Should I use Primary or Secondary Research in my Dissertation?

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Should I use Primary or Secondary Research in my Dissertation?


All researchers need to be aware of the pros and cons of the two types of research methods to make sure their selected method of research is the most appropriate taking into account the topic of investigation. The success of any dissertation paper largely depends on choosing the correct research design but before you can decide whether you must base your research strategy on primary or secondary research; it is important to understand the difference between primary resources and secondary resources.

Here is an article on Most Commonly Employed Research Methods in a Dissertation

What is the Difference between Primary Sources and Secondary Sources?

What are Primary Sources?

According to UCL libraries, primary sources are articles, images or documents that provide direct evidence or first-hand testimony pertaining to any given topic of research. Researchers want to have a clear understanding of the information resulting from actions under investigation. Primary sources allow them to get as close as possible to those events so their analysis and interpretation can be recognised in scientific and academic communities.

What are Secondary Sources?

However, when the researcher wishes to analyse and understand information coming out of events or actions that have already occurred, their work is regarded as secondary source. In essence, no secondary source can be created without using primary sources. The same source of information or evidence can be considered either primary or secondary depending on who is presenting the information and where the information is presented.

Examples of Primary Sources

Classic examples of primary sources include;

  • Original documents prepared by the researcher investigating any given topic of research.
  • Reporters witnessing an event and reporting news.
  • Conducting surveys to collect data, such as primary elections and population census.
  • Interviews, speeches, letters and diaries – what the participants wrote or said during the process of data collection.
  • Audio, video and image files created to capture an event.  

Examples of Secondary Sources

Some examples of secondary sources are;

  • Documentaries (Even though the images, videos and audio are seen as primary sources by the developer of the documentary)
  • Articles, publications, journals and research documents created by those who are not directly involved in research.
  • Dissertations, thesis and essays.
  • Critical reviews.
  • Books presented as evidence.

Need help with getting started with your dissertation paper? Here is a comprehensive article on “How to write a dissertation – Step by step guide”.


What Type of Research You Should Base Your Dissertation onPrimary or Secondary?

Below you will find detailed guidelines to help you make an informed decision if you have been thinking of the question “Should I use primary or secondary research in my dissertation”.

Primary Research

Primary research includes an exhaustive analysis of data to answer research questions that are specific and exploratory in nature. Primary research methods with examples include use of various primary research tools such as interviews, research surveys, numerical data, observations, audio, video and images to collect data directly rather than using existing literature. Business and organisations throughout the world have their employees or an external research agency conduct primary research on their behalf to address certain issues. On the other hand, undergraduate and postgraduate students conduct primary research as part of their dissertation project to fill an obvious research gap in their respective fields of study.

As indicated above, primary data can be collected in a number of ways, and so we have also conducted an in-depth research on the most common yet independent primary data collection techniques.

Sampling in Primary Research

When conducting primary research, it is vitally important to pay attention to the chosen sampling method which can be described as “a specific principle used to select members of population to participate in the research”. Often times, the researcher might not be able to directly work with the targeted population because of its large size, and so it becomes indispensable to employ statistical sampling techniques where the researchers have no choice but to draw conclusions based on responses collected from the representative population.

The process of sampling in primary data collection includes the following five steps;

  • Identifying target population.
  • Selecting an appropriate sampling frame.
  • Determining sampling size.
  • Choosing a sampling method.
  • Practical application of the selected sampling technique.

Based on the above discussion, it can be concluded that primary research is the most appropriate choice for any research that cannot rely on past and already published researches.

When conducting primary research, not only the researcher is able to gather responses, but the nonverbal communication and gestures play a huge role. They help the researcher identify the various hidden elements which cannot be identified when conducting secondary research.


How to use Social Media Networks for Dissertation Research(Opens in a new browser tab)

Reasons Why You Should Use Primary Research

  • As stated previously, the most prominent advantage of primary research over secondary research is that the researcher is able to directly collect the data from the respondents which makes the data more authentic and reliable.
  • Primary research has room for customisation based on the personal requirements and/or limitations of the researcher.
  • Primary research allows for a comprehensive analysis of the subject matter to address a problem in hand.
  • The researcher will have the luxury to decide how to collect and use the data, which means that they will be able to make use of the data in whatever way deemed fit to them to gain meaningful insights.
  • The results obtained from primary research are recognised as credible throughout academic and scientific communities.

