Advantages and disadvantages of secondary data collection nowadays

Advantages

1. The first advantage of using secondary data (SD) has always been the saving of time (Ghauri, 2005). Not enough with this, in the so called Internet Era, this fact is more than evident. In the past, secondary data collection used to require many hours of tracking on the long libraries corridors. New technology has revolutionized this world. The process has been simplified. Precise information may be obtained via search engines. All worth library has digitized its collection so that students and researchers may perform more advance searches.

2. Accessibility. In the past, SD was often confined to libraries or particular institutions. Top of that, not always general public gained access. Internet has especially been revolutionary in this sense. Having a internet connection is frequently the only requirement to access. A simple click is sometimes more than enough to obtain vast amount of information. The problem, nevertheless, is now being able to see whether the data is valid.

3. Strongly connected to the previous advantages is the saving of money (Ghauri, 2005). In general, it is much less expensive than other ways of collecting data. One may analyzed larger data sets like those collected by government surveys with no additional cost.

4. Feasibility of both longitudinal and international comparative studies. Continuous or regular surveys such as government censuses or official registers are especially good for such research purposes. The fact of being performed on a regular or continuous basis allow researchers to analyze the evolution of, to give an example, per capita income in Poland from 2000 to 2012. Something similar occurs when comparing different countries. Although important difference between countries may exist, the truth is that censuses and other government studies tend to unify criteria all over the world or, at least, within certain geographical areas, such as European Union, or among certain international organizations members, such as OECD. Another example are the studies carry out by international networks that aims to collect information world-widely following the same criteria. The World Values Survey is a good example. It is a source of empirical data on attitudes covering a majority of the world´s population (nearly 90%) It is carried out by a worldwide network of social scientist who, since 1981, have conducted representative national surveys in almost 100 countries. Aiming such data for international or longitudinal studies via primary data collection is truly difficult and often miss the rigor that diverse social contexts comparisons require.

5. Generating new insights from previous analyses (Fàbregues, 2013). Reanalyzing data can also lead to unexpected new discoveries. Returning to the previous example, the World Values Survey Association usually publish the so called World Values Survey Books. They are a collection of publications based on data from the World Values Surveys. Since the database used may be accessible for outsider, you can analyze the data and come up with new relevant conclusions or simply verify and confirm previous results.

Disadvantages

1. Inappropriateness of the data. Data collected by oneself (primary data) is collected with a concrete idea in mind. Usually to answer a research question or just meet certain objectives.  In this sense, secondary data sources may provide you with vast amount of information, but quantity is not synonymous of appropriateness. This is simply because it has been collected to answer a different research question or objectives. (Denscombe, 2007). The inappropriateness may be, for instance, because of the data was collected many years ago, the information refers to a entire country when one aims to study a specific region, or the opposite, one aims to study an entire country but the information is given in a region wide. There are two possible ways to be taken when SD is not appropriate: 1) answering your research question partially with the subsequent lack of validity; 2) you need to find an alternative technique of data collection, such as survey or interviews.

2. Lack of control over data quality (Saunders, 2009). Government and other official institutions are often a guarantee of quality data, but it is not always the case. For this reason, quality issues must be verify as outlined in this post.

Any other advantage or disadvantage up? Would you like to add something else?

Related articles

Reference list

Denscombe, M. (2010). The good research guide: for small-scale social research projects. Open University Press.

Fàbregues, Sergi (@sfabreguesf). “@socioloxia  Perform an alternative analysis with the aim of generating new insights from previous analyses” 10th of December 2013, 11:33 AM.

Ghauri, P. N. (2005). Research methods in business studies: A practical guide. Pearson Education.

Saunders, M. N., Saunders, M., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2011). Research Methods For Business Students, 5/e. Pearson Education India. 

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What is secondary data and where is located?

