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Dissertations 4: methodology: methods.

  • Introduction & Philosophy
  • Methodology

Primary & Secondary Sources, Primary & Secondary Data

When describing your research methods, you can start by stating what kind of secondary and, if applicable, primary sources you used in your research. Explain why you chose such sources, how well they served your research, and identify possible issues encountered using these sources.  


There is some confusion on the use of the terms primary and secondary sources, and primary and secondary data. The confusion is also due to disciplinary differences (Lombard 2010). Whilst you are advised to consult the research methods literature in your field, we can generalise as follows:  

Secondary sources 

Secondary sources normally include the literature (books and articles) with the experts' findings, analysis and discussions on a certain topic (Cottrell, 2014, p123). Secondary sources often interpret primary sources.  

Primary sources 

Primary sources are "first-hand" information such as raw data, statistics, interviews, surveys, law statutes and law cases. Even literary texts, pictures and films can be primary sources if they are the object of research (rather than, for example, documentaries reporting on something else, in which case they would be secondary sources). The distinction between primary and secondary sources sometimes lies on the use you make of them (Cottrell, 2014, p123). 

Primary data 

Primary data are data (primary sources) you directly obtained through your empirical work (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2015, p316). 

Secondary data 

Secondary data are data (primary sources) that were originally collected by someone else (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2015, p316).   

Comparison between primary and secondary data   


Virtually all research will use secondary sources, at least as background information. 

Often, especially at the postgraduate level, it will also use primary sources - secondary and/or primary data. The engagement with primary sources is generally appreciated, as less reliant on others' interpretations, and closer to 'facts'. 

The use of primary data, as opposed to secondary data, demonstrates the researcher's effort to do empirical work and find evidence to answer her specific research question and fulfill her specific research objectives. Thus, primary data contribute to the originality of the research.    

Ultimately, you should state in this section of the methodology: 

What sources and data you are using and why (how are they going to help you answer the research question and/or test the hypothesis. 

If using primary data, why you employed certain strategies to collect them. 

What the advantages and disadvantages of your strategies to collect the data (also refer to the research in you field and research methods literature). 

Quantitative, Qualitative & Mixed Methods

The methodology chapter should reference your use of quantitative research, qualitative research and/or mixed methods. The following is a description of each along with their advantages and disadvantages. 

Quantitative research 

Quantitative research uses numerical data (quantities) deriving, for example, from experiments, closed questions in surveys, questionnaires, structured interviews or published data sets (Cottrell, 2014, p93). It normally processes and analyses this data using quantitative analysis techniques like tables, graphs and statistics to explore, present and examine relationships and trends within the data (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill, 2015, p496). 

Qualitative research  

Qualitative research is generally undertaken to study human behaviour and psyche. It uses methods like in-depth case studies, open-ended survey questions, unstructured interviews, focus groups, or unstructured observations (Cottrell, 2014, p93). The nature of the data is subjective, and also the analysis of the researcher involves a degree of subjective interpretation. Subjectivity can be controlled for in the research design, or has to be acknowledged as a feature of the research. Subject-specific books on (qualitative) research methods offer guidance on such research designs.  

Mixed methods 

Mixed-method approaches combine both qualitative and quantitative methods, and therefore combine the strengths of both types of research. Mixed methods have gained popularity in recent years.  

When undertaking mixed-methods research you can collect the qualitative and quantitative data either concurrently or sequentially. If sequentially, you can for example, start with a few semi-structured interviews, providing qualitative insights, and then design a questionnaire to obtain quantitative evidence that your qualitative findings can also apply to a wider population (Specht, 2019, p138). 

Ultimately, your methodology chapter should state: 

Whether you used quantitative research, qualitative research or mixed methods. 

Why you chose such methods (and refer to research method sources). 

Why you rejected other methods. 

How well the method served your research. 

The problems or limitations you encountered. 

Doug Specht, Senior Lecturer at the Westminster School of Media and Communication, explains mixed methods research in the following video:

LinkedIn Learning Video on Academic Research Foundations: Quantitative

The video covers the characteristics of quantitative research, and explains how to approach different parts of the research process, such as creating a solid research question and developing a literature review. He goes over the elements of a study, explains how to collect and analyze data, and shows how to present your data in written and numeric form.

dissertation methodology secondary data

Link to quantitative research video

Some Types of Methods

There are several methods you can use to get primary data. To reiterate, the choice of the methods should depend on your research question/hypothesis. 

Whatever methods you will use, you will need to consider: 

why did you choose one technique over another? What were the advantages and disadvantages of the technique you chose? 

what was the size of your sample? Who made up your sample? How did you select your sample population? Why did you choose that particular sampling strategy?) 

ethical considerations (see also tab...)  

safety considerations  




procedure of the research (see box procedural method...).  

Check Stella Cottrell's book  Dissertations and Project Reports: A Step by Step Guide  for some succinct yet comprehensive information on most methods (the following account draws mostly on her work). Check a research methods book in your discipline for more specific guidance.  


