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Advanced Academic Research: Primary research

Primary research

What is primary research?

Primary research is any type of research you conduct yourself. Research methods include interviews, surveys/questionnaires, and observations. It involves going directly to a source (e.g., target population) to ask questions, gather information and analyze the data. The data collected can be qualitative or quantitative. Primary research differs from secondary research which has already been conducted and produced. You may want to conduct primary research if there is little to no data on the subject for which you need information or to compare your results to existing secondary research.

Which research method should I choose?

It depends on your research goal. It depends on what subjects (and who) you want to study. Let's say you are interested in studying what makes people happy, or why some students are more conscious about recycling on campus. To answer these questions, you need to make a decision about how to collect your data. Most frequently used methods include:

  • Observation / Participant Observation
  • Surveys
  • Interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Experiments
  • Secondary Data Analysis / Archival Study
  • Mixed Methods (combination of some of the above)

One particular method could be better suited to your research goal than others, because the data you collect from different methods will be different in quality and quantity. For instance, surveys are usually designed to produce relatively short answers, rather than the extensive responses expected in qualitative interviews.

What other factors should I consider when choosing one method over another?

Time for data collection and analysis is something you want to consider. An observation or interview method, so-called qualitative approach, helps you collect richer information, but it takes time. Using a survey helps you collect more data quickly, yet it may lack details. So, you will need to consider the time you have for research and the balance between strengths and weaknesses associated with each method (e.g., qualitative vs. quantitative).

Taken from the Research Methods Guide, University Libraries at Virginia Tech CC:BY-SA


Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research

Qualitative and Quantitative Data

What is Qualitative Research?

"Qualitative Research is primarily exploratory research. It is used to gain an understanding of underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations. It provides insights into the problem or helps to develop ideas or hypotheses for potential quantitative research. Qualitative Research is also used to uncover trends in thought and opinions, and dive deeper into the problem. Qualitative data collection methods vary using unstructured or semi-structured techniques. Some common methods include focus groups (group discussions), individual interviews, and participation/observations. The sample size is typically small, and respondents are selected to fulfill a given quota."

What is Quantitative Research?

"Quantitative Research is used to quantify the problem by way of generating numerical data or data that can be transformed into usable statistics. It is used to quantify attitudes, opinions, behaviors, and other defined variables – and generalize results from a larger sample population. Quantitative Research uses measurable data to formulate facts and uncover patterns in research. Quantitative data collection methods are much more structured than Qualitative data collection methods. Quantitative data collection methods include various forms of surveys – online surveys, paper surveys, mobile surveys and kiosk surveys, face-to-face interviews, telephone interviews, longitudinal studies, website interceptors, online polls, and systematic observations."

Definitions taken from

Resources on the Open Web

Fundamentals of Qualititative Research: Interviews (Module 3)

Interview Research

Interviews are designed to collect a richer source of information from a small number of people about: Attributes Behavior Preferences Feelings Attitudes Opinions Knowledge Interviews are most effective for qualitative research: They help you explain, better understand, and explore research subjects' opinions, behavior, experiences, phenomenon, etc. Interview questions are usually open-ended questions so that in-depth information will be collected.

Data Collection

There are several types of interviews, including:

  • Phone
  • Face-to-Face
  • Online (e.g. Skype, Google Hangout, etc)

What are the important steps?

Design interview questions - think about:

  • Who you will interview
  • What kind of information you want to obtain from interviews
  • Why you want to pursue in-depth information around your research topic

Develop an interview guide: 

  • Introduce yourself and explain the aim of the interview
  • Devise your questions so interviewees can help answer your research question
  • Have a sequence to your questions / topics by grouping them in themes
  • Make sure you can easily move back and forth between questions / topics
  • Make sure your questions are clear and easy to understand
  • Do not ask leading questions

Plan and manage logistics: 

  • Do you want to bring a second interviewer with you?
  • Do you want to bring a notetaker?
  • Do you want to record interviews? If so, do you have time to transcribe interview recordings?
  • Where will you interview people? Where is the setting with the least distraction?
  • How long will each interview take?
  • Do you need to address terms of confidentiality?

