Conducting Research


Understanding Primary and Secondary Research

When beginning to understand primary research, it’s important to understand the difference between primary and secondary research. In the world of research, secondary research can be defined as the findings a researcher gathers from sources outside of their own experience. These can be results gathered from articles, transcribed interviews, podcasts, etc. that help the reader to discover more about their topic. Primary research on the other hand deals with findings that have been discovered through the researcher’s experience in interviews, surveys, and other techniques which will be discussed later on in this chapter. When trying to distinguish between the two, try to think about who is obtaining the results, and if it was the researcher who obtained those results or if the author is simply discussing what they found based on the results of another researcher.

When to use Secondary Research

When you begin to conduct research based upon your inquiry, remember that you should be thinking to yourself that you are an outsider in terms of what you know about the topic you are interested in. If you already know a lot about the topic that you are researching, than it wouldn’t make sense to conduct research. Secondary research is primarily used to discover what others are saying about your topic, and what you can learn from their discoveries. This is the reason why secondary research often comes before primary research. Because you don’t know much about your topic, you must use your secondary research skills to look through journals, articles, and other sources first; so that you will gain the knowledge you need to develop strategies concerning your primary research techniques.

When to use Primary Research

After conducting your secondary research, you are now ready to begin conducting primary research on your topic. Primary research is to be used when the researcher has developed an understanding of the conversation surrounding their topic, and has started to question that research. At this point, the goal is to either build on previous discoveries, challenge previous discoveries, or bring up new information to the discussion. With the secondary research out of the way, a researcher should make a decision on which of the three they want to accomplish by conducting their primary research.

Another important part of the transition between secondary and primary research is understanding the significance of fine-tuning your initial research question. One will often discover that their research will take a different direction after they have discovered more about their topic. Though it may be a large or small change, re-wording your research question will help you to more clearly define what it is you want to conduct research on. Though you may still have the same question that you initially posed in your proposal, factoring in what you learned from your secondary research and integrating it into your research question is crucial. When the researcher is confident in their knowledge of the topic, has outlined their purpose for conducting research of their own, and has refined their research question to better fit their end goal, they are now ready to utilize their primary researching skills.

Primary Research Techniques

As a primary researcher, you should look at sources and make sense of them rather than relying on other text’s conclusions. There are several ways of doing this. For example, say one wants to conduct primary research on the Vietnam War. They could view excerpts from several news programs of the late 1960s and analyze the ways in which the images and words are presented. An additional way one could approach this research is through surveying people who have lived through the war about their recollections such as images they remember seeing on television, what they read in the newspapers, or others ways they gained information. Another way to obtain primary research is by contacting or interviewing newspaper reporters and how they saw the event through their perspective. There are many ways in which one can obtain primary research. Some examples are through observations, research interviews, surveys, and focus groups.


Conducting observations are useful for projects that do not require experts or an overview of attitudes. Observations are when one watches an interested situation from afar and collects data to make conclusions about it. For example, a woman asks her fiance to go bridal dress shopping with her. The fiance replies that soon-to-be-husbands do not go bridal dress shopping with their soon-to-be-wife. This sparked an interest in the woman and she decided to conduct her own observation. Thus, she places herself in front of a bridal dress shop for two hours and observes who goes in and out of this store. In order to get an accurate observation, one must record all factors such as the time, location, people, and the general scene.

The data could change depending on these dependent factors. The observer should describe his or her role in the scene, meaning the observer should be as unobtrusive as possible. They are looking for patterns, common behavior, complaints, outstanding attitudes, or even noncompliance. ​They should not be apart of the situation and observing the situation at the same time, this allows for biases. Also, the observer should be aware of privacy issues. Do not attempt to observe a situation that should not be observed. When observing you’ll sometimes need to get the permission of those you are observing.​ Let them know your purpose, and keep their names anonymous unless they give you permission. ​

Research Interviews

A research interview is when you interview someone for the purpose of learning the information that they know. Before you conduct a research interview, make a list of potential people that you could interview. Make this list based on credibility and also accessibility. Collect background on respondent, this will determine their credibility. Once this list is made and you have determined the person or people you want to interview, prepare questions to ask in advance. These questions should not be yes or no questions. These questions should allow the interviewee to elaborate upon their answer. When they are answering quote only important pieces of information, otherwise summarize what they said. Taking careful notes will help you gather information more quickly and efficiently. Another option is to tape record your interview, if it is okay with the respondent. The key aspect is to not make the person you are interviewing uncomfortable. Make note of how the interviewee is, include your own impressions of the interview. Finally, arrange to stay in contact with them for follow up questions.