Experiments are useful to investigate cause and effect, when the variables can be tightly controlled. They can test a theory or hypothesis in controlled conditions. Experiments do not prove or disprove an hypothesis, instead they support or not support an hypothesis. When using the empirical and inductive method it is not possible to achieve conclusive results. The results may only be valid until falsified by other experiments and observations. 

For more information on Scientific Method, click here . 


Observational methods are useful for in-depth analyses of behaviours in people, animals, organisations, events or phenomena. They can test a theory or products in real life or simulated settings. They generally a qualitative research method.  

Questionnaires and surveys 

Questionnaires and surveys are useful to gain opinions, attitudes, preferences, understandings on certain matters. They can provide quantitative data that can be collated systematically; qualitative data, if they include opportunities for open-ended responses; or both qualitative and quantitative elements. 


Interviews are useful to gain rich, qualitative information about individuals' experiences, attitudes or perspectives. With interviews you can follow up immediately on responses for clarification or further details. There are three main types of interviews: structured (following a strict pattern of questions, which expect short answers), semi-structured (following a list of questions, with the opportunity to follow up the answers with improvised questions), and unstructured (following a short list of broad questions, where the respondent can lead more the conversation) (Specht, 2019, p142). 

This short video on qualitative interviews discusses best practices and covers qualitative interview design, preparation and data collection methods. 

Focus groups   

In this case, a group of people (normally, 4-12) is gathered for an interview where the interviewer asks questions to such group of participants. Group interactions and discussions can be highly productive, but the researcher has to beware of the group effect, whereby certain participants and views dominate the interview (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2015, p419). The researcher can try to minimise this by encouraging involvement of all participants and promoting a multiplicity of views. 

This video focuses on strategies for conducting research using focus groups.  

Check out the guidance on online focus groups by Aliaksandr Herasimenka, which is attached at the bottom of this text box. 

Case study 

Case studies are often a convenient way to narrow the focus of your research by studying how a theory or literature fares with regard to a specific person, group, organisation, event or other type of entity or phenomenon you identify. Case studies can be researched using other methods, including those described in this section. Case studies give in-depth insights on the particular reality that has been examined, but may not be representative of what happens in general, they may not be generalisable, and may not be relevant to other contexts. These limitations have to be acknowledged by the researcher.     

Content analysis 

Content analysis consists in the study of words or images within a text. In its broad definition, texts include books, articles, essays, historical documents, speeches, conversations, advertising, interviews, social media posts, films, theatre, paintings or other visuals. Content analysis can be quantitative (e.g. word frequency) or qualitative (e.g. analysing intention and implications of the communication). It can detect propaganda, identify intentions of writers, and can see differences in types of communication (Specht, 2019, p146). Check this page on collecting, cleaning and visualising Twitter data.

Extra links and resources:  

Research Methods  

A clear and comprehensive overview of research methods by Emerald Publishing. It includes: crowdsourcing as a research tool; mixed methods research; case study; discourse analysis; ground theory; repertory grid; ethnographic method and participant observation; interviews; focus group; action research; analysis of qualitative data; survey design; questionnaires; statistics; experiments; empirical research; literature review; secondary data and archival materials; data collection. 

Doing your dissertation during the COVID-19 pandemic  

Resources providing guidance on doing dissertation research during the pandemic: Online research methods; Secondary data sources; Webinars, conferences and podcasts; 

  • Virtual Focus Groups Guidance on managing virtual focus groups

5 Minute Methods Videos

The following are a series of useful videos that introduce research methods in five minutes. These resources have been produced by lecturers and students with the University of Westminster's School of Media and Communication. 

5 Minute Method logo

Case Study Research

Research Ethics

Quantitative Content Analysis 

Sequential Analysis 

Qualitative Content Analysis 

Thematic Analysis 

Social Media Research 

Mixed Method Research 

Procedural Method

In this part, provide an accurate, detailed account of the methods and procedures that were used in the study or the experiment (if applicable!). 

Include specifics about participants, sample, materials, design and methods. 

If the research involves human subjects, then include a detailed description of who and how many participated along with how the participants were selected.  

Describe all materials used for the study, including equipment, written materials and testing instruments. 

Identify the study's design and any variables or controls employed. 

Write out the steps in the order that they were completed. 

Indicate what participants were asked to do, how measurements were taken and any calculations made to raw data collected. 

Specify statistical techniques applied to the data to reach your conclusions. 

Provide evidence that you incorporated rigor into your research. This is the quality of being thorough and accurate and considers the logic behind your research design. 

Highlight any drawbacks that may have limited your ability to conduct your research thoroughly. 

You have to provide details to allow others to replicate the experiment and/or verify the data, to test the validity of the research. 


Cottrell, S. (2014). Dissertations and project reports: a step by step guide. Hampshire, England: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lombard, E. (2010). Primary and secondary sources.  The Journal of Academic Librarianship , 36(3), 250-253

Saunders, M.N.K., Lewis, P. and Thornhill, A. (2015).  Research Methods for Business Students.  New York: Pearson Education. 

Specht, D. (2019).  The Media And Communications Study Skills Student Guide . London: University of Westminster Press.  

