Primary Research or Secondary Research?

Which Type Should You Use in a Dissertation?

So, your dissertation is looming and you are beginning to think about it. You understand the basic rules such as how primary research differs from secondary research. Knowing the actual differences, however, will not necessary enable you to determine whether you should base your dissertation entirely on secondary sources i.e. a dissertation that is based mostly on literature review or whether you should consider using primary sources for your research. The purpose of this useful guide is to help you determine what is best for your project.  

An Overview of the Different Types of Research

As a reminder, it is important to note there are distinct differences when it comes to primary research and the secondary variety. The first type – primary research – refers to new research that is undertaken purely for the purpose of your particular study. The second type – secondary research – refers to the use of existing information. A lot of dissertation writers choose to undertake an extended review of literature, which is one of the primary types of secondary research. This secondary source data may come from textbooks, journal articles or from the web. It may also comprise of industry and company-based data and/or of a variety of other information types. You may, however, also choose to undertake a new review or analysis of data that already exists e.g. an SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Scientists) analysis on a significant set of data gathered by other students or researchers. Essentially, this represents a different or alternative form of secondary-type research.

Should I Use Primary Research or Secondary Research: How Do I Decide?

  • Often, your tutors or professors or your university department may stipulate a particular method to suit your dissertation type. For certain subjects you may be encouraged to use primary research in your study. In other cases, this might not be feasible or practical e.g. in the case of philosophy or English language studies.  
  • To a certain extent, your choice of primary research or the secondary type may depend on the research problem or question you are addressing. If you are researching an area that is not already well-researched it would seem sensible to add to existing knowledge by undertaking a relatively modest study in that area.  
  • Additionally you should take heed of any suggestions your tutor(s) make. They may feel there is value in using primary research in your study.
  • You may have negative feelings where primary research is concerned, believing perhaps that this will mean additional work for you, or that it will add to the difficultly levels of your project. However, it is likely you will have access to a considerable amount of help as you go along, which may come from your tutor(s), professor(s) or from various online sources. Furthermore, this experience may benefit you in any career you embark on in the future.   
  • If it is the case you have a particular interest in theory and in exploring existing theories, then secondary-type research is worth considering. It may be that you feel one model or method is better or more suitable than another, that there is a need to develop a new approach or model, or you just want to review large quantities of existing information in your field. It may be, for example, that you want to examine existing theories to evaluate their usefulness in order to better understand a particular event, behavioral patterns, or circumstances, or to review what studies have already been done in a given field.
  • It is tempting to think that secondary type research is relatively easy, but this is not necessarily so. Your task will be to review and evaluate how important the materials you examine are, to compare the theories being presented and contrast them, organize all materials logically, and analyze and critique all information in a more detailed way. 
  • In the event you choose to use primary research for your study, it will be necessary for you to determine what type of data you should collect – quantitative or qualitative? Indeed, you might choose a combination of both data types. Quantitative data is suitable for addressing questions concerning amounts and numbers, and when you have to deal with measurable events or phenomena. On the other hand, qualitative data is useful if you have to find out, for instance, why individuals behave in a certain way and/or what their in-depth feelings and emotions are.