This is an online training course.

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“A research project can only be as good as the evidence it’s based upon.”

Primary research

Primary research is typically focused on original evidence – i.e. raw information which has not been processed or interpreted by other researchers. Such research may include:

  • Conducting experiments and analysing results
  • Collecting data, or analysing another researcher’s data in an original way
  • Investigating sources, evidence and artefacts directly linked to the examples under study
  • Developing pure theory – derived rationally from e.g. mathematical or philosophical axioms (this is rare!)

Primary sources can be used as direct evidence for (or against) a theory or hypothesis which you are investigating. It may also be used to defend assumptions which will underpin your research. Most research will draw upon a range of primary sources, and even in experimental research it is likely that other primary (and secondary) sources will be needed to justify your methods and questions.

Primary research is usually written up in journal articles, conference papers, and theses. These formats tend to allow for faster and more specific publications. Whilst academic books may also be based around primary data, this is less common (though with important exceptions – particularly for older works). Edited collections of primary research may also be published – focused around a particular theme.

Secondary research

Secondary research is typically focused on drawing conclusions based upon existing research, but possibly from a new theoretical, or methodological perspective. Such research may include:

  • Analyzing, critiquing or reinterpreting existing research
  • Reviewing or analyzing (meta-analysis) multiple pieces of existing research to draw conclusions
  • Constructing theories and conceptual frameworks based upon existing research
  • Mixing or synthesizing existing research in order to draw new conclusions
  • Summarizing existing research to clarify, educate or introduce.

Secondary sources can also be used as direct evidence for (or against) a theory or hypothesis which you are investigating (though always check the primary sources that these secondary accounts rely upon). Secondary sources are also particularly useful for establishing the context of your research, the theories, concepts and definitions you will use.

Secondary research may also be written up in journal articles, conference papers, and theses. It is also commonly found in academic books, and edited volumes, in which subjects and theories can be explored in greater depth.


Links for helping with the literature search

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is something like the UoP Discovery tool.

Online access is available to newspaper websites via online newspaper directories (by country):

There are increasing numbers of news aggregation websites, which automatically gather a range of news items for certain subjects and themes, such as:

To look at some freely available data sets, visit the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and The UK Data Service. The ONS is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and is the recognized national statistical institute for the UK and the UK Data Service is the UK’s largest collection of social, economic and population data resources.



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