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How to Analyse Secondary Data for a Dissertation

Secondary data refers to data that has already been collected by another researcher. For researchers (and students!) with limited time and resources, secondary data, whether qualitative or quantitative can be a highly viable source of data.  In addition, with the advances in technology and access to peer reviewed journals and studies provided by the internet, it is increasingly popular as a form of data collection.  The question that frequently arises amongst students however, is: how is secondary data best analysed?

The process of data analysis in secondary research

Secondary analysis (i.e., the use of existing data) is a systematic methodological approach that has some clear steps that need to be followed for the process to be effective.  In simple terms there are three steps:

  • Step One: Development of Research Questions
  • Step Two: Identification of dataset
  • Step Three: Evaluation of the dataset.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail:

Step One: Development of research questions

Using secondary data means you need to apply theoretical knowledge and conceptual skills to be able to use the dataset to answer research questions.  Clearly therefore, the first step is thus to clearly define and develop your research questions so that you know the areas of interest that you need to explore for location of the most appropriate secondary data.

Step Two: Identification of Dataset

This stage should start with identification, through investigation, of what is currently known in the subject area and where there are gaps, and thus what data is available to address these gaps.  Sources can be academic from prior studies that have used quantitative or qualitative data, and which can then be gathered together and collated to produce a new secondary dataset.  In addition, other more informal or “grey” literature can also be incorporated, including consumer report, commercial studies or similar.  One of the values of using secondary research is that original survey works often do not use all the data collected which means this unused information can be applied to different settings or perspectives.

Key point: Effective use of secondary data means identifying how the data can be used to deliver meaningful and relevant answers to the research questions.  In other words that the data used is a good fit for the study and research questions.

Step Three: Evaluation of the dataset for effectiveness/fit

A good tip is to use a reflective approach for data evaluation.  In other words, for each piece of secondary data to be utilised, it is sensible to identify the purpose of the work, the credentials of the authors (i.e., credibility, what data is provided in the original work and how long ago it was collected).  In addition, the methods used and the level of consistency that exists compared to other works. This is important because understanding the primary method of data collection will impact on the overall evaluation and analysis when it is used as secondary source. In essence, if there is no understanding of the coding used in qualitative data analysis to identify key themes then there will be a mismatch with interpretations when the data is used for secondary purposes.  Furthermore, having multiple sources which draw similar conclusions ensures a higher level of validity than relying on only one or two secondary sources.

A useful framework provides a flow chart of decision making, as shown in the figure below.

Analyse Secondary Data

Following this process ensures that only those that are most appropriate for your research questions are included in the final dataset, but also demonstrates to your readers that you have been thorough in identifying the right works to use.

Writing up the Analysis

Once you have your dataset, writing up the analysis will depend on the process used.  If the data is qualitative in nature, then you should follow the following process.


  • Read and re-read all sources, identifying initial observations, correlations, and relationships between themes and how they apply to your research questions.
  • Once initial themes are identified, it is sensible to explore further and identify sub-themes which lead on from the core themes and correlations in the dataset, which encourages identification of new insights and contributes to the originality of your own work.

Structure of the Analysis Presentation


The introduction should commence with an overview of all your sources. It is good practice to present these in a table, listed chronologically so that your work has an orderly and consistent flow. The introduction should also incorporate a brief (2-3 sentences) overview of the key outcomes and results identified.

The body text for secondary data, irrespective of whether quantitative or qualitative data is used, should be broken up into sub-sections for each argument or theme presented. In the case of qualitative data, depending on whether content, narrative or discourse analysis is used, this means presenting the key papers in the area, their conclusions and how these answer, or not, your research questions. Each source should be clearly cited and referenced at the end of the work. In the case of qualitative data, any figures or tables should be reproduced with the correct citations to their original source. In both cases, it is good practice to give a main heading of a key theme, with sub-headings for each of the sub themes identified in the analysis.

Do not use direct quotes from secondary data unless they are:

  • properly referenced, and
  • are key to underlining a point or conclusion that you have drawn from the data.

All results sections, regardless of whether primary or secondary data has been used should refer back to the research questions and prior works. This is because, regardless of whether the results back up or contradict previous research, including previous works shows a wider level of reading and understanding of the topic being researched and gives a greater depth to your own work.

Summary of results

The summary of the results section of a secondary data dissertation should deliver a summing up of key findings, and if appropriate a conceptual framework that clearly illustrates the findings of the work. This shows that you have understood your secondary data, how it has answered your research questions, and furthermore that your interpretation has led to some firm outcomes.

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Dissertation methodology.

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What Is The Methodology?

This is the section of your dissertation that explains how you carried out your research, where your data comes from, what sort of data gathering techniques you used, and so forth. Generally, someone reading your methodology should have enough information to be able to create methods very similar to the ones you used to obtain your data, but you do not have to include any questionnaires, reviews, interviews, etc that you used to conduct your research here. This section is primarily for explaining why you chose to use those particular techniques to gather your data. Read more about postgraduate research projects here .

Scientific Approach

The information included in the dissertation methodology is similar to the process of creating a science project: you need to present the subject that you aim to examine, and explain the way you chose to go about approaching your research. There are several different types of research , and research analysis, including primary and secondary research, and qualitative  and quantitative analysis, and in your dissertation methodology, you will explain what types you have employed in assembling and analysing your data.

