In a world where endless new information is available at our fingertips, it’s a nice reminder to always use the fundamentals of sound research so that your credibility, legitimacy, and reputation stay intact. It’s more potent than ever — if you’re relying on research or conducting research — that well-supported facts are a must-have in any project you may be undertaking.
As a former journalist, I have the term “research” engrained in my head. I’d never write a story — no matter how big or small — without both primary and secondary research. While it’s one of the first things they teach you in J-School, it’s one of the most important lessons applied to each and every story. (BTW, yes, we apply this level of journalistic integrity to all of the content we produce here at SurveyGizmo).
After all, I never want to end up on the side of Janet Cooke, Jayson Blair, or Fareed Zakaria — names in the journalism world that are synonymous with plagiarism and fabrication. Not ending up with a similar reputation resides solely in the consistent use of sound research.
Primary and secondary research were always my right hand at the start of any headline grabbing story. Heck, it remains true even as a content marketer to rely on this research approach. Unlike the names suggest, start off with secondary research — this is information that’s already been fact-checked and proven true — such as information found in scholarly journals or peer-reviewed publications. This often occurs in the good old library or searching through academic journal databases such as JSTOR, Google Scholar, or Questia.
Outside of the journalism context, conduct secondary research to understand:
- What benchmarks exist in your industry. This can help you see where you stand alongside others, as well as identify areas you need to improve on or areas that you may not be currently measuring that you should be.
- The competitive landscape. Secondary research gives you the information you need to understand your competition, what markets they serve, what they offer, and for how much.
Then there is a journalist’s best friend: primary research, which can be gathered from interviewing sources that may have information about the story. Primary research is typically the bread and butter of the story, with secondary research being the plate it’s served on.
For market researchers, primary research is gathered in a variety of ways including, interviews (either on the phone or in person), administering a survey or questionnaires, relying on focus groups, or visiting a competitor on-site. Typically, primary research for the market researcher is dependent on gathering subjects or participants. For journalists, primary research is dependent on the relationship you have built with sources.
How to Conduct Primary and Secondary Research
The writing experts over at Purdue claim that primary research can begin by asking yourself these seven questions:
- What do I want to discover?
How do I plan on discovering it? (This is called your research method or methodology)
Who am I going to talk to/observe/survey? (These people are called your subjects or participants)
How am I going to be able to gain access to these groups or individuals?
What are my biases about this topic?
How can I make sure my biases are not reflected in my research methods?
What do I expect to discover?
Ask these questions when starting off primary research if you are seeking answers to a problem that hasn’t been previously addressed, when you’re researching a specific group or a specific person, when you’re digging into an entirely new topic or a topic with little research done or when you are trying to compare the results of an opinion, Purdue says.
Start with the basics of secondary research to eliminate any dead ends. Secondary research can take some time to gather, so prioritizing from the get-go will be your saving grace later down the line and the deeper you get with your project. Common secondary sources where information is already gathered, according to Entrepreneur include:
- Government agencies
- Industry and trade associations
- Labor unions
- Media sources
- Chambers of Commerce
- Trade publications
Secondary research can be bucketed into three areas: public sources, commercial sources, and educational information sources. If you’re about to take on the secondary research phase of your project, look at the all of the sources available to you that fit into the scope of the project and prioritize those sources — the higher the priority translates into the source that is going to give you the most validated research and work down that list. This will save you time and keep you focused. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole with secondary research.
Another helpful tip to keep in mind when conducting secondary research is to ask yourself what would be the most beneficial: statistical data such as annual reports or financial records, or location-specific data and consumer information.
How to Take Action Based on Primary and Secondary Research
You started off this project to help solve some sort of problem. If you’re part of a team conducting this research, this is the step where you can get them all involved. Get in the same room to go over the results and how those results may help solve the problem at hand.
We can use an example of being a restaurant owner. The restaurant owner’s target audience is eating healthy, but they are financially conscious of how much they’re willing to spend for the healthy food. The data this restaurant owner obtained through secondary research shined a light into the gap: the competition is stealing market share by offering healthy food options at an affordable cost. This is the moment for the restaurant owner to rethink its menu options and pricing model. These are actions drawn straight out of secondary research findings.
Each time you start a research journey is a prime opportunity to get to know your audience better. It does take time, so please stick it out. The long-term benefits far outweigh the short-term frustrations.