Primary Research Methods: Taking the Right Approach

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Using primary research methods can strengthen your paper and provide information that might not be available elsewhere. Throughout the primary research process, you develop research questions (hypotheses) and collect data that you can measure, observe and replicate. There are two goals of primary research:

  1. To learn something new that is easily confirmed by others
  2. To eliminate any researcher bias

Primary research is conducted by you. There are three main primary research methods commonly used in academic research papers: surveys, interviews and observations. Each method requires taking the right approach—from deciding if primary research is right for your project to working through the four stages of conducting this type of research and asking the right questions.

Situations when conducting primary research

Before you start using primary research methods, first decide if this type of research is right for your research paper focus. Ultimately, this type of research is best suited to questions that are easily answered by asking participants and to observing a particular group of people, event or situation directly. Areas where primary research is beneficial include the following:

  • Topics that do not have an abundance of published works
  • Topics that involve research questions focused on recent/current events
  • Topics that are not usually studied
  • Topics that focus on a geographically local problem
  • Topics that focus on how a larger issue is portrayed at a geographically local level

Keep in mind that not all topics are suitable to primary research methods. Topics that incorporate ethical, metaphysical or philosophical research questions do not allow you to develop research that is testable or observable. For example, a research question asking if ghosts exist is not conducive to primary research. However, a question asking how many people in your local community believe in ghosts is measurable, testable and observable, making it a topic suitable to primary research methods.

The stages of conducting primary research

The process of conducting primary research is similar to the writing process in that it involves working through stages. Creating a timeline to follow as you work through primary research helps keep your research focused and your overall paper on target. There are four main stages in the primary research process: planning, collecting, analyzing and writing.

Planning stage:

  • Create a research timeline
  • Narrowing your topic
  • Develop research questions

Collecting stage:

  • Determine what type of primary research method you intend to use
  • Create a plan to collect the data
  • Prepare to collect the data
  • Collect the data

Analyzing stage:

  • Organize your data
  • Interpret the data to answer your research questions

Writing stage:

  • Introduction and review of literature to provide context, purpose and relevance
  • Describe your research process (methods)
  • Write about your findings (results)
  • Interpret what you found (discussion)

Asking the right questions when conducting primary research

Before you embark on the process of using primary research methods, make sure you are asking the right questions to shape your research.

  • What do you want to find out about your topic?
  • What methods do you intend to use?
  • Who are the intended participants in your research?
  • How do you intend to gain access to participants?
  • Do you have any biases regarding the research topic?
  • How can you eliminate research bias?

Finally, based on your answers to the above questions, what discoveries do you expect to make?

Conducting primary research strengthens your paper when the topic is conducive to this type of research method. If you decide to conduct research, create a timeline, follow it and examine your intended research by asking the right questions. As you research, stay aware of ethical considerations, and avoid common research mistakes. Taking the right approach makes a difference in the quality of your research, which directly affects the quality of your completed research paper.