Primary research is a form of data collection that relies solely on data collected directly by the researcher (that’s you!), without relying on any previously collected data from other studies.
There are many benefits to conducting primary research. For one, you own the data so there will be no barriers to access. What’s more, you can collect the data that is most relevant for answering your research questions. Ultimately, this helps to make your study more valid and reliable.
But there are disadvantages to primary research! Here, we will take a look at some of these downsides and see if there are any ways to mitigate them.
Cost is one of the major reasons why researchers, and organisations will choose not to use primary research. The time and resources involved in preparing the data, collecting a relevant data set, and managing the information can be extensive and for this reason it is a major disadvantage of the approach.
For many researchers, even if they want first-hand data for analysis and answering of research questions, the sample size, and the need to produce unique survey instruments, or undertake interviews is beyond their means or budget. This is why many researchers will discount the option of primary research when undertaking a thesis or experimental study.
As a student, you might find that you are unable to collect the data you want without there being a cost implication, and thus you might decide that it is better to opt for secondary research or collect simpler primary data instead.
Time, as a disadvantage of primary research, refers not just to the time involved in gathering (and analysing) the data, but also to the need for a clear and focused research, plan, development of survey instruments such as questionnaires or interviews, or experimental conditions. All of these take time and resources that may not be viable within the scope of a study or research project.
When considering a research question, or market research project, all factors need to be taken into account, including the potential reach of the project. For example, surveying every customer that goes into a store would not be sensible for any firm, or the information that a researcher needs within a defined time frame cannot be gathered easily due to access issues with the target population or similar. In these cases, it is not feasible to undertake primary research. Furthermore, in the current world climate of social distancing and concerns about health due to Covid-19, being able to access sufficient participants may not be feasible. As such, feasibility is a major drawback of using primary research.
Lack of Comparison
One disadvantage that is frequently overlooked in terms of primary research is that the data is unique to the study and thus there is no comparison with other works. This means that if mistakes are made in the analysis and final interpretation there is no back-up for the researcher from other datasets or previous works.
These disadvantages of primary data do not mean that it should not be used, but rather that when deliberating on which is the best type of data for your project, the advantages and disadvantages should be carefully considered.
Lack of Knowledge/ Experience
For many students, primary research is also quite a daunting prospect, which can be a disadvantage. Interviewing respondents and ensuring they give appropriate answers requires a very specific skill, in particular ensuring that the questions posed, whether multiple choice or open-ended are not biased in any way. If the survey instruments used are not objective or lead the respondent to a particular answer, due to the lack of knowledge and experience of the researcher, this can lead to skewed results and an unviable study. Furthermore, for many developing researchers, they may not have the confidence to approach a large sample group, and this can lead to inefficient interviewing / questionnaire delivery, which again can lead to incomplete or ineffective responses.
Even if all the other disadvantages have been overcome, primary data can still be challenging due to issues of access to the right population or sample. For example, you may have access to a broad student body, but you want to examine the effect of a phenomenon on those over 45. The question then arises as to how you access the required number of participants. As indicated in the feasibility section, whilst the internet and web-based surveys can alleviate this issue, being able to ensure that the sample who respond meet all your participant criteria is often difficult, making it harder to collect reliable, valid, data.
Choosing primary or secondary research?
So, what does this mean for you as a student? Should you only choose secondary data collection in order to avoid the risks associated with primary data collection?
No! The best approach is to carefully consider the pros and cons of primary and secondary research and choose the option that is best suited to your project.
That might be easier said than done though, especially if you’re still feeling confused about which option to choose.
Here at Ivory Research, we have specialists in both primary and secondary research who can advise accordingly. Do not hesitate to reach out if you need support with your dissertation!