questions and methodology.  The data that is collected is used for its intended purpose.

Although there are many different ways to classify designs, one that gives a clear overview of the various procedures is based on three methods of generating primary data: experimentation, observation, and survey. (enotes, see first link)

Secondary data might actually be the product of other research, or might have been collected by someone else.  Unlike primary data, secondary data is not tightly controlled by the researcher.  The process has already happened, or the data was collected for a different purpose.

To determine the data sources for the research project, an assessment must first be made of the amount and type of data presently available. These data are called secondary data. (enotes, see first link)

Which data you use depends entirely on your resources and your purposes.  Each has its benefits and drawbacks.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Primary data is information you collect by some direct process of experimentation or observation. For example, if you are doing research on rat behavior, you would acquire primary data by obtaining a large number of rats and conducting experiments on them in a laboratory. You might then organize and analyze your observations and publish them in a scientific journal. Your work would be considered primary research.

A second way to learn about rat behavior would be to read through published studies about how rats act rather than directly studying the rats themselves. Your research would be conducted in a library or online, and involve reading rather than dealing with rats. This is secondary research using secondary (second-hand) data. Many metastudies, for example, do statistical analysis of large groups of primary studies.

bob88 | Student

 Primary data is data collected with first hand experience,  you do the work as part of the research or project assignment.  A survey or questionnaire is a common way to collect primary data.  Survey responses can be coordinated by telephone, mail, in person and online.  A key advantage for using primary data allows the researchers to collect data specifically targeting the ideas or information most useful to them and their research project requirements.


Secondary data is collected by someone or group other than the user.  Secondary data can include census or other government information.  Administrative data refers to data collected as part of daily operations of an organization, agency or institution.  Secondary data tends to be routine, large samples, and comprehensive.