Primary and Secondary Data

Data collection is an important part of carrying out research. How this data is collected and processed differs based on whether it is primary or secondary data, depending on the researcher. 

Primary and Secondary Data Primary and Secondary Data

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Contents
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    You may have noticed some studies are conducted by the researchers themselves, which includes the collection of data and subsequent analysis of the data. In contrast, some researchers obtain data from other, previously conducted studies to further analyse the information.

    Primary and Secondary Data, multiple scientists consulting icons of research, StudySmarterThose conducting research may conduct a study and collect the data themselves or consult with other researchers to analyse their data.

    Difference Between Primary and Secondary Data

    Primary and secondary are both types of data. However, they differ in many key ways, such as:

    • How the data is collected
    • How is the data analysed
    • The merits and demerits of both types of data.

    Whether a researcher uses primary and/or secondary data is usually determined by the availability of the information and the research design that will be used in the study.

    Primary and Secondary Data

    Primary data is usually collected from the source, the participant, by the researcher conducting the study.

    Primary data is defined as data that the researcher collects themself using their own experiment or through observing first-hand. It is also original data.

    Secondary data is defined as data that the researcher has not collected themself. This can take the form of previously published findings, previous medical records or, diaries. Secondary data is previously collected information about the source.

    Secondary data is usually collected when the researcher cannot collect data at the time of the study. This is because the study may investigate a past event, such as a historical event, and information may not be readily available.

    A meta-analysis summarises previously published results to identify if the majority of the research supports or disproves the proposed hypothesis and is an example of secondary data.

    Methods of Data Collection: Primary and Secondary Data

    The methods of data collection of primary data that are commonly used are:

    • Experiments or first-hand observations
    • Interviews
    • Questionnaires
    • Psychometric tests

    Psychometric tests are types of assessments that are used to measure various things such as talents, skills and personality.

    The methods of data collection of secondary data that are commonly used are:

    • Government statistics
    • Diaries/personal letters
    • Newspapers
    • Memoirs/ autobiographies
    • Previous research

    Previous research is research that has been published by other researchers. This data collection method is usually used by researchers when carrying out a meta-analysis or systematic review.

    Primary Data and Secondary Data Examples

    The following research scenario gives primary and secondary data examples of how both types of data may be collected when conducting research.

    Hypothesis: the researcher proposed that bullying at school can lead to the onset of affective disorders.

    Data collection methods:

    • Primary data: interviews, psychometric tests and questionnaires.
    • Secondary data: diaries, medical records and therapists' notes.

    The Advantages of Primary and Secondary Data

    The table below summarises the advantages of primary and secondary data:

    Advantages of primary data Advantages of secondary data
    The researcher can collect all the information needed to investigate the research question, aims and hypothesis. Secondary data is usually not a time-consuming method to collect data.
    As the researcher collected the data themself, it is easier to identify/test the reliability and validity of the data collected.Allows researchers to investigate concepts that cannot be tested now, for example, using old medical records to measure mental health prevalence in the past.
    The researcher will collect up-to-date information. Over time, the results from research may change due to different factors, such as societal advancements. Therefore, this type of data may be considered more useful. Meta-analysis/systematic reviews rely on previously published reviews. These types of research are useful because they use empirical evidence for summarising the key findings of existing research regarding a phenomenon.

    The Disadvantages of Primary and Secondary Data

    The table below summarises the disadvantages of primary and secondary data:

    Disadvantages of primary dataDisadvantages of secondary data
    Depending on the method used to collect data, it can be costly.There can be ethical issues surrounding certain secondary data such as medical/psychiatric notes, confidentiality, and causing participants distress.
    This method can be more time-consuming to collect data.It can be difficult for the researchers to establish the reliability and validity of the data.
    This type of data collection requires more work than secondary data. Data that the researcher may be interested in may be missing - this reduces the utility of the research.

    Primary and secondary data - Key takeaways

    • Primary data is defined as data that the researcher collects.
    • Secondary data is defined as data that the researcher has not collected themself. This can take the form of previously published findings, previous medical records or diaries.
    • The methods of data collection of primary data that are commonly used are interviews, observations, questionnaires and psychometric tests
    • The methods of data collection of secondary data that are commonly used are diaries/ personal letters, newspapers, memoirs/ autobiographies and previous research.
    • An advantage of primary data is that as the researcher collected the data themself, it is easier for them to test its reliability and validity. However, a disadvantage of it is that it can be costly.
    • An advantage of secondary data is that it allows researchers to investigate phenomena that cannot be tested now, such as historical events. However, a disadvantage of secondary data is there may be missing data that the researcher is interested in investigating. This limits its utility.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Primary and Secondary Data

    What are primary and secondary data?

    Primary data is defined as data that the researcher collects themself. Whereas, secondary data is defined as data that the researcher has not collected themself.

    What is the difference between primary and secondary data?

    The difference between primary and secondary data is how data is collected. In primary data, the researcher collects the data from the source themselves. Whereas, research that uses secondary data relies on data that has been collected from someone other than the researcher. 

    What are the sources of primary and secondary data?

    The source of primary data is the researcher who has collected the data themself. This can be attained by carrying out interviews, and questionnaires. Whereas, the sources of secondary data are from people who are not the researcher. This can be data that has been collected from other researchers, for example, previous studies and using government statistics. 

    What are the methods of collecting primary and secondary data?

    The methods of data collection of primary data that are commonly used are:

    • interviews 
    • observations 
    • questionnaires 
    • psychometric tests

    The methods of data collection of secondary data that are commonly used are:

    • diaries/ personal letters
    • newspapers 
    • memoirs/ autobiographies  
    • previous research

    How can primary and secondary data be used together?

    The following research scenario gives primary data and secondary examples of how both types of data may be collected when carrying out research.

    • Hypothesis: the researcher proposed that bullying at school can lead to the onset of affective disorders 
    • Data collection methods:
      • Primary data: interviews, psychometric tests and questionnaires.
      • Secondary data: diaries, medical records and therapists' notes. 

    What is primary data in psychology?

    Primary data is data collected by the researcher for research purposes. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which type of data would be used when investigating historical events? 

    Which of the following methods are used to collect primary data? 

    Does secondary data always rely on collecting information from participants?

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