The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Sources of Data
Length: 2146 words (6.1 double-spaced pages)
Need writing help? Check your paper »
Primary data is data, which is collected by the researcher themselves.
This kind of data is new, original research information.
Primary sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to
what actually happened and is hands on. A primary source reflects the
individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Primary sources are
first-hand information from a person who witnessed or participated in
an event. Examples of primary data are:
Secondary research is using information that has already been produced
by other people. A secondary source is used by a person usually not
present at the event and relying on primary source documents for
information. Secondary sources usually analyse and interpret. Finding
out about research that already exits will help form new research.
Examples of secondary data:
The government statistics service
The office of national statistics
Centre for applied social surveys
The distinctions between primary and secondary sources can be
ambiguous. An individual document may be a primary source in one
context and a secondary source in another. Time is a defining element.
For example, a recent newspaper article is not usually a primary
source; but a newspaper article from the 1860's may be a primary
source for civil war research.
Explain the concept of validity
Validity is how truthful something is and whether a piece of research
has the ability to test or research what it set out to measure. The
word validity mainly refers to the data collection and whether it is
true. If a questionnaire, which was aimed at young girls was carried
out the validity would look at the results and think how truthful they
were. The questionnaire might not have been answered by who it was
aimed at so would not be truthful. So maybe the researcher would need
to chose a method that you know who is answering it (e.
The validity would also take into account that if the answers were not
reliable it could be because the respondents did not understand the
question, so the questions would need to be more clear. The validity
would also look at whether the research methods actually measured what
they claimed. If a piece of research is not reliable then it is
unlikely to be valid.
Explain the concept of reliability:
Reliability in research terms is whether the results in a research
method are trustworthy and dependable. If the same piece of research
were carried out again the same results would be reproduced again who
ever was doing the research. In doing a piece of research reliable
data collection methods need to be used to collect the information.
Some methods of data collection are seen as more reliable than others.
For example on a questionnaire people will often lie or not tell the
truth (e.g. ticking the box to say how much you earn). Whereas in an
interview face-to-face people will tell the truth a lot more and say
exactly how they feel, so the results will be more valid. Often when
carrying out research, working with others will often help your work
to become more valid and reliable. Using unreliable data collection
can lead to validity problems with the data; this means that the data
would be inaccurate.
Method: Questionnaire Survey
Describe this method
Questionnaires are simply lists of pre-written questions and sometimes
also include scales. Which can either sent to the respondents home
which often has a low response rate as people see no reason to fill
them in, or can be given to the person directly to be filled in there
or then e.g. on the streets.
A researcher would often uses a variety of questions so that they can
try and get the best response from people in the questions used. When
writing questionnaires using more open questions (say how you really
feel answers) produces qualitative data. Using closed questions (fixed
response answers) produce quantitative data.
Questionnaires maybe postal which has a low response rate self
administered where the person fills them in themselves or in the form
of a interview where the researcher reads out the questions
Questionnaires are used to reaching a large number of people because
the forms can just be handed out and are not as time consuming or
expensive as interviews would be. Although cannot be as accurate
because people do not have the chance to express themselves like they
would in a interview so may just end up ticking a box that they don't
agree with because there are no other options. Here is a selection of
questions that could be used in a questionnaire.
List: Where there is a list of answers to a question and the
respondent can just tick the boxes that apply to them the most.
E.g. Which sorts of houses have you live in the past? (Tick as many as
Detached Semi-detached Terrace Bungalow Flat Apartment Other
Category: Where the respondent can only choose one of the set listed
E.g. How long have you lived in your current house for?
Under 1 year 1-5 years 6-10 years 11-20 years 21-30 years 31 years or
Ranking: The respondent can rank things or order of what they like the
best or least.
E.g. Indicate your preference for what you look for in as good home.
(1very important and 4 least important)
Good neighbours Big garden Close to the shops Four or more bedrooms
Attitude scales: this is where the respondent is allowed to indicate
to what they agree with and what they disagree with or how much they
like or dislike something.
E.g. "All houses must have a garage". How much do you agree or
disagree with this statement.
Agree Strongly Agree Neither Agree or Disagree Disagree Strongly
Advantages of questionnaires
Disadvantages of questionnaire
Cheap and quick to conduct compared to other methods. Does not take so
Fixed response questions mean that answers can be quickly and
accurately analysed on the computer.
Every question is the same so it is easy to see patters and make
comparisons between different groups of people such as their age or
between what jobs they have.
If the sampling is successful you can sometimes make general
statements about the whole population rather than about the group of
people who took part in the questionnaire.
No interviewer bias is involved because there is no interviewer
present. The only person there could be there would be the person
handing out the questionnaire.
Analysing the results on a large scale might be very time consuming
and could be out of date when the results are ready.
Statistics giveno indication of how the person feels and could not be
accurate because it could not be how the person truly feels.
The statistics give no individual meaning or interpretation.
People may not understand the question or think it has I different
meaning and interpret it in totally different ways. This makes
comparison of answers difficult if groups have common interpretation.
Lying is also a danger. The only way to check is to put in is
difficult to check weather they are or not.
If the response rate is low or the sampling is less random, the
overall findings will be less reliable.
Method : In-depth interviews
Describe this method:
Interviews are very similar to questionnaires as they are organised
around a series of questions that the interviewee can respond.
Although interviews are longer winded than questionnaires. They are
also a lot more personal than questionnaires and are able to collect
more detailed information. Interviews are usually take place
face-to-face and one-to-one which enables the interviewer to gain
information on a more sensitive subject.
