A dissertation or thesis research project requires a significant amount of research, with secondary research a necessity for any paper. The secondary research may be undertaken to create the theoretical foundation for the dissertation with the produce the literature review, and it may also be used as an alternative to primary research.

Defining Secondary Research

To examine the use of secondary researchit is first necessary to differentiate secondary from primary research. Primary research occurs where a researcher designs a research project and then collects the results directly from the original sources and can control the collection of the data. Secondary data is data that has already been collected by other researchers in previous research projects and is accessed through existing publications. Examples of secondary sources include;

  • Publications such as journal articles and books
  • Conferences papers/proceedings
  • Television and radio broadcasts
  • Past dissertations
  • Official/government reports
  • Company accounts or other internal organizational reports

The Uses of Secondary Research in a Dissertation

The first use of secondary research in a dissertation is to create the literature review. The literature review is based purely on secondary research, drawing together articles on topics relevant to the main topic. When undertaking secondary research, the review should include secondary research drawing on the empirical research that developed or established the theories that will be applied in the research. Good research will also include additional research reviewing and testing the theories to provide a balanced approach.
Secondary research may also be undertaken at the principle research approach as an alternative primary research. When performed in place of primary research, the research methodology will be based on using data collected and published by others and reanalysing, reinterpreting, or reviewing the data.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Secondary Research

The use of secondary research can be advantageous as it is more cost-effective, the data may be more easily accessed, which reduce the time scale and budget needed for the research to be completed. However, secondary research also has some disadvantages. The data is unlikely to be a perfect match for the dissertation planned as the collection was undertaken by a different researcher who may have been answering a different research question, The data may also require reformatting and the detail of the data may be lacking, requiring the correlation of different data sets, or reformulation of the research question.

The Secondary Research Process

The research process using secondary sources may be divided into four stages.

  1. Formulate the research question. This will usually require a review of available literature to identify and narrow down an area of research which may be undertaken using secondary data.
  2. Identify the secondary data set that can be used to answer the research question.
  3. Assess the suitability of the available secondary data, including the degree to which it is aligned with the research question and the quality of the research process which generated the data. Identify alternate or more data if it is needed to increase the robustness of the study
  4. Prepare and then analyse the secondary data in line with the chosen analytical techniques with the aim of answering the research question

Notably, while secondary research may be used in place of primary research, there is also the potential to use it in conjunction with or as a supplement to primary research.