Desk Research: What It Is and How You Can Use It

Access to reliable and relevant information is crucial for making informed decisions and staying ahead of the competition.

This is where desk research, also known as secondary research or library research, proves to be an indispensable tool.

By harnessing existing sources of data, from published reports and academic papers to market studies and industry analyses, desk research empowers individuals and organizations to delve into a wealth of knowledge without the need for expensive and time-consuming fieldwork.

In this blog post, our market research company will explore the ins and outs of desk research, understand its benefits, and uncover practical ways to use it.

What is Desk Research?

Desk research, also known as secondary research or library research, is a method of gathering information and insights by analyzing and synthesizing existing data and sources rather than conducting primary data collection through fieldwork or surveys.

It involves scouring through published reports, articles, studies, and other publicly available materials to extract valuable knowledge and make informed decisions.

Think back to your high school or college days. When you were assigned to write a paper, you most likely turned to many articles on Google or textbooks as helpful resources. That action was a type of desk research.

Heck, you are technically conducting secondary research by reading this article right now.

On the contrary, new research designed to answer your own specific questions is referred to as primary research. Common primary research methodologies include online surveys, focus groups, and in-depth interviews.

Common Forms of Desk Research

Desk research may come in the form of web searches, online platforms, industry reports, or even physical books.

These sources aren't usually relevant in their entirety but may offer valuable snippets of information to help answer your questions.

Desk research can also help with qualitative recruiting.

While this is often a last-ditch effort (our market research company would first recommend utilizing online panels or paid social media advertisements), depending on the target audience desk research can help find qualified participants to participate in a market research study.

For example, if your company is hosting an online focus group with financial advisors, perhaps LinkedIn could be a valuable tool in researching who would make a great fit as a potential participant. 

Advantages of Desk Research

So, why bother with secondary research for your business? Desk research offers several advantages, including:

  • Cost-effectiveness: Desk research is relatively inexpensive compared to primary research methods, as it involves using existing data and sources, reducing the need for expensive data collection.
  • Time efficiency: Since the data is already available, desk research can be conducted quickly, providing timely and relevant insights without the time constraints of conducting fieldwork or surveys.
  • Accessibility: A wide range of information is readily accessible through libraries, databases, and online resources, allowing researchers to explore a vast array of topics and gather valuable data from various reputable sources.

Disadvantages of Desk Research

As with most things, there are pros and cons to conducting secondary research. The limitations and disadvantages of desk research include:

  • Lack of control over data quality: Since the data is collected by third parties and is pre-existing, researchers have limited control over its accuracy, relevance, and reliability, which can impact the credibility of the findings.
  • Potential bias in sources: The data sources used in desk research may have inherent biases or limited perspectives, leading to incomplete or skewed information, especially if certain viewpoints or demographics are underrepresented.
  • Outdated or incomplete data: Some data may become outdated or lack the most recent information, potentially affecting the relevance and applicability of the findings.
  • Inability to answer specific research questions: Desk research might not address specific or unique research questions that require customized data collection methods, making it less suitable for certain niche topics.
  • Limited customization: Researchers have limited control over the data collected during desk research, which might not cater to specific research requirements or allow for in-depth exploration of niche areas.

Free Secondary Research Sources

1. Google Advanced Search

Given that there are over 70,000 Google searches per second, there is a good chance you have turned to an online search recently.

This is really the easiest place to begin desk research, especially if you do not know exactly what you are looking for. Through search, you can find countless articles, blogs, reports, and white papers on just about any topic.

Online search is more powerful than you may know, too. Google search features advanced filters and settings to target keywords, specific date ranges, domains, and more.

See some of the useful options below.

Google search features advanced filters

2. Google Analytics

Another valuable free source of secondary data is Google Analytics. While there is some work to initially set up the tracking code on each page of your website, this tool is very user-friendly.

The data can tell you almost anything you want to know about the traffic to and from your website.

For example, with Google Analytics you can get a glimpse into:

  • How users arrive at your website
  • What content they engage with while there
  • How long they stay on the website
  • What page they leave on

Below is an example of the Google Analytics platform with the Google Merchandise Store demo account.

GA View For Desk Research

Paid Secondary Sources

1. DemographicsNow by eSite Analytics

Desk research is very important for feasibility studies, in which syndicated research and demographic data are used to identify market supply for a new product or service.

Drive Research uses a secondary data tool called Demographics Now by eSite Analytics to help with these studies.

Market Analysis in Demographics Now provides access to detailed statistics about virtually any US market. The tool offers data on demographics, consumer expenditures, household statistics, psychographics, etc. by target areas.

See an example of the data for the Syracuse DMA below.

eSite Analytics for Desk Research

2. Industry Trend Reports

Other common paid options for desk research sources are industry or trend reports.

These are usually all-encompassing studies for a particular vertical that may highlight its current state and/or forecast changes over the next several years.

While sometimes costly, these reports can give your business a serious leg up on the competition if relevant.

For example, Drive Research created a Cannabis Consumer Report. It is a paid report that shares the findings of a survey we conducted with nearly 4,000 cannabis users. It covers topics such as purchasing behaviors, usage preferences, and perceived health benefits. 

The report covers many areas of interest for those looking to sell or market their cannabis business, but it is at a lower cost than if these audiences were to conduct a custom market research study.

Other Frequently Asked Questions About Desk Research

What is an example of desk research?

Here are three examples of using desk research:

  1. Reviewing academic journals and scientific papers to gather data and insights related to a specific research question or topic.
  2. Analyzing market reports and industry publications to understand market trends, consumer behavior, and competitor analysis.
  3. Examining government publications and statistical data to gather information about demographics, economic indicators, and social trends.

What is the job of a desk researcher?

The job of a desk researcher involves gathering, analyzing, and synthesizing information from various sources, such as published reports, databases, academic papers, and online resources, to provide valuable insights and data to support decision-making, research projects, market analysis, and other information-driven endeavors.

Why is it called desk research?

It is called desk research because the primary activity of the research takes place at a desk, where the researcher accesses and analyzes existing data and information from various sources without the need for fieldwork or direct interaction with participants.

Contact Drive Research Our Desk Research Company

Interested in desk research for yourself? Our team at Drive Research has plenty of experience digging through secondary sources to get answers for clients.

Contact our full-service market research company to see how we may help.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at [email protected]
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

tim gell - about the author

Tim Gell

As a Research Analyst, Tim is involved in every stage of a market research project for our clients. He first developed an interest in market research while studying at Binghamton University based on its marriage of business, statistics, and psychology. 

Learn more about Tim, here.

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