Interviews need to be carried out really carefully by the interviewer
and require good communication skills. They are much harder work than
questionnaires, as they can be very time consuming.
Interviews can be open-ended, structured or semi-structured.
Structured: Questions asked require as certain answer.
Open-ended: Don't have a format, so the interviewee can express their
Semi-structured: Are half way in-between both structured and open
ended. During an interview it is best to use a bit of both to get a
Advantages of in-depth interviews
Disadvantages of in-depth interviews
Good interaction can often develop between the interviewer and
interviewee; this means that honest and trustworthy answers are
produced. This is really important when the subject is considered
sensitive or personal.
In interviews you are able to understand how they really feel and can
speak for themselves. Also interviews are able to get closer to their
The information is not already known by the questions set, this means
the interviewer can focus on specific information.
The reason people feel how they do can be explored rather than just
collecting specific information.
A tape recorder can because, which means that the information can be
referred back to when analysing the data.
The results depend on how skilful the interviewer is.
The interviewer can be very bias the three main problems are that the
interviewer can often give clues like frowning that could influence
them. The interviewer could follow up information they believe is more
relevant. Or if there was more than one interviewer than it could mean
that there was more than one bias.
Interviews are very time consuming and expensive so not as many can
Each interview is different so it means producing statistics or
general results can be difficult.
The sample can be bias if someone refused to be interviewed.
People can often change their mind on a topic once the interview has
started and they may change their behaviour.
Sometimes people ask questions back. the interviewer must not answer
the questions as it can change peoples minds or opinions on a subject.
Method : Direct observation
Describe this method
Direct observation is when you study what people do and how they
behave by watching them in their everyday life. The observer would
observe from a distance and will not become involved in what the group
is doing. As with other techniques the data collected has to be
recorded in a certain way so that the relevant information is
collected, the main way of collecting information is to take notes.
In direct observation the subjects (e.g. children) would go about
their normal life (e.g. in a playgroup) whilst being observed.
Observing how people live and behave in their natural settings can
give the researcher a lot of information about the subject's life and
why they are who they are. Direct observation is the best way to look
at the interactions people have especially with children as interviews
or questionnaires would not work.
There are two main types of observation direct and participant. Direct
observation is also known as overt which means that it is obvious and
the observation is not hidden as every one knows that they are there
watching, and identifies the reason why they are watching. The other
observational method is covert linked to participant observation it is
where the researchers identity and purpose remain a secret.
Both quantitative and qualitative data can be collected from
. Qualitative data covers the type of research, which aims to get
personal views and opinions across. It looks into things in-depth and
the quality ism more important than the quaintly. Interviews and
observations are considered as qualitative this is because the
information collected is not statistical.
Quantitative data however looks at how many people think the same
about something. Quantitative data is all to do with numbers and
statistics. This type of data is designed to collect al lot of it and
then analyse so that conclusions can be drawn. Research methods, which
are classed as quantitative, include questionnaires.
Advantages of Direct observation
Disadvantages of Direct observation
The observers can see what the people actually do rather than being
told in a questionnaire or an interview.
The subjects are studied in their natural environment so should act
The observer is able to detect behaviour that the subjects are unaware
of doing, so would not mention it as they believed it as normal.
In direct observation you are able to look at group behaviour and hoe
they interact with each other.
This could be the only method of finding out information about young
children as they could not fill in questionnaires or take part in an
The observer may miss important information while they are note taking
about other information.
Negative observations about what is happening can lead to ethnical
If the observer cannot control himself or herself over the sample
being observed this can limit broader application of research in the
Inferences drawn from observed behaviour can lead to misunderstandings
and there fore is a poor way to look at values and believes.
The reliability of observational data collection methods is relatively
low because observations are often personal and non-repeatable.
Method: Participant observation
Describe this method
In participant observation the researcher would enter a group or
situation who they were going to study, and try to get to know the
group of people or the situation from their point of view and join in
with what they do.
During participant observation the researcher would try to understand
the motives and meanings of the person they were studying, they are
trying to gain a deeper understanding of the persons life, their
beliefs, activities of the group and where and how they live. It is a
good way to find new information which may not have been found doing
questionnaires or interviews.
During participant observation the researcher may become to attached
to the people that they are studying and the data could become invalid
as the researcher could be seeing things in a different point of view,
so using interviews or questionnaires along side this research method
is advised. This research method is very time consuming as to collect
valid information, as the group would need to be studied for a long
This research method is often used to find out hidden information on a
hostile group like the police to find out hidden data. There is a risk
of doing this because the group would not appreciate someone who they
think was there friend and who they trusted going and getting into
trouble for a piece of research.
Advantages of Participant observation
Disadvantages of Participant observation
Observations in the group's natural settings can produce very high
valid data, because they are being themselves.
The data collected can be very useful and may give access to data that
could have been hidden away otherwise.
The data can be observed over a long period of time so can be more
accurate and reliable.
Participant observation may be the only way of accessing information
on more hostile groups that would not normally let you observe them.
During the research the researchers can decide what is important and
what is not as it unfolds, and so do not have to decide what they are
looking for at the beginning of the study
Researchers may not help but start to get involved in the group, and
could influence them in what they do.
Participant observers may never really understand the group or their
setting so may not be able to appreciate the meanings they have.
Studying groups on a small scale doesn't mean it can be a
representation of any other social groups because everyone is
Observations can sometimes have ethical problems if say there was no
consent obtained when the observation was being carried out.
The reliability of observational data collection methods is low
because observations are often too personal and non-repeatable.