How to Conduct Secondary Research

It doesn't always make sense to start a market research study from scratch. Sometimes questions can be answered through publicly available information. This is better known as secondary research, or the use of preexisting sources to address new objectives.

With the Information Age in full swing, the Internet has become the prime vehicle for conducting secondary research. Aside from research limited to print, searching online offers a person access to seemingly endless information about virtually any topic.

How to Conduct Secondary Research

Secondary research may be the right choice for a market research effort if the desired information is already out there. It can be an incredible resource for insights.

How to Start

A secondary search can prove to be valuable in several market research settings.

For example, a search of past research efforts can be a useful tool in determining project feasibility. Estimations of market sizes and known incidence rates (the percentage of persons eligible to participate in a study) can be used to make a better informed decision for a potential study.

Let's say the goal of a research study is to understand customer satisfaction with the laundry detergent Tide. Secondary research can be utilized to gather data on average laundry detergent usage in the U.S., possibly even the number of individuals who use Tide.

Another common application of secondary research is to complete a competitive assessment. Public information like company offerings and customer experiences can be used to paint a picture of each competitor in the market.

A good example of this is a community college trying to assess the nearby competition. A detailed review of course offerings from other institutions can provide a benchmark for the college. Official websites may showcases more than enough information to understand what is on the market and what gaps are present.

Sometimes the overall market is focal point of the secondary search. In fact, it is not uncommon for the goal of a study to be identification of market trends for a particular industry. A summary of the latest moves and developments in a market can be just as advantageous for a business strategy as primary research.

Looking at the banking industry, mobile applications for smartphones have certainly been an disruptor in the market. A secondary search may reveal recent studies on the impact of mobile on banks. There could even be data on how access to banking has changed with the adoption of smartphones.

Where to Look

Once a purpose is established for the secondary research, it becomes a matter of what sources to include.

Paid versus free to access? Scholarly papers versus opinion editorials? Print versus online? It is likely a secondary search may be some combination of all of these. The needs of a project will determine where the search ultimately leads.

Take, for example, a secondary search to learn about the demographics of construction workers in the U.S. You might begin with an online search of these keywords.

One of the results could be a recent research study on the profile of construction workers. Once you can verify the source is reliable, this information could be the ticket to answering your questions. Data such as gender, ethnicity, income, and language spoken at home is now hypothetically at your disposal.

An investigative report on the New York Times could give you equally valuable information from that initial online search. Perhaps a different research effort is cited in the article to complement your overall findings.


Information doesn't get more reliable on the World Wide Web than government issued data, such as that of the U.S. Census data. This research is most useful for understanding the demographics of groups of people for a potential study.

Business Journals and News Articles

When seeking the latest trends, business journals and other news articles are an abundant source. However, take caution with the credibility of news outlets. Sticking to well-known sources is a good way to ensure the research is accurate.

Company Websites or D&B/Hoovers

For competitor information, official company websites display reliable, if not braggadocios, details. It is best to pull information from these sites as objectively as possible. Third party databases such as D&B Hoovers share useful firmographics like annual revenue, employee size, number of locations, etc. These sources can effectively profile a company for research purposes.

Published Research Reports

The most informative sources are often published research reports. These may be data-rich infographics, white papers, or full presentations that were originally created for another purpose. The quantity of useful information in these documents can sometimes lead companies to charge for access. If the secondary search does not budget for any of these fees, there are certainly ample reports that are no cost to the public, as well.

Online Conversations

Online commentary makes for an excellent area to search if customer feedback is one of the desired learning points of the research. Social media, blog posts, online forums, and customer reviews provide verbatim experiences. These sources can be used to develop themes of customer conversations or general sentiment towards a product or service.

Contact Our Secondary Research Company

Drive Research is a secondary research company in NY. Our team has experience with secondary searches with all the sources mentioned above to get the answers you need.

Questions about conducting secondary research? Contact us below.

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