If you are looking for a way to conduct a research study while optimizing your resources, desk research is a great option. Desk research uses existing data from various sources, such as books, articles, websites, and databases, to answer your research questions. 

Let’s explore desk research methods and tips to help you select the one for your research.

What Is Desk Research?

Desk research, also known as secondary research or documentary research, is a type of research that relies on data that has already been collected and published by others. Its data sources include public libraries, websites, reports, surveys, journals, newspapers, magazines, books, podcasts, videos, and other sources. 

When performing desk research, you are not gathering new information from primary sources such as interviews, observations, experiments, or surveys. The information gathered will then be used to make informed decisions.

The most common use cases for desk research are market research, consumer behavior, industry trends, and competitor analysis.

How Is Desk Research Used?

Here are the most common use cases for desk research:

  • Exploring a new topic or problem
  • Identifying existing knowledge gaps
  • Reviewing the literature on a specific subject
  • Finding relevant data and statistics
  • Analyzing trends and patterns
  • Evaluating competitors and market trends
  • Supporting or challenging hypotheses
  • Validating or complementing primary research

Types of Desk Research Methods

There are two main types of desk research methods: qualitative and quantitative. 

  • Qualitative Desk Research 

Analyzing non-numerical data, such as texts, images, audio, or video. Here are some examples of qualitative desk research methods:

Content analysis– Examining the content and meaning of texts, such as articles, books, reports, or social media posts. It uses data to help you identify themes, patterns, opinions, attitudes, emotions, or biases.

Discourse analysis– Studying the use of language and communication in texts, such as speeches, interviews, conversations, or documents. It helps you understand how language shapes reality, influences behavior, constructs identities, creates power relations, and more.

Narrative analysis– Analyzing the stories and narratives that people tell in texts, such as biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, or testimonials. This allows you to explore how people make sense of their experiences, express their emotions, construct their identities, or cope with challenges.

  • Quantitative Desk Research

Analyzing numerical data, such as statistics, graphs, charts, or tables. 

Here are common examples of quantitative desk research methods:

Statistical analysis: This method involves applying mathematical techniques and tools to numerical data, such as percentages ratios, averages, correlations, or regressions.

You can use statistical analysis to measure, describe, compare, or test relationships in the data.

Meta-analysis: Combining and synthesizing the results of multiple studies on a similar topic or question. Meta-analysis can help you increase the sample size, reduce the margin of error, or identify common findings or discrepancies in data.

Trend analysis: This method involves examining the changes and developments in numerical data over time, such as sales, profits, prices, or market share. It helps you identify patterns, cycles, fluctuations, or anomalies. 

Examples of Desk Research

Here are some real-life examples of desk research questions:

  • What are the current trends and challenges in the fintech industry?
  • How do Gen Z consumers perceive money and financial services?
  • What are the best practices for conducting concept testing for a new fintech product?
  • Documentary on World War II and its effect on Austria as a country

You can use the secondary data sources listed below to answer these questions:

Industry reports and publications

  • Market research surveys and studies
  • Academic journals and papers
  • News articles and blogs
  • Podcasts and videos
  • Social media posts and reviews
  • Government and non-government agencies

How to Choose the Best Type of Desk Research

The main factors for selecting a desk research method are:

  • Research objective and question
  • Budget and deadlines
  • Data sources availability and accessibility.
  • Quality and reliability of data sources
  • Your data analysis skills

Let’s say your research question requires an in-depth analysis of a particular topic, a literature review may be the best method. But if the research question requires analysis of large data sets, you can use trend analysis.

Differences Between Primary Research and Desk Research

The main difference between primary research and desk research is the source of data. Primary research uses data that is collected directly from the respondents or participants of the study. Desk research uses data that is collected by someone else for a different purpose.

Another key difference is the cost and time involved. Primary research is usually more expensive, time-consuming, and resource-intensive than desk research. However, it can also provide you with more specific, accurate, and actionable data that is tailored to your research goal and question.

