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Primary and Secondary Research

January 31, 2013

Primary Research

Primary Research can be thought of as ‘being the first to know’.

An example of historic primary research could be early explorers, discovering new lands and species to document.

Whether you keep the information to yourself or not is entirely up to you, or who you work for, and each choice can provide (dis)advantages. Some people even charge for valuable information or study results.

Generally, the most common form of primary research is market research. Millions of surveys, questionnaires and phone calls are sent out every day, by companies who hope to find out what products will sell or not without making too much of a loss.

  • The main issue with this is that you should expect a questionably reliable response. Most people don’t like answering surveys, and some people even enjoy giving false answers, such as a religious census in England where more than 10,000 people answered “Jedi” as their religion.

Science experiments and research are often a good source of primary research. Experiments allow people to observe research and get answers first-hand, and this can extend beyond chemistry labs too, such as engineering prototypes and product testing for video games, cosmetics etc.

Being aware about what is a Theory and what is proven will be of use. Generally, a 95% demonstrable success rate will prove a theory.

In contrast to the example of interviewing the rock climber I use in the Secondary Research section, getting out there and doing it yourself can be a very reliable source of primary research. What better way to learn about something than to experience something?

  • You will need to be keenly aware of resulting bias, though, when researching something objective.

Secondary Research

Secondary Research is simply viewing other people’s research.

A very common and easy example could be the internet; viewing the results or blog of an experiment or experience online, so you don’t have to conduct the experiment/research yourself.

  • This can be unreliable. If the work is biased,  inaccurate or even out-dated, you suffer the consequences too.
  • This can be avoided by contacting and checking with the the original researcher, looking at the dates of publication etc.

The most common forms of secondary research are household activities, something similar to small internet searches that last <5 minutes, newspaper reading, or documentaries on TV.

  • The worst disadvantage about this is that most people don’t know where to find reliable sources of information, and may be left with inaccurate or unreliable information. There’s always a risk of trust too; some studies are faked or biased to produce results for propaganda, and this has happened throughout history.
  • A rather reliable source of secondary research could be talking to people who study or practice what you need to know, for example, interviewing a rock climber on how it feels to be on the side of a sheer cliff, rather than experiencing it yourself.
  •  Alternatively, a documentary could provide this information, if you don’t want to or cant seek a rock climber to interview.
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