Social Research Glossary


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Home


Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises


Primary research

core definition

Primary research involves the researcher in first-hand collection or generation of new (primary) data.

explanatory context

Primary research is reserch undertaken by the resercher and usually involves direct observation, questionnaire or interview surveys. All of these would generate primary data.


To complicate matters, primary research can be undertaken on existing cultural objects, such as nwspaper, cinematic films, television programmes and other mass media. Here the researcher undertakes new research first-hand but doesn't create the data by conducting a survey, for example, but instead selects a sample of exiting material to investigate. The already-existing material is usually referred to as secondary data.

In some cases researchers undertake secondary research on secondary data, usually this involved re-analysing data that has already been collected and reported. Sometimes thi is for the purpose of checling the originsl conclusions but more often secondary research involves using existing secondary data for new purposes, for example, using existing data on crime rates and correlating it with existing data on unemployment.


analytical review

Currie (2005, p. 89), writing about collecting primary data, states:

Primary research is research that produces data that are only obtainable directly from an original source. In certain types of primary research, the researcher has direct contact with the original source of the data.

Primary data are data that were previously unknown and which have been obtained directly by the researcher for a particular research project.

Primary information is primary data to which meaning has been added; in other words, the data have been analysed, inferences have been drawn from them and, thereby, meaning has been added.

Currie (2005, p. 90) states that there are three primary methods, surveys, interviews and obseration (2013) define primary data as:

Data observed or collected directly from first-hand experience. Published data and the data collected in the past or other parties is called secondary data.

Barker (2013) states:

Primary data is important for all areas of research because it is unvarnished information about the results of an experiment or observation. It is like the eyewitness testimony at a trial. No one has tarnished it or spun it by adding their own opinion or bias so it can form the basis of objective conclusions....

Primary data is the specific information collected by the person who is doing the research. It can be obtained through clinical trials, case studies, true experiments and randomized controlled studies. This information can be analyzed by other experts who may decide to test the validity of the data by repeating the same experiments....

Primary data can also be retrospective, interventional and observational in nature. Retrospective primary data gathers information about past conditions or behaviors. The researcher may be investigating a cause of a preventable disease, for instant as in the connection between smoking and lung cancer. Interventional primary data may be gathered to see the effect of a new drug or therapy. A recent study reported in the Journal of Ophthalmology, for example, described an interventional study about treatments for convergence insufficiency. Patients with this diagnosis received one of three treatments over a 12-week period to determine which intervention would be the most effective. Observational studies gather primary data by means of case studies such as the work done by naturalists like Jane Goodall on chimpanzees in the wild.

associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World Section 1


Barker, L., 2013, 'What is Primary Data?', available at, accessed 28 March 2013, still available 24 December 2016, not available 12 une 2019., 2013, 'Primary data', available at, accessed 28 March 2013, still available 12 June 2019.

Currie, D., 2005, Developing and Applying Study Skills, CIPD.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Home