Using Secondary Data: How to Find and Use Raw Data Sets

Secondary data is essentially a second-hand review and analysis of raw data sets. Unlike with primary data, you do not conduct any actual research; instead, you use the data from research completed by the original source. You can analyze the data to gain insights into a topic and to find sources of information and statistics to use as supporting evidence.

While primary research usually results in stronger data, in many cases the amount of effort, time and money involved in doing large research studies is prohibitive for the purposes of a research paper. In these instances, raw data sets from secondary sources are powerful sources of information.

Types of raw data sets from secondary data

The focus of your research paper dictates the type of raw data sets that are the most useful. A review of secondary data pertaining to your topic yields a potentially very large amount of data, so knowing which types of data are best suited to your area of focus is vital to starting in the right place. Types of secondary data you might find useful include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Agricultural
  • Demographic
  • Economic
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Environmental
  • Gender
  • Health

Aggregated vs. disaggregated raw data sets

It is helpful to your research process to determine if aggregated or disaggregated data is more useful for your purposes, or even if a combination of the two is best. Aggregated data pertains to a group of observations according to criteria that is well defined. This type of secondary data is also done in time intervals to cover the same raw data sets from multiple years to do a longer-term comparison.

Disaggregated data, on the other hand, are raw data sets on an individual or singular basis. This type of data might focus on age or occupation, for example, and it provides more informative data than aggregate data in most cases. Carefully determine which type of data best suits your topic and scope to answer and address your research questions thoroughly.

Sources of secondary data and raw data sets

There are many sources of secondary data that provide raw data sets. Potential sources include the following:

  • Databases
  • Government documents
  • Internet
  • Libraries
  • Official statistics
  • Reference books
  • Research institutions
  • Review articles
  • Scholarly journals
  • Technical reports
  • Trade journals
  • Universities

Each secondary data source can potentially provide different types of data and different ways the data is analyzed. When using official statistics, such as those from government publications, documents or websites, keep in mind the data is usually collected on a very large scale. This often results in a less timely and less accurate reporting of information, so look for verification or supplemental data from other sources to complement official statistics.

Secondary data is an alternative to conducting primary research; however, even if you intend to only use primary research data, reviewing raw data from secondary sources can help you shape the design of your study, interview, observation or survey. Whatever your purpose for finding secondary data, make sure you are gathering it from the original source whenever possible. For example, if data from a research study is discussed in one article, try to locate the original article with the original raw data sets.

Regardless of the type and source of secondary data, it can enhance the quality of your research paper. You can present large data sets using visual aids for a special touch and to provide clarity, or you can incorporate the information within the text of your paper. Either method of incorporating information from raw data sets requires the proper in-text citations to give credit to the original source.