The best practice is to use desk-based research before primary research; it refines the scope of the work and helps you optimize resources.

Read Also – Primary vs Secondary Research Methods: 15 Key Differences

How to Conduct a Desk Research

Here are the four main steps to conduct desk research:

  • Define Research Goal and Question

What do you want to achieve with your desk research? What problem do you want to solve or what opportunity do you want to explore? What specific question do you want to answer with your desk research?

  • Identify and Evaluate Data Sources

Where can you find relevant data for your desk research? How relevant and current are the data sources for your research? How consistent and comparable are they with each other? 

You can evaluate your data sources based on factors such as- 

– Authority: Who is the author or publisher of the data source? What are their credentials and reputation? Are they experts or credible sources on the topic?

– Accuracy: How accurate and precise is the data source? Does it contain any errors or mistakes? Is it supported by evidence or references?

– Objectivity: How objective and unbiased is the data source? Does it present facts or opinions? Does it have any hidden agenda or motive?

– Coverage: How comprehensive and complete is the data source? Does it cover all aspects of your topic? Does it provide enough depth and detail?

– Currency: How current and up-to-date is the data source? When was it published or updated? Is it still relevant to your topic?

  • Collect and Analyze Your Data

How can you collect your data efficiently and effectively? What tools or techniques can you use to organize and analyze your data? How can you interpret your data with your research goal and question?

  • Present and Report Your Findings

How can you communicate your findings clearly and convincingly? What format or medium can you use to accurately record your findings?

You can use spreadsheets, presentation slides, charts, infographics, and more.

Advantages of Desk Research

  • Cost Effective

It is cheaper and faster than primary research, you don’t have to collect new data or report them. You can simply analyze and leverage your findings to make deductions.

  • Prevents Effort Duplication

Desk research provides you with a broad and thorough overview of the research topic and related issues. This helps to avoid duplication of efforts and resources by using existing data.

  • Improves Data Validity

Using desk research, you can compare and contrast various perspectives and opinions on the same topic. This enhances the credibility and validity of your research by referencing authoritative sources.

  • Identify Data Trends and Patterns

 It helps you to identify new trends and patterns in the data that may not be obvious from primary research. This can help you see knowledge and research gaps to offer more effective solutions.

Disadvantages of Desk Research

  • Outdated Information

One of the main challenges of desk research is that the data may not be relevant, accurate, or up-to-date for the specific research question or purpose. Desk research relies on data that was collected for a different reason or context, which may not match the current needs or goals of the researcher.

  • Limited Scope

Another limitation of desk research is that it may not provide enough depth or insight into qualitative aspects of the market, such as consumer behavior, preferences, motivations, or opinions. 

  • Biases

Data obtained from existing sources may be biased or incomplete due to the agenda or perspective of the source.

Read More – Research Bias: Definition, Types + Examples

  • Data Inconsistencies

It may also be inconsistent or incompatible with other data sources due to different definitions or methodologies.

  • Legal and Technical Issues

Desk research data may also be difficult to access or analyze due to legal, ethical, or technical issues.

How to Use Desk Research Effectively

Here are some tips on how to use desk research effectively:

  • Define the research problem and objectives clearly and precisely.
  • Identify and evaluate the sources of secondary data carefully and critically.
  • Compare and contrast different sources of data to check for consistency and reliability.
  • Use multiple sources of data to triangulate and validate the findings.
  • Supplement desk research with primary research when exploring deeper issues.
  • Cite and reference the sources of data properly and ethically.

Desk research should not be used as a substitute for primary research, but rather as a complement or supplement. Combine it with primary research methods, such as surveys, interviews, observations, experiments, and others to obtain a more complete and accurate picture of your research topic.


Desk research is a cost-effective tool for gaining insights into your research topic. Although it has limitations, if you choose the right method and carry out your desk research effectively, you will save a lot of time, money, and effort that primary research would require.

  • Moradeke Owa
  • on 7 min read


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