Publicly Available Research

Tapping Into Secondary Research Sources

A Micro-business conducting secondary research

Conducting secondary research

There are two types of research; Primary and Secondary. Primary means surveys and research that you carry out yourself, whereas Secondary is carried out by other people, such as publicly-available reports. Secondary research might not be exactly what you need, but it can be an extremely valuable source and may meet most of your requirements but at a lower cost and available sooner than primary research.

Secondary research can be used for a number of purposes. Two of the most common are researching competitors and giving you overview information before you conduct your own more detailed research.

How to get Secondary Research

Many organisations produce market research reports on different market sectors and products. The reports can be expensive, but they can also provide valuable insights into developments in your market and changing trends such as new products and entrants or predictions of future developments.

Abstracts of the reports are often available, which are short samples of the data. A single abstract itself may provide enough information for you, or alternatively you might be able to combine data from multiple sources to create a picture.

Market Research companies often conduct research over time which helps to identify trends. If you subscribe to a regular report from a market research agency you’ll probably find that the cost comes down quite considerably.

The other main sources worth investigating are:

Trade bodies – normally produce a regular snapshot report of the industry.

Chambers of Commerce – often produce or subscribe to surveys covering their own local area. A list of UK Chambers of Commerce can be found at

Academic journals – these are often case studies into a particular industry or company, reviewed from an independent perspective. An internet search is likely to provide details.

Government sources – as an example, Companies House in the UK provide trading figures and directorships of every UK registered limited company. They may also conduct their own research, particularly into overseas markets or sectors of specific interest to the UK economy. Try the UK’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy as a starting point.

Internet searches – nothing beats doing a search on your competitors or your product and seeing what comes up. More details on how to do this are given in How to Research Your Competitors.

Using Secondary Research

The information in any research will be of two types; commentary and figures. Figures are normally presented in tables and graphs making them easier to follow and interpret. More expensive and detailed reports may contain hundreds of pages so aren’t always easy to get through.

Purchasing a report will often give you access to the figures in the tables in their raw format which can be useful if you or a colleague has some statistical experience. You can then analyse the data in any way useful to you, e.g. the trends in a specified geographic region.

Disadvantages of Secondary Research

Secondary research should not be used on its own and always needs to be considered in conjunction other information you have.

Other disadvantages include:

  • It wasn’t produced specifically for your micro-business so is unlikely to answer everything you want to know. As you weren’t involved in preparing it, you can’t know the elements that might not be completely accurate or where assumptions have been made.
  • Your competitors can also access it if they wish, so the knowledge gained might not give you any significant advantages over them.