The value of secondary research

“Don’t believe everything you read in the papers” is a quote often heard throughout society whether it be a piece of celebrity gossip or a hard-to-believe factual article. But is there any value in using information from newspapers, magazines or websites to help understand work or a topic you are about to start?

By taking your time to understand the whole picture of that area of interest from an international, national and localised perspective, this can help you fully understand the direction your project should take.

Secondary research is data or information that has been collected without the fieldwork having to be done by that person or team itself. Great hey? It can be a mixture of any previously gathered data whether that be from internal or external previous primary research, internet sites, books, research papers or journals, government papers, audio, videos or even social media posts.

But a sceptic might say “How can we trust that source?” This is the challenge for anyone using previous research to inform a current piece of work. It takes great skill and careful attention of the person undertaking the research to understand the credibility of the work and decide whether it is useful or nothing more than “tomorrow's chip paper”.

Researchers find secondary research vital as part of the start phase of working to see whether any new primary research is needed for that project (researcher trademark fist pump move if no previous work has been done!) One of the benefits of looking at what is already known internally and what is out there first, is to prevent extravagant research activity which could cost money and provide little difference to what has already been unearthed.

Other benefits could be giving a greater understanding towards the topic area (if you know nothing about bikes and you are told to buy a bike, you will find out what a bike is first…right?). It can also help generate hypothesis or challenge an assumption you might have relating to the topic, and previous research could have been undertaken by bigger organisations that has more access to a greater sample of people, rather than what is possible in the current project scope.

But perhaps the most undervalued part of secondary research is the time it saves you in the duration of a project. Putting in the hours at the start can really help design research strategies that are achievable and understand impact from a stakeholder point of view.

So, the next time you walk past someone trying to sell a newspaper by shouting “read all about it” (maybe not so often anymore) take those words literally when you need to find something out and you never know…it might save you time in the long run!

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