Explain Your methods

This aspect of the methodology section is important, not just for detailing how your research was conducted, but also how the methods you used served your purposes, and were more appropriate to your area of study than other methods. For example, if you create and use a series of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ survey questions, which you then processed into percentages per response, then the quantitative method of data analysis to determine the results of data gathered using a primary research method. You would then want to explain why this combination was more appropriate to your topic than say, a review of a book that included interviews with participants asking open-ended questions: a combination of secondary research and qualitative data analysis.

Writing A Dissertation Methodology

It's important to keep in mind that your dissertation methodology is about description: you need to include details that will help others understand exactly what you aimed to do, how you went about doing it, and why you chose to do it that way. Don’t get too bogged down in listing methods and sources, and forget to include why and how they were suitable for your particular research. Be sure you speak to your course advisor about what specific requirements there may be for your particular course. It is possible that you may need to include more or less information depending on your subject. The type of research you conducted will also determine how much detail you will need to include in the description of your methods. If you have created a series of primary research sources, such as interviews, surveys, and other first hand accounts taken by either yourself or another person active during the time period you are examining, then you will need to include more detail in specifically breaking down the steps you took to both create your sources and use them in conducting your research. If you are using secondary sources when writing your dissertation methodology, or books containing data collected by other researchers, then you won’t necessarily need to include quite as much detail in your description of your methods, although you may want to be more thorough in your description of your analysis.

Research Techniques

You may also want to do some research into research techniques – it sounds redundant, but it will help you identify what type of research you are doing, and what types will be best to achieve the most cohesive results from your project. It will also help you write your dissertation methodology section, as you won’t have to guess when it comes to whether documents written in one time period, re-printed in another, and serialised in book form in a third are primary, secondary, or tertiary sources. Read more on dissertation research here .

Whether or not you have conducted your research using primary sources, you will still want to be sure that you include relevant references to existing studies on your topic. It is important to show that you have carefully researched what data already exists, and are seeking to build on the knowledge that has already been collected. As with all of your dissertation, be sure that you’ve fully supported your research with a strong academic basis. Use research that has already been conducted to illustrate that you know your subject well.

Draft As You Go

Because your dissertation methodology is basically an explanation of your research, you may want to consider writing it – or at least drafting it – as you gather your data. If you are on a PhD course, or a longer masters course, then you may be able to finish researching before you begin writing but it doesn’t hurt to start working on it early that way you can keep on  top of what you need to do. Analysing your own methods of research may help you spot any errors in data collection, interpretation or sources.

Dissertation Methodology Structure Example

There are several ways that you can structure your dissertation methodology, and the following headings are designed to further give you a better idea of what you may want to include, as well as how you might want to present your findings. By referring to this example you should be able to effectively structure your dissertation methodology.

Research Overview: where you reiterate the topic of your research.  

Research Design: How you’ve set up your project, and what each piece of it aims to accomplish. Data Collection: What you used to collect the data (surveys, questionnaires, interviews, trials, etc.). Don’t forget to includes sample size and any attempts to defeat bias.

Data Analysis: Finally, what does your data mean in the context of your research? Were your results conclusive or not? Remember to include what type of data you were working with (qualitative or quantitative? Primary or secondary sources?) and how any variables, spurious or otherwise factor into your results.

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Dissertations and research projects

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Primary vs. secondary research

Extended literature reviews, extended methodologies, justifying your methods, recruiting participants, data collection tools.

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What type of data should I use?

One of the first decisions you will need to make as part of the planning process is whether you will generate primary data or use existing, secondary data:

  • Primary data is generated when you collect information directly from the participants or context of your research topic. Some common methods for generating primary data include interviews, surveys, observations, action research or experimental/lab work.  
  • A dissertation that uses secondary data will either analyse an existing data set - produced by another researcher - or bring together existing literature - case studies, theories, journal articles - to answer a research question.

You should talk to your supervisor about which option would work best for your project and ultimately enable you to answer your research question or meet your overall aim for the project. You can find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of these reaserch approachs in the SAGE Research Methods online project planner.

Should I change to secondary data due to Covid-19 and remote working ?

Social distancing and remote working have made collecting primary data more challenging: it can be more difficult to recruit participants without face-to-face meetings, and you will need to consider whether you have the equipment and software needed to communicate with participants online. However, this does not mean you cannot generate primary data for your dissertation, just that you may need to get creative in how you approach your research question. For more information on collecting primary data while social distancing measures are in place, visit the University's online guide to remote research and ethics.

Switching to secondary data may offer a solution to some of the challenges posed by Covid-19. There are a wide range of existing data sets available online, which you can then analyse or interpret using your own theoretical framework or analytical methods. A list of online data sets can be found on the Hallam Library webpages and in the SAGE Research Methods repository . 

Other common dissertation types that use existing data are extended literature reviews , systematic reviews and policy analysis studies . Once you've explored the different dissertation types, consider which approaches are common in your discipline or research area, and always talk to your supervisor about which option works best for your project.

Read our full guide on how to structure an extended literature review here .