Surveys are a series of questions given either physically or electronically to preferably a sample group of people. The larger the sample group, the more useful the information should be. When making your survey, include questions for the respondent’s demographic information because such issues may have an impact on the results. The other questions should be simple, unlike questions in an interview. Yes or no questions and multiple choice questions are preferable to the person giving the survey and the person taking the survey. Simple questions are beneficial to the person giving the survey because it allows the answers to be placed under their own category. Thus, the person giving the survey does not need to sort through multiple layers of answers that may be given in a written response question. Considering this, be careful when drawing conclusions.

During many situations, a respondent may read a question wrong and answer differently from what you expected. For this reason, it is a good idea to have a larger pool. A mistake made by one person may not be as significant as if they were in a smaller pool of respondents. It is also important to test your survey to see if it works. A person may have answered a question differently because of the way you asked it. Another aspect to keep in mind is location. Ask yourself it it’s more convenient to have a certain group gathered in one place, or if there is already a place where they will already be regularly.​

Focus Groups

A focus group is a demographically diverse group of people assembled to participate in a guided discussion about a particular topic. This topic will be your research question. Use Web discussions forms, this will allow a group of people to participate in online debates and provide opportunities for you to share information​. Online discussions allows members of the group to interact and influence each other during the discussion and consideration of ideas. An example of this is Usenet, it provides links to many discussion groups. When conducting your own focus group, designate a facilitator to draw out information by asking questions and even contributing to the discussion as well. Five to seven people is an ideal size for a focus group. An important aspect to consider are picking participants carefully, consider factors such as gender, ethnicity, college major, living situation, genetic factors, etc. and how they might play a role in your participants answers​. Recording the conversation may be beneficial so you can go back and observe points you may have missed, or most especially participant’s reactions, body language, and willingness to respond to certain questions.

Consent Forms and Why They Matter

Research can be disastrous if good ethics are not applied. Consent forms help your research participant to be fully aware of what they are participating in, so that they know your purpose for research, and that they know exactly what it is they are signing up for. When writing up a consent form, there are a couple key parts you’ll need to include. Firstly, as stated above, letting your participants know why you are conducting your study will help them know what your results will be used for; and help them make the decision of choosing to participate based on their beliefs and interests. If you are conducting an experiment centered around the testing of a certain vaccine that a participant believes will harm them and you state nothing about the specifics of the vaccine, then not only will they inform you that they didn’t know this, they may be able to pursue legal action against you.

Another key component to add is a risk and/or benefit assessment. Similar to the example above concerning vaccines, if an individual is not informed of the potential risks that your experiment may pose, they can again pursue legal action against you. By providing a list of benefits however, your participants will see “something in it for them” so to speak, and will be further inclined to participate in your study if they believe the benefits you have proposed will be advantageous to them. The last piece to add is a section focusing on your reasoning for selecting your participants. By letting people know why you chose the group of people you did for your study, they will be less likely to accuse you of being prejudice against a certain group of people. In this section, talk about sex, ethnicity, background, common interests, or any other unique factors that will help you to provide your rationale for your selection. Lastly, include any other information that your participants need to know, and have a line for them to provide their signature for informed consent.

Keeping a Research Log

A research log is a very useful tool when researching due to its ability to be able to track progress, changes, and observations, all while being able to put a timestamp on each. There are several formats to choose from, so its best to evaluate which will be the most beneficial for your specific researching purposes. Researching research log templates is also another useful tip, as it will only make your job easier in the end. When looking for the right template, take a moment to evaluate the type of study you are conducting. By narrowing down your type of study, you will be able to discover highly useful templates for research logs that were used in studies similar to your own.

