Social Research Glossary


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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.


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Secondary method

core definition

Secondary method refers to research research approaches that use data that already exists in some form.

explanatory context

Secondary methods might involve analysing mass media outputs (television, newspapers) using library resources or the internet, reanalysing material in data banks collected for other purposes, re-examining interview transcripts or anything else that does not involve primary research.


Sometimes secondary research is called desk research.

analytical review

Long-Sutehall et al. (2010) discuss secondary approaches to qualitative research:

Secondary analysis of qualitative data is the use of existing data to find answers to research questions that differ from the questions asked in the original research (Hinds et al., 1997). Whilst there is a well-established tradition of carrying out secondary analysis of quantitative datasets within quantitative social research, policy analysis and the business decision making of many companies (Corti and Thompson, 1995; Fielding, 2000), this has not, until recently, been the case with qualitative datasets. Latterly, the whole area of the re-use of archived datasets and secondary analysis has gained interest and momentum due to the recognition by researchers that many qualitative datasets offer narratives that discuss issues related to the primary research questions, but which have never been analysed. Access to archived digital social science datasets has been facilitated by data banks in the UK and Europe, for example, the UK Data Archive (UKDA...), the Council of European Social Science Data Archives (CESSDA...) and the Inter-University consortium for political and social research (ICPSR...), along with the publication of journals such as Social Research Update and the online journal Forum of Qualitative Social Research.
Secondary analysis differs from approaches that seek to critically assess the theory, methods and findings from existing qualitative research in an attempt to generate and synthesise meanings from multiple studies, for example, the meta-study of qualitative data (Paterson et al., 2001), meta-ethnography (Noblit and Hare, 1988), meta-sociology (Furfey, 1953) and meta-study (Zhao, 1991), as the aim of a secondary analysis is to address new research questions by analysing previously collected data.

Devine (2003) similarly states:

Secondary data analysis involves the analysis of an existing dataset, which had previously been collected by another researcher, usually for a different research question. The collection of original data by a researcher is called primary data collection. Secondary data analysis is widely used by researchers undertaking analysis of quantitative data, and has begun to be applied to qualitative data.

DJS Research Ltd (2005–2013), referring to market research, state:

Also known as desk research, secondary research is the most common research method employed in the industry today. It involves processing data that has already been collected by another party. With this form, researchers will consult previous studies and findings such as reports, press articles and previous market research projects in order to come to a conclusion. The relatively low expense in comparison to primary research is the main advantage of this research as no new research needs to be commissioned. However, its main disadvantage is that the data used in the analysis may be out-dated and therefore return inaccurate results. Furthermore, previous studies may not have targeted the exact issue that the current research requires.


Richard Schaefer (2017) defines secondary analysis as:

A variety of research techniques that make use of publicly accessible information and data.


The NHS Health News Glossary, (NHS, undated) refers to secondary analysis:

A secondary analysis is when researchers revisit data that was collected for a different reason and analyse it again to answer a new research question. This type of analysis is sometimes prone to errors.


associated issues


related areas

See also

primary research

secondary data

unobtrusive method

Researching the Real World Section


Corti, L. and Thompson, P., 1995, Archiving qualitative research data. Social Research Update (10), Department of Sociology, University of Surrey, available at: http://, accessed 15 September 2004, no longer available at this address.

Devine, P. 2003, 'Secondary data analysis' in Miller, R.L. and Brewer, J.D. (Eds.), The A-Z of Social Research, Sage.

DJS Research Ltd, 2005–2013, What is Secondary Research?, dated 28 July 2006, available at, accessed 14 April 2013, still available 14 June 2019.

Fielding, N., 2000, The shared fate of two innovations in qualitative methodology: the relationship of qualitative software and secondary analysis of archived qualitative data. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/ Forum Qualitative Social Research 1(3), available at:, accessed 24 June 2005 but no longer at this address..

Furfey, P.H., 1953, The Scope and Method of Sociology: A meta-sociological treatise. New York: Cooper Square.

Hinds PS, Vogel RJ and Clarke-Steffen L (1997) The possibilities and pitfalls of doing a secondary analysis of a qualitative dataset. Qualitative Health Research 7(3): 408–24.

Long-Sutehall, T., Sque, M. and Addington-Hall, J., 2010, 'Secondary analysis of qualitative data: a valuable method for exploring sensitive issues with an elusive population?' Journal of Research in Nursing, 16(4), pp. 335–44, available at, accessed 14 April 2013, still available 14 June 2019.

NHS, undated, Health News Glossary, available at, accessed 1 June 2019.

Noblit, G.W. and Hare, R.D., 1988,Meta-ethnography: Synthesizing Qualitative Studies. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Schaefer, R. T., 2017, 'Glossary' in Sociology: A brief introduction, Fourth Edition, originally c. 2000, McGraw-Hill. Available at, site dated 2017, accessed 11 June 2017, 'not found' 14 June 2019.

Zhao, S., 1991, 'Meta-theory, mete-method, meta-data-analysis: What, why, and how?', Sociological Perspectives 34: 377–90.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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