In an extended methodology, you are required to describe a project that you have not completed, usually when external circumstances have prevented you from carrying your research out as planned. It’s important to recognise that an extended methodology will be speculative, but it must demonstrate that you have thought about how you would actually conduct the research you’re proposing. In many ways, your write up won’t differ too much from a traditional methodology section but there are a couple of additional sections to include.

What should i include.

Many of these sections should be familiar as they replicate those found in the methodology section of a normal piece of research; for further guidance on how to approach planning and writing these sections of your methodology, browse the menu on the left-hand side of this guide or visit our writing up guide to get started.

To produce a comprehensive extended methodology you should:  

  • Provide research questions that have a clear link to the conclusions of your literature review.  
  • Give an overview of your epistemological position and how this has informed your approach to research.  
  • Outline your research approach – this should include a clear justification for your approach and why you have rejected other approaches (more on this later!)  
  • A detailed description of your chosen research methods and their relationship to your chosen research approach. This section should also reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of your methods. Finally, detail how the academic literature has influenced the construction of the materials associated with your chosen methods. For example, if you have chosen surveys as a method, how did you decide how many questions to have? What considerations did you take into account when writing the questions for your survey? This is a really important step as it helps demonstrate your active engagement with the research process by reflecting on how the format/design of research materials can influence participant responses and, therefore, the subsequent findings and conclusions of the research.  
  • Explain who your participants would be and how you would intend to recruit them.  
  • Demonstrate that you have considered ethical implications within your planning.  
  • Include a detailed explanation of your procedure; this is how you would actually collect your data and is likely to include details such as duration, any devices that you would use to record the data you are collecting as well as any instructions given to participants.  
  • Develop a proposed timetable for your project. This demonstrates that you’ve considered how to appropriately structure your research in order to manage your time and achieve realistic outcomes. You might include significant deadlines, any resources that you’ll need and any technical skills that you might need to develop to complete the proposed project.  
  • You might like to include a short discussion of potential dissemination routes for your research. This could include presentations, reports, or academic publications. It should be noted, that is isn’t always a requirement and you should check with your supervisor before including this as a section in your work.  
  • A considerable discussion of your potential findings and subsequent implications for your chosen topic. This might take the form of potential recommendations for professional practice or policy, or, alternatively, how your research might fill a gap, resolve an inconsistency or change our understanding of a theory/concept. This section can be tricky to write as it you are speculating about the outcomes of research that hasn’t been conducted. Consequently, it is especially important to be very cautious in any claims or recommendations that you make; it’s better to be slightly too reserved in your writing than to over-reach and starting making huge claims to generalisability and applicability that can’t be substantiated.
For more information on writing about potential findings and implications, look at Research Proposals: A Practical Guide (Chapter 10) by Martyn Denscombe.

It’s always important to justify your chosen research approach and methods, whether you’re writing-up a piece of research that you’ve conducted or writing an extended methodology/research proposal. This will involve a detailed discussion of alternative approaches/methods, and, crucially, an explanation of why your chosen approach/method is the most suited to answering your research questions rather than the alternatives.

This might be due to your epistemological position, conventions within your academic discipline, or the nature of what your research is trying to achieve; for example, if you were trying to understand the experiences of postgraduate students at Sheffield Hallam, it would not be appropriate to send hundreds of questionnaires out to people all over the country. This type of research aim would be better suited to a case study approach as the intentions and associated methods of this approach, are more appropriate for understanding a specific group, in a specific context.

This is really your opportunity to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the intersection between the philosophical, theoretical and practical factors that go into research. By establishing a clear justification for your chosen approach, you help to convey your own positionality as a researcher and situate your proposed project against the wider academic context.

Many people have had to change their methodologies due to COVID 19, but it’s important that you still provide a rich and nuanced justification for your new chosen approach. Unfortunately, saying ‘ COVID 19 made me change to research method X’ isn’t a good enough justification!  
The same principles of participant recruitment that apply to face-to-face research should be considered when recruiting and expanding your participant base remotely. Contacting people by email or phone will always be a longer process than communicating face-to-face, so be patient if communication is slower than you would like. Think about how to be effective in communicating information about the project to potential participants, and at every stage consider how you will protect their data in an online environment.  

Here are some key points to consider:

Start with the existing literature If you are yet to recruit your participants, start by making notes on existing studies that have used remote data collection methods, and talk to your supervisor about where you might recruit your participants (and how many you need for a viable project).

Draw on your networks Be practical, thinking about potential participants that you can easily access and engage with in your project. These might be coursemates, other university students, or communities you have worked with on placement. If you already know your participants, or belong to the group yourself, be sure to consider your positionality and think about the potential for research bias.

Be realistic about ethical approval It is important to balance your ambitions for the project with practical considerations, and to be realistic about who you will be able to involve in your research. For example, for PGT projects, it is unlikely that you will have time to gain ethics approval for working with vulnerable communities or involving participants in sensitive topics. Similarly, by working remotely, it may be difficult to access certain groups to share their perceptions, particularly if you are interested in a group of participants based on their profession (for example, teachers).  

