Secondary Research

Secondary research is by no means 'secondary' to the growth of sociology. While it does not involve generating new data, it helps us engage with additional layers of analysis and perspectives to expand on our existing body of knowledge.

Secondary Research Secondary Research

Create learning materials about Secondary Research with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account
Table of contents
    • In this explanation, we'll be introducing the topic of secondary research.
    • We'll start by studying the definition of secondary research to get a better sense of what it means and why it might be used.
    • Further, we'll explore some prominent secondary research methods and sources of secondary data, and evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of secondary research.
    • Finally, we'll take a look at some famous examples of secondary research in sociology.

    Definition of Secondary Research

    Secondary research involves collating and analysing data that has already been generated (this is known as secondary data). Existing data can be summarised or joined with other types of data for the purposes of secondary research.

    Just as we have mentioned in our explanation of Primary Research, a key defining feature of primary and secondary research is seen in how they are different from each other.

    The difference between primary and secondary research

    Imagine that your cousin is visiting you from overseas, and they saw on the internet that you shouldn't leave your town without trying a nice plate of local fish and chips. Keeping this in mind, they ask you if you can recommend a good restaurant that services fish and chips in your neighbourhood.

    Unfortunately, you're not a big fan of fish yourself, so you don't have any recommendations of your own to make. You let them know that you'll ask your friends if they can suggest anything. That day at school, your friend tells you she had a delicious meal of fish and chips at a restaurant with her parents over the weekend. So, you tell your cousin about the spot your friend enjoyed, and they decide to go there!

    The primary research equivalent would have been to recommend a restaurant that you liked but, because of your aversion to fish, your recommendations would not be helpful here. As such, what you've done is some basic secondary research. You're unable to collect and offer data of your own, so you've used a secondary data source (your friend's positive recount of her experience) to answer your cousin's question.

    Secondary Research Methods

    When discussing secondary research, what's often more important to take note of is its sources, rather than its methods. This is because it's essential for us to know where the data that we are analysing has come from, who has collected it and how it has been generated.

    Secondary data sources

    There are many sources of secondary data that can be collected and analysed in ways that expand our understanding and knowledge of the world. Secondary data can be qualitative or quantitative.

    Official (and non-official) statistics

    Secondary Research, Statistics displayed on computer screen, StudySmarterStatistics are useful for quantifying trends and patterns. Pexels.com

    One of the main sources of secondary data is the official statistics. These are collected by government agencies, such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the NHS. Of all the types of official statistics available, the census is probably the most extensive and well-known. Besides the census, other official statistics include birth, marriage, and death registrations.

    A census is an official count of a given population. The UK National Census is conducted every 10 years.

    It is also important to take note of many non-official, quantitative sources of secondary data, such as data from charities, organisations, market research organisations or banks. Similarly, many universities conduct large-scale surveys, which provide high-quality statistical data that can be used for analysis.

    Qualitative secondary data

    Qualitative data are presented in words or visual forms (unlike quantitative data, which is presented in numerical form). Just like official and non-official statistics, qualitative secondary data already exists – it has not been originally produced by the researcher.

    Examples of secondary data sources include:

    • previously conducted sociological research,

    • media archives (including newspapers, television shows, documentaries, and more),

    • social media archives (such as messages and posts from Facebook, Twitter, email, and more),

    • personal documents (including photographs, diaries, and letters), and

    • biographies and autobiographies.

    Content analysis

    Secondary Research, Stack of newspapers on table, StudySmarterSecondary data can be collected and analysed in many ways, with content analysis being the most popular among social scientists. Pexels.com

    Content analysis is a systematic method of breaking down qualitative data. It is widely used across the social sciences and other subjects, like history. This form of analysis usually involves establishing some type of code of expected behaviours or mentions in a piece of secondary data. Once this code has been created, researchers go back to the content and tally up the number of times this behaviour or mention is present.

    Semiology is one of several types of content analysis that sociologists use. This involves studying the cultural meanings that are explored and represented in media.

    A researcher might want to analyse a particular TV show for its stereotypical representations of ethnic minorities. In this instance, the researcher would watch the show through and make a few notes as to what does or doesn't count as a 'stereotype'. After compiling such a list (i.e., their code), they might go back and watch the show again to count up the number of times a stereotype was used. They might then calculate the average number of ethnic stereotypes per episode or season. Alternatively, they may choose to work with raw data (the actual number of ethnic stereotypes used) instead.

    Evaluating Secondary Research

    It's crucial that we consider the strengths and limitations of secondary research before we conduct any form of research that utilises it.

    Advantages of secondary research

    The ultimate advantage of secondary research (over primary research) is that it is both cost- and time-efficient. This is because data does not have to be collected from scratch – it is readily available for scholars to collate and analyse to help them answer their research aims and questions. For instance, a researcher saves time and money by not having to create and use questionnaires or observations, or by having to conduct a pilot study to test out the terms and concepts mentioned in their questionnaires.