Do I have to choose either a survey or interviewing method?

No. In fact, many researchers use a mixed method - interviews can be useful as follow-up to certain respondents to surveys, e.g., to further investigate their responses.

Is training an interviewer important?

Yes, since the interviewer can control the quality of the result, training the interviewer becomes crucial. If more than one interviewers are involved in your study, it is important to have every interviewer understand the interviewing procedure and rehearse the interviewing process before beginning the formal study.

Taken from the Research Methods Guide, University Libraries at Virginia Tech CC:BY-SA

Resources on the Open Web

Survey Design Essentials: A Survey in 10 Steps

Survey Design Essentials: Seven Tips for Good Survey Questions

Survey Research

Surveys are designed to:

Collect information from a small number of people to be representative of a larger number of people to be studied, for instance, the information about their:

  • Attributes
  • Behavior
  • Preferences
  • Attitudes
  • Opinions

Systematically draw information from a certain population in order to:

  • Describe demographic information (e.g., age, gender, school year, affiliation)
  • Draw patterns from the population studied
  • Explain trends out of phenomenon

Data Collection

There are several types of surveys, including:

  • Phone
  • Face-to-Face
  • Paper and Pencil
  • Web-based (e.g., SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics)

How can I develop effective survey questions?

Clarity, simplicity, length, and acceptability are keys to create effective survey questions. In crafting your survey, you should avoid complicated, long, and ambiguous questions. Try not to address too many issues in one question - thus avoid double-barreled questions. Try not to ask too many questions in one survey. Try not to ask too difficult questions.

What question formats are there?

There are two basic formats: 1) Forced (closed-ended), and 2) Open-ended. You can use a combination of both in a survey depending on your goal.

Can you give me some examples of closed- and open-ended questions?

Let's say you are interested in studying people's environment concerns through shopping habits:

  • Forced question examples:
    • "Do you use a reusable shopping bag when you go grocery shopping?" Yes" or "No" (Note: Survey respondents are forced to choose one of the two.)
    • "How frequently do you use a reusable shopping bag when you do grocery shopping?" "Very infrequently", "Somewhat infrequently", "Occasionally", "Somewhat frequently", "Very frequently" (Note: Survey respondents are forced to choose one out of multiple choices.)
  • Open-ended question examples:
    • "In the last 30 days, how many times have you used a reusable shopping bag when doing grocery shopping?" (Note: Survey respondents are allowed to use either numeric values or text entries.)
    • "Please describe why (or why not) you use a reusable shopping bag for grocery shopping." (Note: Survey respondents can freely write their answers if they want to).

Does ordering of questions influence survey results?

Yes, it does. The natural and logical flow of survey is important to collect good survey results. Start and end the survey with easy questions. Start the survey with most familiar questions. Keep in mind that a high response rate does not guarantee a high survey completion rate - in many online surveys, people do not always complete a survey.

Do you have any other suggestions for conducting a good survey research?

  • Invitation: Creating a good invitation to participate your survey is important. In your survey invitation (email) letter, try to include 1-2 sentences describing a purpose or goal of your survey.
  • Disclosure:
    • Mention length of survey
    • Ensure that responses are confidential
    • Ensure that participation is voluntary
    • Provide contact information in the cases where participants have questions about survey
  • Pretesting: Before administering a survey, make sure you test your survey in advance. Survey pretesting will help you determine the effectiveness of your survey.

Taken from the Research Methods Guide, University Libraries at Virginia Tech CC:BY-SA

Resources on the Open Web

Try a subject search:

When using the Reynolds Libraries catalog or eBook databases to find books, try some of these subject terms:

  • qualitative research
  • quantitative research
  • research AND experimental
  • research AND methodology
  • research AND surveys

Below is a sampling of online and print books available through Reynolds Libraries.

Chapters & Books on the Open Web