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Primary and Secondary research

Review of Research Options

Basic premise:
Academic investigations should be approached in a systematic way.

Before deciding on your research options, you need to work out a profile of the study to see what types of research approach or methods will be most appropriate.

Click here for a recommended sequence of steps to follow in the research  process.

Social - part of a community of scholars

Research in the Social Sciences is expected to combine the  originality of an individual study with the connection of that work to existing disciplinary knowledge and previous research.

Also, any study which the researcher intends to share with a wider community, whether academic or business, needs to be contextualised to show where it comes from in terms of

Note: This functional analysis of the stages in the research report shows the progression from secondary research to primary research, and back to a comparison with other scholars' findings.

Note: Go to General Discussion to see how research reports require a discussion of results which relates your own study to comparable empirical work by other scholars [preferably already introduced in your Literature Review].

What are primary and secondary research options ?

You should always consider secondary research options first.

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Secondary research options

There are a range of resources available for secondary research: the most well-known are:

Dunsmuir and Williams (1992) list the following advantages and disadvantages of secondary research:

Secondary research



  • Cheap and accessible - especially a University Library
  • Often the only resource, for example historical documents
  • Only way to examine large-scale trends
  • Lack of consistency of perspective
  • Biases and inaccuracies can not be checked
  • Published statistics often raise more questions than they answer (for example, what does church attendance tell us about religious beliefs?)
  • The concern over whether any data can be totally separated from the context of its collection

Problems for second-language students

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Primary Research Options

The most common primary research resources are:

Dunsmuir & Williams again, on advantages and disadvantages of Social Surveys:

Social Surveys

Advantages Disadvantages

Quick and cheap if your sample is small
  • Computer codable for quick analysis and repetition
  • Coding enables multiple comparisons among variables
  • Allows generalization to a larger population
  • Verifiable by replication and re-questioning of interviewees/respondents

    Using a large sample can be time-consuming
    • Over-reliance on computed (statistical) analysis loses individual meanings and case study data
    • Closed questions may constrain the data (pre-empting a richer range of response)
    • Respondents may interpret the questions differently. This makes comparison of the answers difficult
    • Researchers can bias the data by concept definition and question framing
    • It is impossible to check if people are responding honestly
    • Response rate may be low and selection non-random. This affects the validity of any inferred generalisations

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