  • Consider switching to a secondary data set for your research Rather than collecting primary data, you could write a secondary research project, such as an extended literature review, systematic review or policy analysis. You can access a wide range of  existing data sets  and find information on how to write an extended literature review from the Skills Centre.

Read up on selection and sampling techniques Familiarise yourself with the different ways you can recruit participants remotely to ensure a representative sample. For more information on sampling techniques, and their relative advantages and limitations, visit our SAGE Research Methods resource via the library.

Think about the logistics of recruiting and gathering data from participants How will you reach out to participants and are you using multiple methods of communication, or relying entirely on a single point of contact, such as an online survey? Some communication methods may be easier for your participants to engage with than others - try to build this into your research design. You will also need to think about how you ensure data is anonymised and how you will keep track of the number of participants involved in your project if they are participating remotely.

Have a contingency plan Reflect on the possible points of failure in your project and possible solutions for these. If your online survey fails to attract enough participants, can you run a second phase of data collection using focus groups? What is your minimum number of participants needed to meet your research aims.

Set yourself a goal Set an ideal sample size as well as a lower limit. Aim for the minimum in the time you have available - any extra participants would then be a bonus!

Share your findings You will need to let your participants know how their data will be stored and how they can access the results of your project once it is completed. You can find guidance on this, and wider GDPR considerations, on the university's ethics pages.

  • Online interviews and focus groups
  • Online surveys and questionnaires
  • Guidance on using social media

There are various ways in which you can conduct interviews or focus groups remotely. Which one you use depends on a number of factors, in particular the technology which is available to you and your respondents Phone or video calls  

When carrying our phone or video calls, please bear in mind your respondent's home situation. For example, they may not be able to find a private space for the call. Discuss with participants how you can manage these issues, for example by not using cameras in sevices such as Google Meet and Skype.

  • You can conduct voice interviews via phone. This is the simplest method, but there may be issues with the quality of the recordings. Members of staff can use Jabber to sign in to their SHU number, and can use software such as Audacity to record the call.
  • Students and staff can sign in to their SHU Google account and use Google Meet.
  • Students and staff can use their SHU details to login to Zoom and set up a meeting. If you are using Zoom please follow the guidance on securing your Zoom session .
  • Students and staff can use Skype.
  • Staff can use  Blackboard Collaborate. In a Blackboard module site go to 'Site tools' where you will find a link to 'Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.' Set up an ‘interview room’ and send respondents the guest access link.
  • Some services will require the respondent to set up an account and / or download software - it is important to include such details in your recruitment and information documents.

Interview via e-mail or documents

You may be able to conduct an interview via an e-mail exchange. It is best to use an encrypted email service. If instead you would like to use documents for the interactions, it is best to use a secure drop-off service such as using an agreed password, or sending an encrypted document. You should also scan documents for viruses.

The following tools can be used for qualitative and quantitative data gathering, such as surveys and questionnaires:

  • Qualtrics : you can request an account by contacting [email protected]  
  • OnlineSurveys : you can request an account by contacting Carolyn Fearn

SHU policies

  • Research using information and communication technology
  • Research ethics guidelines for internet mediated research

You can also find useful information from the following sites:

  • Social media research ethics , University of Aberdeen
  • Social media research ethics,  University of Lancaster
  • Social media research, University of St Andrews (check where the legal situation may be different in Scotland)

University policies and guidance for remote data collection:

Research ethics and covid-19, ethics guidelines for internet mediated research, safeguarding children in research contexts.

  • Working with vulnerable populations

For NHS related research please see the HRA  Guidance about COVID-19 for sponsors, sites and researchers .

If you have any concerns about how remote working may affect your ethical approval, speak to your supervisor or your research support librarian . 

For more guidance and support on remote research for staff, Masters by Research and doctoral students, visit the new online guide to remote research from the Library and Doctoral School:

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How to do your phd thesis using secondary data collection in 4 steps.

  • Secondary research is far simpler. So simple that PhD assistance has been able to explain how to do it entirely in just four steps for PhD Research Methodology Secondary Data Collection .
  • If nothing else, secondary research dodges the all-so-tiring exertions usually intricate with Primary Data Collection Methods.
  • Like employing your participants, selecting and preparing your measures, and spending days are collecting your data.


Secondary research is a research method that contains using already existing information. Existing information is summarized and organized to increase the overall efficiency of research. Secondary data collection includes research material published in study reports and similar documents. These PhD Secondary Data Collection Resources can be made available by libraries, websites, information obtained from already filled in reviews etc. Some government and non-government interventions also store data, that can be used for study purposes and recovered. Unlike primary research where data is composed first hand by governments or businesses, they can employ a third party to gather data on their behalf in the Methodology of Secondary Data Collection .

Secondary data collection in 4 steps

1. frame your research question.

