When carrying out a systematic investigation, you can choose to be directly involved in the data collection process or to rely on already acquired information. While the former is described as primary research, the latter is known as secondary research. 

The distinguishing factor between primary research and secondary research is the degree of involvement of the research with the data gathering process. In this article, we'll be detailing other key differences between primary and secondary research, and also show you how to conduct primary research with Formplus. 

What is Primary Research?

Primary research is a type of research that requires the researcher to participate directly in the data-gathering process. In primary research, the researcher does not depend on already existing data, rather he or she collects first-hand information which serves as research materials for the systematic investigation. 

This type of research gives the researcher absolute ownership of the data which is extremely important for businesses and organisations in fast-paced markets. These organisations utilise primary research to gather valuable information about consumer needs and preferences before launching a new product or service.  

Usually, primary research focuses on the specific needs of the research contexts. However, this type of research is expensive, time-consuming and it usually requires a lot of skilled resources that may not be readily available and this is why many businesses outsource this to 3rd party market research companies. 

What is Secondary Research?

Secondary research is a type of research approach in which the researcher relies solely on existing research materials rather than gather data directly for research. This research approach is less expensive and time-efficient unlike primary research.. 

Data for secondary research can be accessed from the internet, archive, libraries, educational institutions and organisational reports. However, extra care must be taken by the researcher to ensure that the data is valid as this can have a negative impact on the research process and outcomes. 

Differences Between Primary and Secondary Research

  • Definition

Primary research is a research approach that involves gathering data directly while secondary research is a research approach that involves relying on already existing data when carrying out a systematic investigation. 

This means that in primary research, the researcher is directly involved in the data collection and categorization process. In secondary research, on the other hand, the researcher simply depends on existing materials for the research without any need to collect raw information from the field. 

  • Sources of Data

Surveys, interviews, focus groups and observation techniques are common sources of data in primary research. In secondary research, the researcher collects existing research materials through a number of sources like the internet, libraries and archives.

These data collection methods require some sort of interaction with the research subjects in order to gather first-hand information that will be useful in the research. Many times,secondary sources are free to access but some of them will require you to pay an access fee before you can make use of the information. 


  • Other Names

Secondary research is also known as desk research because it does not necessarily require the researcher to move from one place to another. Meanwhile, primary research is also referred to as a field research design because it requires the researcher to get totally involved with the data collection process.

In secondary research, researchers can easily access information from the comfort of their desk; especially when using the internet to source for research materials. In some cases, the researcher would need to co-exist with the research subjects for a specific period of time in order to get information for the research. 

  • Advantages of Primary Research over Secondary Research

Unlike secondary research, primary research gives the researcher 100% ownership of the research data which is extremely useful for organisations in highly competitive markets. Data from secondary research can be accessed by everyone and does not yield any specific benefits to organisations. 

Also, in primary research, the researcher can fully account for the authenticity of the data because he or she is an active participant in the data collection process. Because the researcher is not directly involved in gathering secondary research data, he or she cannot ascertain the authenticity of the research materials. 

  • Advantages of Secondary Research over Primary Research.

Unlike primary research that is expensive and time-consuming, secondary research can be completed in limited time and with limited resources. Since the research data already exists, the secondary researcher does not need to invest time or resources to gather first-hand information. 

Also, secondary research helps to prevent knowledge repetition by mapping out already existing research efforts and this helps the primary researcher to concentrate on exploring new areas of knowledge. Hence, it is important for every research effort to begin with secondary research. 

  • Tools

Common tools used to collect data in secondary research include bots, internet-enabled devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets. On the other hand, surveys, questionnaires and interviews are common data gathering tools in primary research.

Secondary research devices help researchers to access sources of secondary data like libraries, archives and peer-reviewed journals; without needing to go to the field.  Primary research tools help the researcher to access first-hand information about the characteristics, dispositions and behaviours of research subjects in line with the context of the systematic investigation.  

  • Data Type

Primary research makes use of real-time information while secondary research makes use of past or already existing research materials. During primary research, the research is ultimately concerned with gathering first-hand information about the research subjects and contexts while in secondary research, the researcher simply re-examines existing data. 

Hence, the type of data used in secondary research is described as "past data" because it reflects past occurrences and only provides insights into dealing with present situations. The role of the secondary researcher is primarily to specify how this past data informs his or her current research.

  • Research Purpose

The purpose of primary research is to gather real-time data that will be useful in solving a specific problem. On the other hand, the purpose of secondary research is to gather existing research materials that may not directly address the problem at hand. 

The primary research process is carefully tailored towards the specific research problem from start to finish and this is why it relies on first-hand data. Secondary research is not tailored towards solving a specific problem rather, it provides general information that can prove useful for primary research. 

