Primary Research vs secondary research


Table of Contents

Researchers conduct research to obtain results or conclusions regarding a topic or a hypothesis. They use various research methods suitable to their research problems. Given their various working and process patterns, research is basically of two types – Primary research and secondary research.

To know the difference between them, let’s go through the topics step-by-step in which they vary and understand the difference with a table:

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Primary Research

Secondary Research


Research involves collection of original data specific to the study.

Research involves summary of data and literature published by others. 


To gather information and answers to the questions never asked before. Used to fill gaps from secondary research.

To go through the pre-existing information and find data that aligns with the research topic.

Time and cost

It is more time and cost consuming as it is conducted first-hand.

It is not much time and cost consuming as it involves using already existing literature.

Source of data

Surveys, interviews, observation, data analysis, focus groups.

Journals, books, articles, publications, educational institutes, research reports and papers.

Researcher participation

High researcher participation as he himself conducts the surveys and interviews.

Low researcher participation as they only study the work of other researchers. 

Based on

Raw data collected from subjects.

Already interpreted and analysed data.


Is specific to the researcher’s interest.

Data may or may not be specific to the topic.

Carried by

Researchers carry primary research themselves.

Secondary research is mostly carried by someone else. 


It is slow and very detailed.

It is fast and quick.

Response bias

Has a high possibility of response bias. Depends on the respondents and researcher’s personal interests.

No scope for response bias as there is no raw data collection only referring. However, if the previous study includes a bias, it is likely to be inherited in your research as well.

Focus on factors

Focuses on one or two factors specific to the topic, limiting the broadness of the study and exploration of various topics.

Has a chance to focus on various factors that affect the study through studying different literature. Helps you broaden your study.

Data validity

Cannot guarantee data validity as participants may not take the surveys and interviews seriously. 

Data validity is not an issue since the study is already successful and that’s is the reason it is being referred to in the first place. 

Ethical considerations

Requires awareness of ethics while contacting the participants.

It is not an issue as long as you are studying the literature with the permission of the researcher who owns the literature.

Data time frame

Data collected is recent and parallel to the latest issues.

Depends on the data collected when the research was done. It can be old data and might not be applicable to recent times. 

Data relevance

As the data collection is done by the researcher himself, the collected data is more likely to be relevant to the study. 

Data collection is done by some other researcher so sometimes you might not find something you are looking for. 

When to use Primary research and Secondary research?

A researcher can choose to use primary research and secondary research depending on his research objectives. 

Let’s say you want to develop new knowledge about a topic and explore areas that were never touched before. In this case you can use primary research and start conducting the respective research from scratch. But in case of a topic that is commonly explored and you want to study it with respect to your research problem, then you can use a secondary research method and start digging the related existing literature about the topics. 

Despite their differences, we can say that both primary research and secondary research can co-exist. How? Let us take an example:

A researcher wants to study the effect of a newly discovered drug on diabetic patients. For this the researcher can conduct a secondary research to know what factors affect the diabetics using pre-conducted studies. This will include conducted experiments, research papers, medical reports, etc. But as the drug is new, researchers will also have to carry out primary research to know how this drug will affect the patients. 

Hence, we can say that primary research is conducted when a gap is discovered or no relevant literature is found during the secondary research. 

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