Write Your Dissertation Using Only Secondary Research

November 2020 by


Writing a dissertation is already difficult to begin with but it can appear to be a daunting challenge when you only have other people’s research as a guide for proving a brand new hypothesis! You might not be familiar with the research or even confident in how to use it but if secondary research is what you’re working with then you’re in luck. It’s actually one of the easiest methods to write about!

Secondary research is research that has already been carried out and collected by someone else. It means you’re using data that’s already out there rather than conducting your own research – this is called primary research. Thankfully secondary will save you time in the long run! Primary research often means spending time finding people and then relying on them for results, something you could do without, especially if you’re in a rush. Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of primary research.

So, where do you find secondary data?

Secondary research is available in many different places and it’s important to explore all areas so you can be sure you’re looking at research you can trust. If you’re just starting your dissertation you might be feeling a little overwhelmed with where to begin but once you’ve got your subject clarified, it’s time to get researching! Some good places to search include:

  • Libraries (your own university or others – books and journals are the most popular resources!)
  • Government records
  • Online databases
  • Credible Surveys (this means they need to be from a reputable source)
  • Search engines (google scholar for example).

The internet has everything you’ll need but you’ve got to make sure it’s legitimate and published information. It’s also important to check out your student library because it’s likely you’ll have access to a great range of materials right at your fingertips. There’s a strong chance someone before you has looked for the same topic so it’s a great place to start.

What are the two different types of secondary data?

It’s important to know before you start looking that they are actually two different types of secondary research in terms of data, Qualitative and quantitative. You might be looking for one more specifically than the other, or you could use a mix of both. Whichever it is, it’s important to know the difference between them.

  • Qualitative data – This is usually descriptive data and can often be received from interviews, questionnaires or observations. This kind of data is usually used to capture the meaning behind something.
  • Quantitative data – This relates to quantities meaning numbers. It consists of information that can be measured in numerical data sets.

The type of data you want to be captured in your dissertation will depend on your overarching question – so keep it in mind throughout your search!

Getting started

When you’re getting ready to write your dissertation it’s a good idea to plan out exactly what you’re looking to answer. We recommend splitting this into chapters with subheadings and ensuring that each point you want to discuss has a reliable source to back it up. This is always a good way to find out if you’ve collected enough secondary data to suit your workload. If there’s a part of your plan that’s looking a bit empty, it might be a good idea to do some more research and fill the gap. It’s never a bad thing to have too much research, just as long as you know what to do with it and you’re willing to disregard the less important parts. Just make sure you prioritise the research that backs up your overall point so each section has clarity.

Then it’s time to write your introduction. In your intro, you will want to emphasise what your dissertation aims to cover within your writing and outline your research objectives. You can then follow up with the context around this question and identify why your research is meaningful to a wider audience.

The body of your dissertation

Before you get started on the main chapters of your dissertation, you need to find out what theories relate to your chosen subject and the research that has already been carried out around it.

Literature Reviews

Your literature review will be a summary of any previous research carried out on the topic and should have an intro and conclusion like any other body of the academic text. When writing about this research you want to make sure you are describing, summarising, evaluating and analysing each piece. You shouldn’t just rephrase what the researcher has found but make your own interpretations. This is one crucial way to score some marks. You also want to identify any themes between each piece of research to emphasise their relevancy. This will show that you understand your topic in the context of others, a great way to prove you’ve really done your reading!

Theoretical Frameworks

The theoretical framework in your dissertation will be explaining what you’ve found. It will form your main chapters after your lit review. The most important part is that you use it wisely. Of course, depending on your topic there might be a lot of different theories and you can’t include them all so make sure to select the ones most relevant to your dissertation. When starting on the framework it’s important to detail the key parts to your hypothesis and explain them. This creates a good foundation for what you’re going to discuss and helps readers understand the topic.

To finish off the theoretical framework you want to start suggesting where your research will fit in with those texts in your literature review. You might want to challenge a theory by critiquing it with another or explain how two theories can be combined to make a new outcome. Either way, you must make a clear link between their theories and your own interpretations – remember, this is not opinion based so don’t make a conclusion unless you can link it back to the facts!

Concluding your dissertation

Your conclusion will highlight the outcome of the research you’ve undertaken. You want to make this clear and concise without repeating information you’ve already mentioned in your main body paragraphs. A great way to avoid repetition is to highlight any overarching themes your conclusions have shown

When writing your conclusion it’s important to include the following elements:

  • Summary – A summary of what you’ve found overall from your research and the conclusions you have come to as a result.
  • Recommendations – Recommendations on what you think the next steps should be. Is there something you would change about this research to improve it or further develop it?
  • Show your contribution – It’s important to show how you’ve contributed to the current knowledge on the topic and not just repeated what other researchers have found.

Hopefully, this helps you with your secondary data research for your dissertation! It’s definitely not as hard as it seems, the hardest part will be gathering all of the information in the first place. It may take a while but once you’ve found your flow – it’ll get easier, promise! You may also want to read about the advantages and disadvantages of secondary research.



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