Secondary data is usually defined in opposition to primary data. The latter is directly obtained from first-hand sources by mean of questionnaire, observation, focus group or in-depth interviews, while the former refers to data collected by someone other than the user. In other words, data that has already been collected for some other purpose. Yet, such data may be very useful for your own research purpose.

A review of the literature accounts for many varieties of classification for secondary data (Bryman 1989, Dale et al. 1988; Robson, 202). Suffice it to mention Kervin classification (1992) who distinguish between raw data and compiled data. Regarding the former one, there has been little if any processing, while the latter one has received some form of selection or summarizing. Among the first type of secondary data it is worth mentioning those coming from organizations´ databases, organizations´ websites or newspaper, among other. Second type, compiled data, refers to for instance, government publications, books, journals or industry statistic and reports, among others.

There would be a third type of secondary data that is in between both raw and compiled, they were collected via survey strategy. For instance, census of population, continuous and regular surveys such as government family spending, labor market trends, employee attitude surveys, etc.; and last but not least, ad hoc surveys, i.e. those non-regular basis survey made by some organization.

Where is secondary data located? Your public or university library is still a great place to find relevant data for any project, especially with regard to books or encyclopedias. But the truth is that in the so called Internet society, a lot of worthy material is usually available via Internet or, at least, the references to such material. The use of key words may sometimes be enough to come across relevant secondary data via the most common search engine. However, the breadth of information on the net may be unmanageable or, what is worse, you may waste a lot of time on the always difficult task of discriminating between what is a bogus or a true research

In this case it is highly recommendable to do customized searches via specific sources. Below are three kinds of sources that may help you on that venture:

1. Public statistical providers. Identify the main provider of statistical information, which is usually dependent on the government. Bureau of the Census of US or Central Statistical Office in the case of Poland. Find here a list of National Statistical Offices web-sites. The you have other international statistic offices such as Eurostat, where you will find social and economic indicators from all over the European Union members; as well as worldwide organizations such as OECD.Stat which includes data and metadata for OECD countries and selected non-member economies; or United Nations Statistic.

2. Specialized search engines. To use these you need to define your general subject area prior to your search. For instance, such database as Econlit count with their own search engine that focus only on economics and management publications, or The Financial Times Historical Archive in case of financial studies. Although the access to some of them may be for a fee, note that your own institution or University could perfectly be a subscriber. It is also worth mentioning Google Scholar. Its use is also becoming quite common within academia. It is not specialized in any particular subject, but discriminate efficiently among academics and non-academics publications. Finally, social networks are also shifting the way secondary data and review of literature is understood. Academia.edu is probably one of the most known and worldwide used academic networks. Counting with its own search engine, you can find not only relevant publications but also other scholars and professionals working on your topic.

3. Organizations related to your research topic. Finally, note that ample and relevant information may be obtained from organizations related to your research topic. Imaging your research focuses intellectual property issues. Visiting World Intellectual Property Organization is a must for you. The same would happen with the World Health Organization if you address health related issues. Equally when the focus is on a specific industry. Every industry normally counts with its own national and/or international organization. Euromines for minig, World Tourism Organization for the touristic industry. Should you happen to be interested on working rights, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) website and, concretly, its global index report is an interesting source for you. Note that your topic, especially when is very specific, may not have any organization related. It may be due to two main reasons that should make you think over. First, your topic is not enough relevant and then you should consider another one. Second, your topic refers to a very new phenomenon and the interest lays on its emerging nature (Exploratory approach would be the most convenient for you)

Reference list

Bryman, A. (2004). Research methods and organization studies (Vol. 20). Routledge.

Dale, A., Arber, S., & Procter, M. (1988). Doing secondary analysis (pp. 15-18). London: Unwin Hyman.

Kervin, J. B. (1992). Methods for business research. HarperCollinsPublishers.

Robson, C. (2002). Real world research: A resource for social scientists and practitioner-researchers (Vol. 2). Oxford: Blackwell.

Saunders, Mark NK, et al. Research Methods For Business Students, 5/e. Pearson Education India, 2011.