Primary & Secondary Research: Definition, Differences & Methods

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  • 0:05 Defining Primary and Secondary
  • 1:52 Example
  • 3:08 Differences
  • 4:36 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Differentiating between different types of research articles is useful when looking at what has already been done. In this lesson, we explore some of the different types of research articles out there and when they would be used.

Defining Primary and Secondary Research

Let's say you are approached by an animal rights group, and they would like you to gather some information on the link between stress and pet ownership. This kind of project is primarily a literature review, which is an examination of published material to understand what has already been said on the topic.

Published material can be articles in the New York Times or even tabloids, depending on what you're studying. However, literature reviews typically take the form of an examination of previous, scientific literature from peer-reviewed journals. When looking at previous research, it would be worthwhile to note the differences between primary and secondary research. First, we will examine the definitions and then look into them a little bit more specifically.

Primary research is defined as factual, firsthand accounts of the study written by a person who was part of the study. The methods vary on how researchers run an experiment or study, but it typically follows the scientific method. One way you can think of primary research is that it is typically original research.

Secondary research is defined as an analysis and interpretation of primary research. The method of writing secondary research is to collect primary research that is relevant to a writing topic and interpret what the primary research found. For instance, secondary research often takes the form of the results from two or more primary research articles and explains what the two separate findings are telling us. Or, the author may have a specific topic to write about and will find many pieces of primary research and use them as information in their next article or textbook chapter.


Going back to our original example of the literature review on the effects of animals and stress, we need to determine what kind of research we will include in our write-up. We go online and start collecting articles about stress and animals. There are probably a lot of them, so we begin to sift through them.

When sifting through the research to locate what we want, an easy way to locate primary research articles is that they will be written by a researcher who conducted the study. For instance, a researcher examined the stress hormones in people who owned cats, dogs and no pets. Another researcher looked at the stress people say they have and how many pets they own. In these examples, a researcher is examining and writing about the study they conducted.

Secondary research articles would be from another person's view, drawing in several sources. For example, an author might discuss works by Researcher A and Researcher B and how people with pets typically acknowledge having stress. Another piece of literature we may find might be a chapter in a text discussing the positive and negative impacts of owning a pet. In these examples, the authors are taking other sources and combining or reevaluating the articles, often to make a point.


If you haven't already suspected, the difference between primary and secondary research is primary is written by the researcher, while secondary is a reexamination. That's pretty much just based on the definitions.

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