Research Methods and Processes

Start Free Trial

What is the difference between primary and secondary research data?

The difference between primary and secondary research is that primary research involves conducting research firsthand, whereas secondary research relies on information gathered or provided by others.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Primary and secondary data are both extremely valuable data types when performing research. However, they are very different and should be treated as such. The main distinction between the two types is the source, namely who provided or collected the data.

Primary data is information which is collected by the researcher themselves. This data is the most valid and valuable because the researcher is certain of the methodology that was used in gathering the data. This type of data also avoids confirmation bias to some degree since it is simply the presentation of the results of experimentation or surveying.

Secondary data is information provided from any party aside from the researcher, such as previous research, retellings of information from an outside observer, or something similar. It is excellent to provide corroboration, but it can be biased and the methods of collection may have been flawed.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial