Research Methods: Observation, Focus Groups & More

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  • 0:01 Researching Recipes
  • 1:00 Definition of Primary…
  • 1:59 Primary Research Methods
  • 7:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Suzanne Sweat

Suzanne has taught 12 years in the NC Public School System and three years at Campbell University. She has a master's degree in English Education.

Primary research methods allow you to go beyond the general information you can obtain through secondary sources. This video provides explanations of several primary research methods, including observations, inspections, experiments, surveys, and interest groups.

Researching Recipes

I love to bake. When I have a craving for something sweet, I immediately do an Internet search of recipes containing my latest craving. I love that I can glean ideas from other people's taste tests and feel confident that the recipe will render good results. But sometimes, I want to bake something I invent myself. It may take some trial and error, but I can eventually perfect a recipe that is all my own. And I know I've been successful when my husband gives me his sweet smile and asks for seconds.

My search for recipes and personal baking experiments are examples of different research methods. When I read someone else's information, I'm using a secondary source, and when I create my own recipe, experiment with different measurements, and observe my husband's reactions, I'm conducting primary research. Both methods can help provide the researcher with specific data needed to improve a product, but conducting primary research provides more detailed information from a target audience.

Definition of Primary and Secondary Research

Information that you find from existing sources, such as websites and scholarly articles, are considered secondary research. This information is very accessible, but it is often very general. When you need to collect data about a specific product or a specific idea, secondary research may not be enough to provide what you need. Instead, it may be time for you to conduct primary research.

Primary research is the collection of first-hand accounts and data for a specific purpose. Carefully chosen research methods and questions will allow you to gather data from a target market and answer specific research questions. Using primary research allows you to have more control over the reliability of your information, which can limit potential biases and mistakes. Primary research is collected through the following methods:

  • Observations
  • Inspections
  • Experiments
  • Surveys and interviews
  • Focus groups

Primary Research Methods


Observation is the process of watching a specific activity to understand a specific detail about that activity. In the business world, observations are usually focused on current or potential customers' reactions to products.

For example, if a famous cupcake company wants to know if clients like their newest cupcake flavor, bacon bliss, they may walk around the mall and hand out free samples. As the participants eat the cupcakes, someone from the business watches how the people react to the dessert. Puckered lips and a quick trip to the trash can provide valuable data about the quality of the product. Company representatives may also talk to the people to see what they liked or didn't like about the sweet treat. The business would use the information from their observations to determine if their new venture would be successful or if they need to make some changes to their creation. Observations are most beneficial in collecting unbiased information about how customers respond to a product.


Inspections are examining an item carefully to determine potential problems and how to fix them. Inspections are similar to observations in that both require examination, but inspections require more active participation than observation.

Several years ago, a dam in my hometown developed a crack and all of the water from the lake had to be slowly drained so that engineers could inspect what caused the crack and what should be done to fix it. The engineers spent more than a year examining the dam, taking soil samples from the area, and testing the structure to see if they could determine what caused the breach. After analyzing all of their data from their inspections, engineers decided that the dam needed to be torn down and completely replaced. If they had failed to inspect the dam properly and refilled the lake, homes around the area could have been washed away due to flooding the next time the dam developed a crack. Inspections allow businesses to more thoroughly understand how things work and how to make them better.


A common primary research method for scientists is conducting experiments. Experiments are well-designed procedures used to test a hypothesis. There are four main phases in an experiment:

  1. Developing a hypothesis, or educated guess, about a subject
  2. Testing the hypothesis by controlling specific factors
  3. Analyzing the data to determine if there is a correlation between changes in data
  4. Explaining the outcome of the experiment and what it means for the future

Let's say a drug company wants to test a new medication that will help people lose weight by eating more doughnuts or other sweet treats (my dream pill!). The company will have to gather a pool of study participants, control their food intake so that they are all eating the same thing, and then give half the real medication and half a placebo without telling which person got what pill. This will allow researchers to control the specific factor of food intake while also preventing any potential placebo effect. After several months, the researchers will analyze how much weight the people who took the real medication lost verses how much weight was lost by those who took the placebo. If there is a significant difference between the weight loss of the two groups, the company can feel confident in claiming that they have finally developed an effective weight loss drug, and we can all celebrate with a round of doughnuts!

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