When keeping track of your progress through a research log, bibliographic info, key facts, timestamps, and other relevant information are important to record. A computer will also be to your advantage when keeping a research log, because it allows for easier organization of rows, columns, and data type charts as compared to keeping a log in a notebook or on a couple sheets of paper. Lastly, be sure to keep the notes in your log short, concise, and to the point. You won’t have time to write down everything, so try to paraphrase if you conduct an interview. If information is important enough to quote, be sure to cite your sources simply in your log, so you can refer back to them when writing a research report later on.

Using the Results of Your Research in Writing

The four key sections of a research paper include your Intro, Methods, Results, and Discussion.


The intro to your research paper should focus on informing the reader of the secondary research you have conducted, and your proposal for research as a result of that research. The point here is to discuss your thought process for conducting research on your subject, and how your knowledge was expanded to consider new aspects you had not initially realized. Include direct citations for information that you wish to discuss in the form of quotes or paraphrasing, so you aren’t taking credit for another researcher’s work. After outlining what you learned from your secondary research, and the information you want your reader to know before reading through your experiment, be sure to state your purpose for conducting the research you did. Just like with the consent form, you give a clear picture of your true intentions for the experiment, and your reasoning for why you decided that this topic had to be researched.


In stating your methods for your research, you present the reader with a visual image of how your experiment was carried out, and you will be able to eliminate potential questions such as “How specifically did you go about testing variable A?” for example. Going into as much detail as possible in this section is great! Don’t leave anything out, because the more you leave out, the more your reader will wonder about the details surrounding your experimental methods. A good way to start is to refer back to the primary research techniques discussed above, and how you specifically used one or more of those techniques in the testing phase of your experiment. Once you have thoroughly described your methods, leave some space to explain why your methods were proper for your experiment. This allows you to anticipate the “why?” question your reader may be considering, and justify your choices.


Discussing the results is likely the most science-related section of your paper, as it enables you to directly take your data and put into words what happened in your investigation. In this part, you are taking the data you gathered from your participants, and explaining what you observed in detail. If you conducted a survey, including pie charts, bar graphs, and other visual tools may help to show your reader exactly what you were looking at in a format that could be easier for them to understand. When discussing your results, be specific about what happened, but not why you think it happened. All of your thoughts about the facts, figures, and other info you collected should be stated in the discussion section which will be explained in the next section of this list.


In the discussion section of your research paper, you want to primarily inform the reader of your thoughts on the data. This is the section that revolves completely around what you perceived in your study, and helps you to explain why you thought certain results turned out the way they did, new and unique discoveries you have found, and how what you found further contributes to the discussion others are having about your subject. Be sure to discuss the information you believe is the most relevant, as discussing results that do not carry much significance won’t be very useful. Be sure to also include whether or not you expected certain aspects of your results to turn out the way you did in order to help your reader understand any potential bias you may have had when researching. Finally, discuss any implications that may have tampered with your methods, and therefore altered your results in the end. This is a key point to discuss, because it may provide evidence as to why your experiment differed from the results obtained by other researchers.

Using what you have learned in your Future Research

After the successful completion of your research project, it’s important to take away what you learned in order to become an even better researcher in the future. When evaluating your work, try to identify patterns, methods, or other techniques that you used that were effective, and note them for future reference. Learning new note-taking strategies for research is another highly effective way of putting what you have learned to good use. Noting what to try next time will help you to experiment with new methods that may or may not be a more effective way for you to conduct future research. Be sure not to forget what secondary research methods were effective as well, such as helpful databases, analysis methods for your sources, or even authors that were particularly effective at helping you understand the discourse related to your topic. By learning to utilize these strategies that were highly effective in the past, you will become a more efficient researcher, so that when you conduct research next time, you will be able to use your experience to help you accomplish tasks in a superior manner.


Furthermore, primary research has many important details to take into consideration when conducting research. It is important to understand primary and secondary research and when to use it. Knowledge of the different research techniques such as observations, interviews, surveys, and focus groups will be beneficial. The use of consent forms and research logs are also important. Remember to always be sensitive to issues of privacy. When conducting research, be sure to explain to the people you observe, interview, and survey, that their information will be used in a paper that might be read by a professor and classmates.


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Writing @ Saint Leo Copyright © 2020 by Chris Friend is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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