  • When to Conduct Primary and Secondary Research

Primary or field research is usually carried out when an individual or organization needs to gather recent data that is useful for a specific research context. When organisations need to gather information on the changing needs of target markets, they typically employ primary research methods. 

Secondary research, on the other hand, is used when the researcher needs to identify existing knowledge that can provide useful insight in research. With this information, the researcher can identify knowledge gaps which would form the core of his or her research efforts. 

  • Data Recency

Primary research relies on recent data for its systematic investigation because it addresses present situations. As earlier asserted, primary research efforts are ultimately tailored towards the needs of a specific research context from start to finish;hence, the primary researcher must gather real-time data in order to arrive at relevant research outcomes. 

Secondary research, on the other hand, makes use of past data in an attempt to understand existing research efforts, identify knowledge gaps and map out the recent research to fill these knowledge gaps. This, findings from secondary research do not necessarily apply to specific research contexts.  

  • Feasibility

Secondary research is more feasible than primary research. For example, it may be improbable for a company to attempt to observe the buying culture of all the individuals in its target market. 

In this case, the researcher may have to depend on existing research findings that detail the buying culture of the target market. Alternatively, the researcher can use other sampling methods that would help him or her gather feedback from a section of the market. 

  • Examples

Examples of primary research data are student thesis, market research and first-person accounts of trauma survivors while examples of secondary research data include newspapers, books, academic journals and magazines. 

Secondary research data often represent an aggregation of already existing information with little or no additions while primary data contains new information. Usually, primary research collects data from the original source unlike secondary research that relies on reported information. For example, a student who wants to write a thesis would need to either interact with the research subjects in their natural environment or carry out an experiment. 


  • Specificity

Primary research is more specific than secondary research because primary research is aimed at addressing issues peculiar to a business, organisation or institution. On the other hand, secondary research that does not cater to the specific needs of an organization. 

For example, when carrying out a primary research on consumer satisfaction for a product, the entirety of the research process is tailored towards the product in question. In secondary research, however, the data collected may not be exactly what the researcher needs. 

  • Ownership

In primary research, the researcher has 100% ownership and control over the data and he or she can choose to make such information available to others or not. This means that the primary researcher has absolute discretion over the research materials. 

In secondary research, however, the researcher does not own the data and as such, he or she does not have absolute discretion over it. Secondary research can aptly be described as a "free-for-all" situation because everyone can gain access to the data. 

  • Data Accuracy

Data gathered through primary research is more accurate than secondary research data. In primary research, the researcher is fully involved in the data collection process and he or she takes care to collect valid data that can be easily authenticated. 

The secondary researcher, on the other hand, has no control over the data and he or she cannot account for the validity of the research materials. For instance, there is a lot of inaccurate information on the internet which can affect research outcomes when used as the basis of a systematic investigation.  

Similarity between Primary and Secondary Research

  • Data

Primary and secondary research makes use of quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data collection methods such as surveys and questionnaires are used to gather numerical data while qualitative data collection methods like observation are used to gather descriptive data

How to Conduct Primary Research with Formplus 

Primary research can be conducted with Formplus using a survey or questionnaire. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to go about this. 

  • Sign into Formplus

With Formplus, you can create different types of surveys and questionnaires for primary research. Sign into your Formplus account to access the form builder where you can seamlessly add and modify different form fields for your primary research survey. 

Once you sign in, click on "create new form" to begin. 

  • Edit Form

In the builder page, you can specify your form title to be "Primary Research Survey" in the title box. Next, click on or drag your desired form fields into your survey form from the builder's inputs section. 

  • Edit fields
  • Click on "Save"
  • Preview form. 
  • Form Customization

In the form customization section in the form builder, you can easily personalize your primary research survey by modifying its outlook to suit your needs. Formplus allows you to change your form theme, add background images and even change the font according to your needs. 

  • Multiple Sharing Options

With Formplus, you can easily share your primary research survey with respondents using the available multiple sharing options. You can use the direct social media sharing buttons to share your form link to your organization's social media pages. 

You can send out your survey form as email invitations to your research subjects too. If you wish, you can share your form's QR code or embed it in your organization's website for easy access. 


Many times, researchers combine primary and secondary data collection methods in order to arrive at the most valid outcomes at the end of a systematic investigation. Usually, they start off with secondary research to effectively map out a relevant scope for their research effort, before proceeding to conduct primary research. 

It is important for you to consider the strengths and weaknesses of secondary and primary research before opting for any of these research methods. More importantly, you should pay attention to the overall aim of your systematic investigation as this is the fundamental determinator for choosing primary or secondary research.

  • Formplus Blog
  • on 10 min read


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