What are the advantages and disadvantages of primary and secondary research?

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of primary and secondary research?

This is a detailed analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of primary and secondary research. Research can be categorised into different types. However, this article focuses on primary and secondary research only. They are different from each other because of the way they are carried out and have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Differences between primary and secondary research

The main differences between primary and secondary research are as follows:

Primary research

Primary research is also called field research. According to Gratton & Jones (2009) primary research refers to research that has involved the collection of original data specific to a particular research project, for example through using research methods such as questionnaires or interviews.

Secondary research

Secondary research is also called desk research. In this type of research, the researcher will not collect any primary data and rely on existing sources of data. Marketing research reports, census, company websites, news reports, magazine articles are some of the sources of secondary data. Secondary research is usually carried out at home or library with the help of both the Internet and printed materials.

One key difference is that the primary research is carried out by the researchers first-hand and they own the data that has been collected. On the contrary, secondary research is administered on the collected data from previous studies.

Having explored the differences between the primary and secondary research, the article now focuses on their advantages and disadvantages, and the tools/instruments that can be used in both type of research.

Advantages of secondary research

Convenience: Secondary research is usually convenient for researchers as it is carried out at home, in libraries, and other similar places. Going through a pile of books, magazines, journals etc. may be daunting; however, a cup of coffee and background music may make it convenient. Home environment and access to amenities are very useful which many researchers like very much.

Affordable: Secondary research is usually cheaper than primary research. As the research is carried out mostly indoor, it does not usually cost that much. Similarly, a lot of online data and information are now-a-days available free of cost. In addition, secondary research saves a lot of time for the researchers as well (BBC, 2021).

Availability of information: Due to the advancement of technology, information is available online. Researchers can download a lot of documents very quickly with minimal efforts. Therefore, research can be conducted instantly. Hardly there is any topic researchers can think of which have not been researched enough! Likewise, the Internet is an ocean of information.

Disadvantages of secondary research

Old information: Secondary research may sometimes include information which is not valid any longer. Therefore, the researchers may waste their time by going through those data.

Not specific: Secondary data may not be specific sometimes. In many cases, it is not presented in a way that would exactly address the researchers’ needs. Imagine going through a pile of books and other relevant documents and then realising that they are not specific! It may sometimes frustrate the researcher.

Advantages of primary research

Specific: Primary research meets the specific needs of the researchers. As it is based on the collection of original data, the researchers can be very specific about its aims, objectives, and rationale (Young, 2013). It is up to date and provides more detailed insights as well.

Greater control: Researchers have a good level of control in primary research. They may decide who the research respondents are, how they are hired, the size of sample, sampling strategies etc.

Proprietary rights: Data collected in primary research belongs to the researcher or the organisation sponsoring the research and therefore, others may not have access to it.

Disadvantages of primary research

Time consuming: Collecting primary data is often time-consuming and difficult. If the research respondents are not supportive, it may become further complicated. Likewise, primary research may be costly as well.

Misleading information: If the sample is not big enough, the results of the research may be misleading. Therefore, the researcher has to select a good research sample. Similarly, biasness may occur as well raising concerns about the validity of the research.

Primary research methods (tools/instruments)

Researchers can use a number of tools to conduct their primary research. Depending on whether the research is quantitative or qualitative, they can use observation, questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, test marketing etc. to gain useful insights concerning their area of study.

Secondary research methods (tools/instruments)

A variety of sources are at the disposal of the researchers to conduct secondary research. For instance, they can use the Internet in general, government and non-government agencies, public libraries etc. to have access to business directories, newsletters, newspapers, magazines, and other relevant sources.

We hope the article ‘What are the advantages and disadvantages of primary and secondary research?’ has been helpful. You may also like reading Advantages and disadvantages of questionnaires and Differences between deductive and inductive approaches to research. Other relevant articles for you are:

Advantages and disadvantages of convenience sampling

What is literature review?

Qualitative vs quantitative research

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Last update: 15 July 2021


BBC (2021) Market research, available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zd4kq6f/revision/3 (accessed 14 July 2021)

Gratton, C. & Jones, I. (2009) Research Methods for Sports Studies, 2nd edition, London: Routledge

Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2007) Research Methods for Business Students, 4th edition, UK: Pearson Education Limited

Young, G. (2013) Market research, available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/market-research (accessed 10 July 2021)

Author: M Rahman

M Rahman writes extensively online with an emphasis on business management, marketing, and tourism. He is a lecturer in Management and Marketing. He holds an MSc in Tourism & Hospitality from the University of Sunderland. Also, graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University with a BA in Business & Management Studies and completed a DTLLS (Diploma in Teaching in the Life-Long Learning Sector) from London South Bank University.