develop a research proposal

Develop a Research Proposal


Writing the Proposal - Secondary
Data Collection

Secondary data is one type of quantitative data that has already been collected by someone else for a different purpose to yours. For example, this could mean using:

  • data collected by a hotel on its customers through its guest history system.
  • data supplied by a marketing organization.
  • annual school testing reports.
  • government health statistics.

Secondary data can be used in different ways:

  • You can simply report the data in its original format. If so, then it is most likely that the place for this data will be in your main introduction or literature review as support or evidence for your argument.
  • You can do something with the data. If you use it (analyze it or re-interpret it) for a different purpose to the original then the most likely place would be in the ‘Analysis of findings’ section of your dissertation.

Example:  A good example of this usage was the work on suicide carried out by Durkheim. He took the official suicide statistics of different countries (recorded by coroners or their equivalent) and analyzed them to see if he could identify variables that would mean that some people are more likely to commit suicide than others. He found, for example, that Catholics were less likely to commit suicide than Protestants. In this way, he took data that had been collected for quite a different purpose and used it in his own study – but he had to do a lot of comparisons and statistical correlations himself in order to analyze the data. (See Haralambos, 1995, for details of Durkheim’s work).

Most research requires the collection of primary data (data that you collect at first hand), and this is what students concentrate on. Unfortunately, many research reports do not include secondary data in their findings section although it is perfectly acceptable to do so, providing you have analyzed it. It is always a good idea to use data collected by someone else if it exists – it may be on a much larger scale than you could hope to collect and could contribute to your findings considerably.

As secondary data has been collected for a different purpose to yours, you should treat it with care. The basic questions you should ask are:

  • Where has the data come from?
  • Does it cover the correct geographical location?
  • Is it current (not too out of date)?
  • If you are going to combine with other data are the data the same (for example, units, time, etc.)?
  • If you are going to compare with other data are you comparing like with like?

Thus you should make a detailed examination of the following:

  • Title (for example, the time period that the data refers to and the geographical coverage).
  • Units of the data.
  • Source (some secondary data is already secondary data).
  • Column and row headings, if presented in tabular form.
  • Definitions and abbreviations, for example, what does SIC stand for? For example, how is ‘small’ defined in the phrase ‘small hotel’? Is ‘small’ based on the number of rooms, value of sales, number of employees, profit, turnover, square meters of space, etc., and do different sources use the word ‘small’ in different ways? Even if the same unit of measurement is used, there still could be problems. For example, in Norway, firms with 200-499 employees are defined as ‘medium’, whereas in the USA firms with less than 500 employees are defined as ‘small’.

There are many sources of data and most people tend to underestimate the number of sources and the amount of data within each of these sources.

Sources can be classified as:

  • paper-based sources – books, journals, periodicals, abstracts, indexes, directories, research reports, conference papers, market reports, annual reports, internal records of organizations, newspapers and magazines
  • electronic sources– CD-ROMs, on-line databases, Internet, videos and broadcasts. 

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