Secondary research starts exactly like any research: by building up your research question(s). For the Research Proposal , you are frequently given a particular research question by your guide. Yet, for most different sorts of examination, and mainly if you are doing your alumni proposition, you need to show up at a research question yourself. The initial step here is to determine the overall research territory where your examination will fall. Whenever you have distinguished your overall theme, your following stage comprises of perusing existing documents to see whether there is a break in the writing that your research can fill.

dissertation methodology secondary data

2.Recognize a Secondary Data Set

In the wake of looking into the writing and indicating your Research Methodology Secondary Data addresses, you may choose to depend on secondary data. You will do this if you find that past data would be entirely reusable in your research, accordingly assisting you with responding to your examination question all the more altogether. In any case, how would you find if some past data could be valuable for your research? You do this through inspecting the writing on your subject of interest. You will recognize different scientists, associations, organizations, or examination focuses on investigating your research theme during this interaction. Someplace there, you may find a helpful secondary data index. At that point, you need to contact the first creators and request consent to utilize their data. (Note, in any case, that this happens just if you depend on outside wellsprings of secondary research. If you are doing your examination inside (i.e., inside a specific association), you don’t have to look through the writing for a secondary data index – you can reuse some previous data gathered inside the actual association.) For any situation, you need to guarantee that a secondary data index is a solid match for your research question. Whenever you have set up that, you need to determine why you have chosen to depend on PhD Secondary Data collection services .

3. Estimate a Secondary Data Set

  • What was the Point of the First Investigation?

While assessing secondary data, you first need to recognize the point of the first investigation. It is significant because the first creators’ objectives will have affected a few significant parts of their examination, including their populace of decision, test, utilized estimation devices, and the research’s general setting. During this progression, you additionally need to give close consideration to any distinctions in PhD Research Methodology Secondary Data inquiries between the first examination and your examination for quantitative secondary data collection methods. As we have discussed already, you will frequently find that the first investigation had an alternate examination question as a top priority. It is significant for you to indicate this distinction in Secondary Data Collection Methods.

  • Who has gathered the data?

A further advance in assessing a secondary data index is to ask yourself who has gathered the data. To what organization were the creators partnered? Were the first creators sufficiently proficient at confiding in their research? For the most part, you need to acquire this data through short online pursuits.

  • Which measures were utilized?

On the off chance that the investigation on which you are basing your examination was directed expertly, you can hope to approach all the fundamental data concerning this research. Unique creators ought to have archived all their example qualities, measures, methods, and conventions. This data can be acquired either in their last examination report or through reaching the creators straightforwardly. It is significant for you to understand what sort of data was gathered, which measures were utilized, and whether such actions were reliable and legitimate. You also need to remove the kind of data concluded, particularly the data pertinent for your research.

  • When was the data gathered?

While assessing secondary data, you ought to likewise note when the data was gathered. The purpose behind this is straightforward: if the data was serene quite a while past, you might presume that it is obsolete. Furthermore, on the off chance that the information is outdated, at that point, why reuse it? In a perfect world, you need your secondary data gathered inside the most recent five years.

  • What procedure was utilized to gather the data?

While assessing a secondary data collection’s nature, the utilized approach’s assessment might be the critical advance. We have just noticed that you need to evaluate the dependability and legitimacy of used measures. Moreover, you need to assess how the example, regardless of whether the standard was adequately enormous. Suppose the example was illustrative of the populace, if there were any missing reactions on utilized measures, whether confounders were slow for, and whether the utilized factual investigations were suitable. Any disadvantages in the first technique may restrict your examination too.

  • Making the last assessment

Having considered all the things illustrated in the means above, what would you be able to finish up concerning the nature of your secondary data collection? Once more, how about we think about our three models. We would reason that the secondary data from our first examination model has a high calibre. As of late gathered by experts, the utilized measures were both dependable and substantial.

4. Make and Evaluate Secondary data

During the secondary data assessment measure, you will acquaint yourself with the first research. Your subsequent stage is to set up a secondary data index. Your last advance comprises of dissecting the data. You will consistently have to settle on the most appropriate investigation strategy for your secondary data index for Qualitative Secondary Data in Research Methodology.


The process of preparing and analyzing a secondary data set is slightly different if your secondary data is qualitative.  So simple that PhD assistance has explained how to do it entirely in just four steps and provides Secondary Quantitative Data Collection .


  • Johnston, M. P. (2017). Secondary data analysis: A method of which the time has come.  Qualitative and quantitative methods in libraries ,  3 (3), 619-626.
  • Smith, E., & Smith Jr, J. (2008).  Using secondary data in educational and social research . McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
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How to Collect Secondary Data

Secondary data is another type of quantitative data that has already been collected by someone else for another study some time back. It is the most widely used method of data collection, as a researcher can get more polished data. While it is secondary data for you, it is actually primary data for the person who collected it originally. Thus, it can be more reliable and may not even need validity testing if it has been collected recently.

Using secondary data has its own benefits like it involves low cost; it is easy to access; and it allows its application to large-scale studies easily. The most helpful aspect is that you do not have to go through the hassles of collecting your own data for your study. There are different ways of incorporating secondary data in your research. You can either put it directly in your work or you can analyse it for different reasons. If you do not know how to collect secondary data for your study, then these can be your sources:

  • Official publications of companies and government bodies
  • Magazines and periodicals
  • Universities and foundations
  • Books and newspapers
  • Record sheets of firms and business enterprises
  • Internet media files

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A lot of considerations go in while collecting secondary data, such as checking it for its relevance, reliability, source, update status, etc. Before you think how to collect secondary data, you need to think whether it will serve the entire purpose of your study or not. You also need to evaluate and verify the data thoroughly lest you end up choosing wrong information to carry out your research study. All this involves using analytical and advanced skills that come only with time. Thus, if you feel stuck at any moment, do not shy away from taking assistance from our mentors who have successfully guided many research candidates on this path. They can be contacted by simply sending a message at [email protected] .


