Best Practices for Conducting Secondary Research

Published: July 26, 2016

For companies starting out with intelligence functions, terms like primary research and secondary research may have surfaced, but lacked context. So if you’ve had questions like: “When is research needed?” or, “What is secondary research?” Allow us clear up a few things.

The good news about secondary research is that most of the work has been done before you start. Meaning, you’re not looking for information that hasn’t been previously sourced. Think of it as your “information foundation”, on which more specific and specialized information can be layered. It’s worth considering a third party to conduct secondary research as this work is absolutely vital to your company before the more costly primary research. However, if you’re considering conducting secondary research on your own or with an in-house team, here are some best practices to implement:

Step one: Assess the questions you’re trying to answer

Set objectives that once achieved provide the information required to solve the problem. Generally, your objective is to validate a working hypothesis. For example, your objective may be to test a cause-effect relationship such as: if we reduce our price, what will the impact be on sales volume and profitability?

Be specific but make sure the questions you’re asking don’t rely on original research (that comes later with primary research!)

Step two: Know the best place to look for answers

The Internet is obviously a great place to start exploring, but may be an information overload, so know where to filter. Search engines are meant to provide relevant results, an uncluttered interface and helpful options to broaden or tighten a search.

We all know Google is a powerhouse tool, so be sure to use it to its full potential. Use the images, videos or maps functions. Dig deep – don’t just skim the first page for results, but instead dive down to the 20th for information you probably haven’t crossed before.

And beyond Google, here are a few other search engines you should consider:

1. DuckDuckGo: all answers are found on the first page, offers prompts to help clarify what question you are really asking and has less ad spam than Google.
2. Yippy: a deep web engine that searches other search engines for you. Primarily beneficial if search for obscure or tough to find news or research.
3. Google Scholar: a special version of Google that focuses on scientific and hard-research academic material that has been subjected to scrutiny by scientists and scholars.
4. Internet Archive: allows you to travel back in time to look at web pages years back

Step three: Consider HOW you’re searching and asking questions

Before you start searching, be sure you know what you’re searching for. If you’re searching for information on a specific industry or topic, focus on gathering information from:

  • Market/industry research
  • News/trade journals
  • Academic research/publications
  • Associations and think tanks
  • Companies
  • Governmental agencies

If you’re looking for information about a specific company, these resources may be more useful:

  • Analysts
  • Litigation
  • Intellectual property
  • Supply chain
  • Company filings
  • Advertising/marketing efforts

Finally, HOW you search is important. Use this chart in various ways to alter your search and improve results.