    Official (and non-official) statistics

    • Official statistics are a valuable source of secondary data for sociologists, as they are widely representative, generalisable, and reliable. According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK National Census of 2021 had a response rate of 97%.

    • Since the census is conducted every 10 years, official statistics can help sociologists explore how trends and practices have changed over time.

    • The quantitative nature of statistics allows for a quantitative analysis, which is easier to draw comparisons from.

    Qualitative data

    • Written documents can provide explanations for particular trends and patterns (which statistics do not provide).

    • Qualitative data can offer background information or context for particular experiences or trends (such as culture and politics).

    Disadvantages of Secondary Research

    On the other hand, scholars might find themselves at a disadvantage when using secondary data because it is not tailored to their specific research needs.

    Official (and non-official) statistics

    • As mentioned above, official statistics exist as they are, and they may not meet the exact needs of the researcher.

    Someone who is aiming to research the link between ethnicity and social class could very well turn to the official statistics as a secondary data source. However, they may not agree with how the census has listed the categories of ethnicity. Alternatively, they may find that there is a significant pool of data missing because homeless people or those who are not well-versed in the English language may not be able to complete the census.

    • Interpretivists (who prefer in-depth, qualitative data for their analysis) would argue that official statistics don't tell us anything about why people behave or make the decisions that they do. For example, the data can tell us the rate of divorce over the past 10 years, but what are the reasons behind these divorces?
    • There are many instances in which people choose not to record or report their experiences to government officials. For example, people who have committed crimes (or are the victims of some crimes) may decide to hide this. This hinders the validity of official statistics.

    Qualitative data

    • It is difficult to verify written documents, as they may have been forged or tampered with.

    • Qualitative information may be misinterpreted by the researcher as a result of complexity or biases.

    • Autobiographies, letters and other forms of qualitative data are mostly crafted with a particular purpose in mind, and so they may not be an objective reflection of reality.

    Examples of Secondary Research

    Let's take a look at a few examples of secondary research to help us understand the process, advantages and disadvantages of these sources and methods.

    Suicide: A Study in Sociology

    Émile Durkheim's seminal work on suicide is a prime example of secondary research. In Suicide: A Study in Sociology (1897), Durkheim explores his analysis of official suicide statistics in France, which he then used to identify four different types of suicide. His analysis was purely quantitative, and he aimed to prove the hypothesis that suicide was a social and structural act rather than an individual one. Since Durkheim used official statistics (i.e., data that already existed) in his analysis, this study is branded as secondary research.

    Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema

    In Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey explored classic Hollywood films for their representation of women. She identified what is popularly known as the male gaze. Through a semiotic analysis (semiology), she concluded that the media portrays women through an objectifying and highly sexualised image that is typically held by men. This publication has been very influential in media studies and feminist sociology.

    Secondary Research - Key Takeaways

    • Secondary research involves collating and analysing data that has already been generated.
    • Official statistics, non-official statistics and qualitative sources (such as diaries, media publications and letters) are commonly used sources of secondary data. Quantitative sources are advantageous for comparative analyses and for making generalisations, and qualitative sources are useful for context clues and in-depth explanations.
    • Content analysis, including semiology, is the most common method of secondary research.
    • Secondary research is beneficial in that it saves costs and time. However, it may not provide the exact information which the researcher requires to fulfil their research aims.
    • Durkheim's study of suicide as a social fact and Goffman's analysis of female representation in classical Hollywood are popular examples of secondary research.

    References

    1. Durkheim, E. (1897). Suicide: A study in sociology. Routledge.
    2. Mulvey, L. (1975). Visual pleasure and narrative cinema. Screen, 16(3), 6-18. https://doi.org/10.1093/screen/16.3.6
    Frequently Asked Questions about Secondary Research

    What is secondary research?

    Secondary research involves collating and analysing data that has already been generated. Existing data can be summarised or joined with other types of data for the purposes of secondary research. 

    What is the difference between primary and secondary research?

    Primary research involves collecting new data from scratch, whereas secondary research involves studying data which has previously been collected. 

    What are the disadvantages of secondary research?

    The major disadvantage of secondary research is that it cannot be tailored to suit the specific research aims of the scholar. For instance, there may be some data missing from a large data set, or a certain concept may be differently presented to how the researcher themselves may have presented it. 

    What is an example of secondary market research?

    Secondary market research is done by businesses and/or organisations that wish to gauge the demographics and buying behaviours of a certain population. Examples include government sources (such as official statistics), academic journals or media content. 

    Why is secondary research important?

    Secondary research is important because it helps us build on existing knowledge by implementing additional and unique forms of analysis from various perspectives.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is a commonly used method for secondary research?

    Official statistics are a representative source of secondary data. True or false?

    What is the name given to researchers who prefer in-depth, qualitative data for their analysis?

    Next
    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team Secondary Research Teachers

    • 10 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App