Review: Primary and Secondary Data

Most queries received on this blog pertain to primary and secondary data, hence this article.

Primary Data: Data collected by an investigator/ agency for a specific purpose.

Example: Census data collected by the Government to enumerate the population.

Secondary Data: Data originally collected by someone (else) for another purpose, but now being reused for another purpose.

Example: Census data used by a researcher to study the community-wise ownership and utilization of vehicles.

Qualitative Data: Data involving understandings of the complexity, details, and context of the research subject, often consisting of texts, such as field notes, interview transcripts, and audiovisual material.

Quantitative Data: Data that can be described in terms of numbers or values.

Data may be classified as Primary or Secondary based on who collected it; and Qualitative or Quantitative data based on the nature of the data- textual or numerical.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the types of Primary and Secondary Data?

There are no further types of Primary or Secondary data, only types of sources/ methods of data collection.

Common types of Primary data sources/ methods of Primary data collection include:

  • Experiments (Quantitative)
  • Surveys: (Often Quantitative) [Interview survey, Mail survey, Web survey, etc.]
  • Observation: (Passive- Quantitative; Active- Qualitative)
  • Interviews (Qualitative) [Focus Group, Open interview, etc.]

Can Secondary Data be used for research?

Yes. A lot of research involves the use of secondary data. However, it is important to describe the source of data, and evaluate the quality of data before proceeding.

Can Qualitative data be used for research?

Yes. Research in the social sciences largely involves the use of qualitative data. However, it is preferable to use Primary data in such situations because the context assumes a lot of significance.

Is Quantitative Data Primary or Secondary?

It depends upon who collected the data, and for what purpose. By itself, quantitative data cannot be termed ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’ without knowing who collected the data- if the data were collected specifically for the research purpose at hand, it is primary, else it is secondary.

Is data from an internet source Primary or Secondary Data?

It depends.

Situation #1: A researcher maintains a site on which visitors are requested to answer some questions. The questions seek to help answer a specific research question for the researcher. The data obtained from the web site constitutes primary data for the researcher.

Situation #2: A friend of the researcher mentions the site to a third person, who contacts the researcher and requests use of the data collected from the site. The researcher shares his data with the third person. The third person now has secondary data.

Are existing records a source of Primary or Secondary Data?

It depends upon who is using the data.

Situation #1: A local office maintains records of its transactions. The Manager of the office compiles the data from the records and prepares a report on their activities. The Manager used primary data.

Situation #2: A reporter used the report to write an article in the local newspaper to highlight the role of the office in the local society. The reporter used secondary data.

Useful Links:

Link to an article on Primary and Secondary Data Collection in the Encyclopedia of Social Measurement, 2005:

Click to access ESM_DCOL05.pdf

Link to an article on Primary and Secondary Sources (University of Rochester):

Link to previous article on Primary and Secondary Data:


6 thoughts on “Review: Primary and Secondary Data

  1. Pingback: Review: Primary and Secondary Data | Social Stigmas

  2. Pingback: Types of Data: Primary and Secondary data | communitymedicine4asses

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