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Secondary Research for your Dissertation

A dissertation or thesis research project requires a significant amount of research, with secondary research a necessity for any paper. The secondary research may be undertaken to create the theoretical foundation for the dissertation with the produce the literature review, and it may also be used as an alternative to primary research.

Defining Secondary Research

To examine the use of secondary researchit is first necessary to differentiate secondary from primary research. Primary research occurs where a researcher designs a research project and then collects the results directly from the original sources and can control the collection of the data. Secondary data is data that has already been collected by other researchers in previous research projects and is accessed through existing publications. Examples of secondary sources include;

  • Publications such as journal articles and books
  • Conferences papers/proceedings
  • Television and radio broadcasts
  • Past dissertations
  • Official/government reports
  • Company accounts or other internal organizational reports

The Uses of Secondary Research in a Dissertation

The first use of secondary research in a dissertation is to create the literature review. The literature review is based purely on secondary research, drawing together articles on topics relevant to the main topic. When undertaking secondary research, the review should include secondary research drawing on the empirical research that developed or established the theories that will be applied in the research. Good research will also include additional research reviewing and testing the theories to provide a balanced approach. Secondary research may also be undertaken at the principle research approach as an alternative primary research. When performed in place of primary research, the research methodology will be based on using data collected and published by others and reanalysing, reinterpreting, or reviewing the data.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Secondary Research

The use of secondary research can be advantageous as it is more cost-effective, the data may be more easily accessed, which reduce the time scale and budget needed for the research to be completed. However, secondary research also has some disadvantages. The data is unlikely to be a perfect match for the dissertation planned as the collection was undertaken by a different researcher who may have been answering a different research question, The data may also require reformatting and the detail of the data may be lacking, requiring the correlation of different data sets, or reformulation of the research question.

The Secondary Research Process

The research process using secondary sources may be divided into four stages.

  • Formulate the research question. This will usually require a review of available literature to identify and narrow down an area of research which may be undertaken using secondary data.
  • Identify the secondary data set that can be used to answer the research question.
  • Assess the suitability of the available secondary data, including the degree to which it is aligned with the research question and the quality of the research process which generated the data. Identify alternate or more data if it is needed to increase the robustness of the study
  • Prepare and then analyse the secondary data in line with the chosen analytical techniques with the aim of answering the research question

Notably, while secondary research may be used in place of primary research, there is also the potential to use it in conjunction with or as a supplement to primary research.

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  1. Facts About Primary and Secondary Data

    A primary source is a first-hand assessment of a topic or event, while a secondary source is an interpretation of the primary data. Secondary information often quotes primary data and adds a fresh interpretation.

  2. Why Should You Use Both Primary and Secondary Data in Research?

    It is important to use primary and secondary data to test researcher bias and to gather enough information to fully explore a topic. Primary research is any data that is gathered by the researcher.

  3. What Is the Statistical Treatment in a Thesis?

    Statistical treatment in a thesis is a way of removing researcher bias by interpreting the data statistically rather than subjectively. Giving a thesis statistical treatment also ensures that all necessary data has been collected.

  4. Methods

    Secondary data are data (primary sources) that were originally collected by someone else (Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill 2015, p316). Comparison

  5. How to do your dissertation secondary research in 4 steps

    To take an example: One of your secondary data sets may focus on a target population's tendency to smoke cigarettes, while the other data set

  6. Dissertation Methodology Writing Guide

    Collecting secondary data is the collection of evidence from previous researchers' work. An example could be focusing on another researchers' experiment and

  7. How to Analyse Secondary Data for a Dissertation

    Secondary data refers to data that has already been collected by another researcher. For researchers (and students!) with limited time and resources

  8. A Four-Step Guide to Conducting Secondary Research For Your

    How Does Secondary Research For A Dissertation Get Done? · Determine your research. · Select pertinent sources. · Assess the reliability and

  9. Dissertation Methodology

    If you are using secondary sources when writing your dissertation methodology, or books containing data collected by other researchers, then you won't

  10. Dissertations and research projects

    A dissertation that uses secondary data will either analyse an existing data set - produced by another researcher - or bring together

  11. How to do your PhD Thesis Using Secondary Data Collection in 4

    Secondary research is a research method that contains using already existing information. Existing information is summarized and organized to

  12. How to collect secondary data

    Secondary data is another type of quantitative data that has already been collected by someone else for another study some time back. It is the most widely used

  13. How to Complete Your Dissertation Using Online Data Access and

    To begin, recall the difference between primary and secondary data analysis. Primary data analysis refers to the analysis of data collected by the researcher or

  14. Secondary Research for your Dissertation. Developing a Thesis

    The first use of secondary research in a dissertation is to create the literature review. The literature review is based purely on secondary research, drawing