1.2 Primary and Secondary Research

A major distinction between different types of dissertation is the type of research you decide to conduct. While you do not have necessarily decide between primary and secondary research straight away, it should be one of the earlier decisions you make. Your choice of primary or secondary research will help define your method of analysis and the rest of your methodology.

Academic Literature

It is critical to understand that the choice of primary or secondary research doesn't change the fact that you will need to review the academic literature (peer-reviewed journals and books) in addition to your own research. This applies even if you intend to conduct primary research. Reading the academic literature is necessary in order to understand the research and work already done by scholars on your topic before conducting your own research and analysis.

This literature search should not be narrowly restricted to your exact topic, if you are looking at the Arab Spring in Tunisia, relevant academic literature will include work on popular revolutions in general alongside material, if it is available, on your exact topic.

You will want to consider your own research in the light of the academic material, if possible some preliminary reading will help you decide on your research method and methodology.

Primary research

This produces data that you will gather yourself from original research, i.e. new data that has not been collected or gathered before by anyone. Primary data collection can consist of interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, observation and other methods. Gathering information from other sources is not primary research, i.e. you must be actively generating the information yourself.

Primary research has the benefit of being highly targeted, you are able to craft the research design to exactly pinpoint the issue or issues that you wish to explore. You are not dependent upon the aims and objectives of previous studies. For example, if you wish to explore the attitudes of the British population towards a particular policy announcement by the government, you do not have to piece together your answer from different opinion polls or studies, which may or may not approach the issue from the same direction, instead you can craft your own questions and conduct your own survey.

However, primary research must be conducted rigorously, it is not an "easy shortcut". In order to get useful data, you must work closely with your supervisor to make sure that you have appropriate sampling methods, sample sizes and questions. Ethical dimensions of primary research are very important and you absolutely must not conduct any primary research without receiving formal authorisation from the University, usually after the approval of an ethics form.

Secondary Research

Secondary data is information that you have gathered from other sources. As mentioned above, academic literature from peer-reviewed journals and books does not constitute secondary research, you will need to gather data from other sources for your Findings chapter.

This data can come from a range of different sources, including newspapers, official statistics, governmental and NGO websites, social media, etc. The common element is that it should have been collected by someone other than yourself (i.e. it is isn't primary research).

Both published and unpublished material will fall under secondary research, if you wish to use unpublished material as your research data, make sure you have permission to do so. Material accessible to the public (published works, social media, etc.) do not usually require any permission to use in academic research.

It is important to avoid relying on a single type of data for your research, using multiple data types will increase the strength of your research and the validity of your Findings. For example, if you wish to use newspaper reports as data, consider also using statistical data gathered from different sources to help corroborate and validate the newspaper reports.

Using material published in a different language is usually okay - as long as you are fluent in that language and are prepared to translate yourself. Check with your supervisor if you are unsure.

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