Reasons Why You Should Not Use Primary Research

  • If you are considering primary research for your dissertation, you need to be aware of the high costs involved in the process of gathering primary data. Undergraduate and Masters’ students often do not have the financial resources to fund their own research work. PhD students, on the other hand, are awarded a very limited research budget to work with. Thus, if you are on a low or limited budget, conducting primary research might not be the most suitable option.
  • Primary research can be extremely time consuming. Getting your target population to participate in online surveys and face to face or telephonic interviews requires patience and a lot of time. This is especially important for undergraduate and Masters’ students who are required to complete and submit their work within a certain timeframe.
  • Primary research is well recognised only when it makes use of several methods of data collection. Having just the one primary research method will undermine your research. Using more than one methods of data collection will mean that you need more time and financial resources.
  • There might be participants who wouldn’t be willing to disclose their information, thus this aspect is crucial and should be looked into carefully.

One important aspect of primary research that researchers should look into is research ethics. Keeping participants’ information confidential is a research responsibility that should never be overlooked.

How to Approach a Company for your Primary Study(Opens in a new browser tab)

Secondary Research

Secondary research or desk based research is the second type of research you could base your research methodology in a dissertation on. This type of research reviews and analyses existing research studies to improve the overall authenticity of research. Secondary research methods with examples include use of secondary sources of information including journal articles, published report, public libraries, books, data available on the internet, government publications, and results from primary research studies conducted by other researchers in the past. Unlike primary research, secondary research is cost effective and less time consuming simply because it uses existing literature and doesn’t require the researcher to spend time and financial resources to collect first hand data.


Not all researchers and/or business organisations are able to afford significant amount of money towards research, and that’s one of the reasons this type of research is the most popular in universities and organisations.

The Step of Conducting Secondary Research

Secondary research involves the following five steps;

  • Establishing the topic of research and setting up research question to be answered or the research hypothesis to be tested.
  • Identifying authentic and reliable sources of information.
  • Gather data relevant to the topic of research from various secondary sources such as books, journal articles, government publications, commercial sector reports.
  • Combining the data in a suitable format so you can gain meaningful insights.
  • Analysing the data to find solution to a problem in hand.

Reasons Why You Should Use Secondary Research

  • Secondary sources are readily available with researchers facing little to no difficulty in accessing secondary data. Unlike primary data that involves a lengthy and complex process, secondary data can be collected by the researcher through a number of existing sources without having to leave the comfort of desk.
  • Secondary research is a simple process, and therefore the cost associated with it is almost negligible.  
  • Obtaining secondary data from secondary resources is less time consuming. Unlike primary research, secondary research or desk based research can be completed in a few weeks.

Reasons Why You Should Not Use Secondary Research

  • Finding authentic and credible sources of secondary data is nothing less than a challenge. The internet these days is full of fake information, so it is important to exercise precaution when selecting and evaluating the available information.
  • Secondary sources may not provide accurate and/or up to date numbers, so your research could be diluted if you are not including accurate statistics from recent timelines.
  • Secondary research in essence is dependent on primary research and stems it findings from sets of primary data. The reliability of secondary research will, to a certain degree, depends on the quality of primary data used.

If you aren’t sure about the correct method of research for your dissertation paper, you should get help from an expert who can guide on whether you should use Primary or Secondary Research for your dissertation paper.

The Steps Involved in Writing a Dissertation(Opens in a new browser tab)

Key Differences between Primary and Secondary Research

Should I use Primary or Secondary Research for my Dissertation Paper? – Conclusion

When choosing between primary and secondary research, you should always take into consideration the advantages and disadvantages of both types of research so you make an informed decision. The best way to select the correct research strategy for your dissertation is to look into your research topic, research question, aim and objectives – and of course the available time and financial resources.

Discussion pertaining to the two research techniques clearly indicates that primary research should be chosen when a specific topic, case, organization etc. is to be researched about and the researcher has access to some financial resources. Whereas secondary research should be considered when the research is general in nature and can be answered by analyzing past researches and published data.

Review Our Other Informative Articles.

Not sure which research strategy you should apply, get in touch with us right away. At Research Prospect, we have Masters to PhD qualified writers in all academic subjects so you can be confident of having your research; completed to the highest academic standard and well recognised in the academic world.

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