Drawing on primary and secondary research
- Primary research involves drawing conclusions directly from results, data or evidence themselves.
- Secondary research involves drawing conclusions based upon other researchers’ findings, conclusions or interpretations (including interpretations of primary data).
Primary researchPrimary research is typically focused on original evidence – i.e. raw information which has not been processed or interpreted by other researchers. Such research may include:
- Conducting experiments and analysing results
- Collecting data, or analysing another researcher’s data in an original way
- Investigating sources, evidence and artefacts directly linked to the examples under study
Secondary researchSecondary research is typically focused on drawing conclusions based upon existing research, but possibly from a new theoretical, or methodological perspective. Such research may include:
- Analysing, critiquing or reinterpreting existing research
- Reviewing or analysing (meta-analysis) multiple pieces of existing research to draw conclusions
- Constructing theories and conceptual frameworks based upon existing research
- Mixing or synthesising existing research in order to draw new conclusions
- Summarising existing research to clarify, educate or introduce.
Choosing your sourcesThere is no hierarchy between primary and secondary sources – at least in terms of quality. Rather, the important questions to ask yourself are:
What is the quality of the sources I am looking at?A strong piece of secondary analysis is more reliable than a weak piece of primary research.
What kinds of sources do I need to pursue my particular questions?The ‘right sources’ depend entirely on what you are studying, and the methods you plan to use. Focus on the sources you need, rather than those that seem commonplace.
It is likely I will use both primary and secondary sources, but how should I cater for this in my structure?Think firstly about whether you begin with a literature review, or whether to introduce your sources as you proceed. Which sources are needed to base the project on, and establish the question – and which are needed later to do the analysis?
What in my research needs to be original, and what doesn’t?Something about your research should be original (or else what is its purpose?). But ‘original research’ can mean lots of things:
- Looking at old data with a new method is original research
- Drawing a new conclusion from secondary sources is original research
- Applying an existing theory to a new case study is original research.
Developing Your Research Project
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